HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is often touted as having a variety of health benefits, from muscle growth to weight loss. Though many of these claims are dubious, the science behind HCG is thorough and there are distinct health benefits of HCG related to fertility and pregnancy.
HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is the human pregnancy hormone produced by the placenta. This hormone is only released during pregnancy and is the confirmation of pregnancy when using over-the-counter pregnancy tests or clinic blood tests. There are two types of HCG measurements, qualitative and quantitative. A qualitative test, as in the urine stick, simply tells you that HCG is present. A quantitative test is a blood test where the amount of HCG is reported. This test is used if there is any question about the viability of pregnancy.
HCG has long been used as a measure of a pregnancy progressing normally. Quantitative HCG levels are measured in blood tests with those levels expected to double every 48 to 72 hours. If the numbers have not doubled in further testing, such as an ultrasound, may be done to determine the viability of the pregnancy. HCG may also be used to find other anomalies during pregnancy. A study published in the “American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology” found that analyzing changes in the HCG molecule during the second trimester revealed Trisomy-13, or Down Syndrome, in 80 percent of the cases studied.
The Mayo Clinic reports that as many as 15 percent of couples experience some form of infertility. There are many methods for treatment of infertility and the cause will often dictate your treatment. In some cases involving in-vitro fertilization, HCG may be used prior to insemination to promote the growth and release of the egg. It also has been found to aid during the luteal phase to support a pregnancy in the days immediately following insemination.Over-the-counter HCG has not been shown to support a pregnancy, however.
HCG has been marketed for weight loss since Dr. ATW Simeon promoted injections of the hormone as a fat burning aid in 1954. The HCG diet is based upon a 500 calorie-per-day diet with daily injections of HCG. HCG was claimed to assist in fat burning, improve mood and reduce hunger. Follow-up studies, including one published in “Western Journal of Medicine” found that HCG had no effect at all on weight loss, fat burning, mood or hunger and any weight loss was due to the starvation-level diet required in the program. Dr. Celest Robb-Nicholson, editor-in-chief of “Harvard Women’s Health Watch," does not recommend following the HCG diet because of its low nutritive quality and the FDA’s position that HCG does nothing to improve weight loss. There are no scientific studies available to prove HCG has any health benefits outside of pregnancy.
- AmericanPregnancy.org: Human Chorionic Gonadotropin, The Pregnancy Hormone
- “American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology”; Maternal Serum Down Syndrome Screening: Free Beta-Protein is a More Effective Marker Than Human Chorionic Gonadotropin; J.N. Macri, et al; October, 1990
- “Western Journal of Medicine”; Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) in the Treatment of Obesity; Frank Greenway and George Bray; December, 1977
- “Harvard Women’s Health Watch”; Celest Robb-Nicholson; May, 2010
- “Fertility and Sterility”; The Role of Luteal Phase Support in Infertility Treatment: a Meta-Analysis of Randomized Trials; S. Soliman, et al; June 1994