The acronym HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone women's bodies normally produce to support the development of ovarian eggs and to stimulate the release of the egg during ovulation. As a prescription drug, HCG helps treat infertility, stimulates ovulation, increases sperm count in men and is used to treat undescended testicles in young boys. HCG is also used to combat obesity, but this treatment is highly controversial.
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In 1927, two research scientists, Selmer Aschheim and Bernhard Zondek developed the A-Z test. This test identified the presence of HCG in urine, by injecting a woman's urine into an immature rat or mouse. If the woman was pregnant, the HCG in the urine caused the immature animal to go into heat. Urine from a non-pregnant woman contained no HCG, and the animal had no reaction. During this time, scientists discovered that HCG was produced by testicular tumors as well. In 1958, the gonadotropin hormones were extracted from human pituitary glands, and by 1972, scientists were isolating and studying its structure. Their increased knowledge of HCG ultimately led to modern pregnancy tests, as well as screening instruments for patients with HCG-secreting tumors.
HCG is composed of two different subunits: an alpha subunit and a beta subunit. The two subunits are made separately, but in the same way, in the cell. Three pituitary hormones--luteinizing hormone or LH, follicle stimulating hormone or FSH and thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH--closely resemble HCG in structure. Their alpha subunits are nearly identical to each other. Their beta subunits differ and account for their unique immunological and biological activities.
HCG supplements are given orally, or as an injection under the skin or into a muscle. Injections are usually given by a doctor or nurse specifically trained in administration of injections. Oral HCG comes as a sublingual liquid to be held under your tongue for a specified period of time, or as a pill. Because of the additional requirements for syringes, HCG injections are usually more costly than liquid or pill forms.
Side effects of HCG supplementation may include severe headaches; restlessness or irritability; mild swelling or water weight gain; depression; breast tenderness and swelling; blood clots; pain; warmth; redness; numbness or tingling in arms or legs; confusion; and extreme dizziness. If HCG has been injected, irritation or infection at the injection site can also occur.
HCG is in the Food and Drug Administration's pregnancy category X. Although it can help women become pregnant, women who are already pregnant should not use HCG as it can cause birth defects. Because HCG stimulates release of the egg from the ovary, HCG users are also at increased risk for multiple babies.
Although rare, in some women, HCG supplementation can cause ovarian hyper-stimulation syndrome or OHSS. Symptoms of OHSS include swelling of the hands or legs; stomach pain and swelling; shortness of breath; weight gain; diarrhea; nausea or vomiting; and urinating less than normal. If you are on HCG, call your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, as they can be life-threatening.
HCG may also cause early puberty in young boys, which would be noted by a deepened voice, pubic hair growth, increased acne and increased sweating.
HCG should not be used if you are already experiencing early puberty; or have a hormone-related cancer, such as breast, ovary, uterus, prostate, hypothalamus or pituitary gland cancer. These conditions may be exacerbated by HCG supplementation. If you have a thyroid or adrenal gland disorder, an ovarian cyst, undiagnosed uterine bleeding, heart disease, kidney disease, epilepsy, migraines, or asthma, HCG use must be carefully monitored.