If it weren’t for a hormone produced by pregnant women, Dom Sardone is convinced he’d be carrying around 115 more pounds.
“With all the other (weight-loss plans), you don’t see the results,” the 51-year-old Port St. Lucie man said. “With (human chorionic gonadotropin), you see the results every day. Some days I lost three pounds. I haven’t been this thin since high school.”
Sardone is among countless local men and women sold on the hormone, best known as hCG.
But does a pregnancy hormone really help people lose weight? Is it safe?
According to Uncle Sam, no.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Trade Commission last December sent letters demanding manufacturers of over-the-counter, “homeopathic” hCG remove labels that claim their products promote weight loss. The agencies called the drug “unproven and potentially unsafe.”
“There is no substantial evidence hCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from the recommended caloric restriction,” the warning letter stated. It went on to criticize the 500-calorie diet associated with hCG as putting consumers “at increased risk for side effects including gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and heart arrhythmias.”
Sardone gives himself daily injections, provided by a local medically-supervised, weight-loss clinic. Far more dieters take it orally, usually in drops or spray.
Oral hCG is widely available over the counter in drugstores, discount marts and on the Internet. Some purveyors in radio and newspaper ads even offer to pay users $5 for every pound lost on their product.
HCG injections, available only by prescription, are FDA-approved ” for treating female infertility.
Weight loss is not an approved use. Physicians are allowed to prescribe drugs for unapproved reasons, a practice called off-label prescribing. Many approved uses of drugs were discovered through off-label trial and error.
The benefit of hCG, proponents claim, is that it dissolves fat while sparing muscle.
“HCG works very well in the belly region to target (fat) cells without losing muscle mass,” said Dr. Lisa Grassam, a Stuart chiropractor who operates a weight-loss program featuring oral hCG spray.
Nonsense, says the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, which represents doctors specializing in weight loss. The society wrote that scientific studies “found insufficient evidence supporting the claims that HCG is effective in altering fat-distribution … “
Another controversial aspect of the hCG program is that the lowest-calorie plans prohibit exercise. Grassam’s more moderate plan allows some exercise for clients who’ve lost at least 10 pounds.
“Not only does exercise support weight loss,” said dietitian Elizabeth McCormick of Martin Health System, “but it has many other benefits ” heart health, bone health, emotional health.”
Yet another disputed claim of hCG enthusiasts is that the hormone gives patients energy.
“When I’m on hCG, I feel healthy; I feel energetic,” said JoLynn Hansen, clinical director for New Beginnings Medical Weight Loss Clinic, with offices in Vero Beach, Port St. Lucie and Stuart.
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians found no evidence that hCG improves users’ feeling of well-being.
The 500-calorie diet and hCG injections New Beginnings prescribes were developed in 1954 by hCG pioneer Dr. Albert T.W. Simeons. The British physician’s austere 40-day regimen promises daily weight loss of one to two pounds, the same amount conventional diets promise over a week. Clients follow the regimen with a 40-day maintenance diet. Those who need to lose more weight can then start another 500-calorie cycle with hCG.
Many brands of over-the-counter hCG also recommend a diet of 500 to 800 calories, which is outlined in the package insert. Mainstream clinicians eschew such low-calorie diets, with or without hCG.
“(Fifteen hundred) is a healthy calorie goal for most people,” McCormick said.
For that reason, Grassam advises her clients to consume 1,200 to 1,500 calories while taking nonprescription hCG spray. Purists, including Hansen of New Beginnings, charge that such moderate diets won’t bring about the dramatic results of Simeons’ original program.
“We’re successful because it works,” Hansen said of the 500-calorie plan.
Before enlisting in the New Beginnings program, Sardone said, “I’d almost given up on losing weight.”
The then 360-pound web developer had been discouraged by how slowly he lost and quickly regained with other diets. With New Beginnings, the rewards were immediate. A pound one day, two the next. By the end of the 40-day cycle, he’d lost 50 pounds. Sardone lost another 10 on the 40-day maintenance diet, then 40 more on his second round of the diet with hCG.
Tim Brownie, a 58-year-old Jensen Beach man, had undergone heart surgery and suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.
He’d tried diets in the past. The diets always worked ” until he lost interest and regained the weight.
Brownie lost 178 pounds in the past year using Grassam’s hCG program.
That type of success is probably less because of the details of the diet and supplemental hormone than a drive to lose weight, McCormick said.
“Personal motivation is the key to weight loss,” McCormick said.
Another factor in dieting success is accountability. Programs such as Grassam’s and New Beginnings hold clients accountable by having them come in for weekly counseling and weigh-ins. Some are available for calls anytime motivation wanes.”Research has shown that the more frequent contact you have with a health professional, the more successful you’ll be,” McCormick said.
Weight loss comes at a high price for patrons of medically supervised programs. New Beginnings charges $399 for a six-week diet followed by a six-week maintenance plan. Grassam charges $549 for her nine-week program.
Quick weight loss keeps dieters from getting discouraged, McCormick said. But, she continued, the acid test is how long the weight stays off. A key benefit of a more conservative diet is that people can follow it over a lifetime. That’s not true of New Beginnings’ 500-calorie plan.
“Long-term weight gain takes a long time to take off,” she said. “People succeed by developing a good relationship with food.”
Still, Sardone doesn’t expect to regain his lost weight, as he had in the past. At 51, he has a new source of motivation he didn’t consider in his younger days.
“My life has totally changed,” he said. “I’m going to live long enough to see my grandchildren.”
Hormone one of hottest weight-loss trends
One of the hottest weight-loss trends is human chorionic gonadotropin, better known as hCG. It’s a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy.
Dozens of clients of New Beginnings Medical Weight Loss Clinic, with three Treasure Coast locations, give themselves daily hCG injections. Far more dieters use over-the-counter hCG drops at a fraction of the cost.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that neither form takes off weight. Proponents, though, are convinced that it speeds weight loss and preserves muscle tone.
Their belief comes from research conducted by British physician Dr. Albert T. W. Simeons in the 1930s and 40s.
Simeons was working in India when he observed emaciated, starving women giving birth to robust babies. He attributed the infants’ health to hCG, which caused the women to release body fat to nourish their fetuses. That discovery inspired him to study the effects hCG would have on obese patients. His studies led to his 1954 manuscript, “Pounds and Inches: A New Approach to Obesity.”
Since then, Simeons’ hCG diet has cycled in and out of vogue like the miniskirt. Costly daily injections in the past dissuaded many dieters. Today, small, nearly painless needles have created a new market, as has over-the-counter, homeopathic oral hCG spray and drops.