FDA cracks down on HCG Diet for weight loss

Auburn residents, doctors weigh in on the fad diet’s claims
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration declared Human Chorionic Gonadotropin diet products illegal last week and issued warning letters to several companies still manufacturing the product. Some Auburn residents and naturopathic doctors disagree with the FDA and say the HCG Diet does work, while local doctors say they doubt the results are little more than a placebo effect. Some say, “Seeing is believing” Allison Gillespie, who manages Sunrise Natural Foods in Auburn, went on the HCG Diet last January, which combines homeopathic drops of a hormone extracted from pregnant women’s urine, with a specific 500-calorie diet. Initially, she lost about 20 pounds and since then Gillespie said she has lost about 40. While the weight-loss potential of the hormone has long been studied, it is only approved by the FDA to help males with underdeveloped sex characteristics mature and as part of a sequence of fertility drugs to trigger ovulation in women. Gillespie said the brand they carry at Sunrise Natural Foods, manufactured by Vibrant Life, was not one of the company’s asked to stop manufacturing HCG. Records on the FDA website confirm that. “We actually still sell it,” Gillespie said. “I loved it. I actually lost more and now I’m down about 40 pounds. I feel amazing on it.” Gillespie said the product does curb her appetite and has worked for other employees as well. Gillespie said she has tried low-calorie diets in the past and was hungry all the time, which she doesn’t feel when she is on HCG. She is critical of the FDA’s actions, but doesn’t tell customers about her results on the product unless they ask. “There is definitely no money it in it for the FDA,” Gillespie said. “I don’t know if that has something to do with it.” The FDA cracks down The FDA states in its release that the only weight loss achieved through the HCG Diet is from a restricted calorie diet. It warns that “consumers on a very low-calorie diet are at increased risk for side effects including gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance, and heart arrhythmias. A very low calorie diet should only be used under proper medical supervision.” FDA approved HCG products exist in injection form and are available only through licensed medical professionals. The jury is in Heidi Hook, a North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners board-certified, licensed naturopathic doctor, is one of four practitioners at Bukovina in Auburn. Hook said HCG injections, along with nutritional replacement and several forms of monitoring, have helped many of her patients achieve weight loss. “What we see is we get great results with the injections,” Hook said. “It does work and it keeps it off. The FDA can make anything look the way it wants. The weight loss industry is huge.” Hook said she believes HCG also helps pull weight more from fat than muscle. Dr. Mark Vaughan, of the Auburn Medical Group and a Sutter Independent Physician, said while the drug is FDA approved for other things, he does not agree with the extremely low calorie diet the protocol recommends. He said the placebo effect can also make people believe the drops are curbing their appetite. “You can have a placebo effect of 30 to 40 percent. Especially with something like appetite that is such an emotional/mental response of your senses,” Vaughan said. He said he also understands why people may feel tempted to turn to programs like the HCG Diet. Many of his patients are frustrated the lack of results they have in their attempts to lose weight. “I deal with this on a daily basis,” Vaughan said. “I actually have patients cry because they are frustrated.” His advice is to eat less and exercise more. Avoiding simple carbohydrates, like sugars, starches and snack crackers can be a good first step in helping people lose weight, according to Vaughan. He recommends programs like Weight Watchers, which offer nutritional education and the support and accountability of others. “How do I know when I am done eating Cheez-Its? When the box is gone,” Vaughan said. “It tells you that you aren’t satiated. It doesn’t tell you to stop as foods with protein and fat do. It’s actually an appetizer.” For cases where clinically obese patients can’t seem to lose the weight on their own, he said bariatric surgery is often a last resort. Even with the stomach reducing surgery, patients have to watch their diets closely. He said losing weight through diet and exercise takes discipline, but Vaughan said patients are more prone to keep the weight off if they lose it over time. “It’s the gimmick du jour,” Vaughan said. “Today it’s HCG, tomorrow it will be another one.” Reach Sara Seyydin at