HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone produced in the placenta of pregnant women. It is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of infertility and can be prescribed off-label for other purposes. HCG is also sold as a homeopathic supplement for weight loss. While the FDA issued a statement indicating that supplemental HCG is not harmful, according to a 2011 article published by USAToday.com, the prescription-strength hormone has been linked to high blood pressure.
HCG and Weight Loss
The FDA has not approved the HCG hormone for the treatment of overweight or obesity. Doctors, however, are permitted to prescribe drugs off label as they see fit. HCG was linked to weight loss in the 1950s when A.T.W. Simeons, a British endocrinologist, found that when combined with a very low calorie diet, the hormone helped promote rapid weight loss. That connection has since been widely discredited, but doctors persist in prescribing HCG for weight loss purposes.
The FDA has already received one report, according to Christopher Kelly, an agency spokesperson, that a patient on an HCG diet had a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism is a potentially deadly condition caused when a blood clot blocks arteries in the lungs. While high blood pressure is one risk factor for the condition, according to the department of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, the HCG hormone also increases the risk for developing blood clots and cardiovascular complications.
An HCG diet is a very low calorie diet designed to produce rapid and significant weight loss. People drawn to this highly restrictive regimen are often overweight or obese, both of which are risk factors for high blood pressure, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. While losing weight can reverse hypertension, there's a risk that the hormone used to quell hunger could have potentially dangerous side effects. According to a 2011 article published in the New York Times, one New-York-based doctor who monitors individuals on an HCG diet requires patients to have an EKG prior to treatment and will not accept anyone with a heart condition.
HCG and Pregnancy
Using HCG for the purpose approved by the FDA, as an infertility treatment, can cause multiple gestation and increase your risk for preeclampsia and gestational hypertension -- types of high blood pressure associated with pregnancy. A 2009 study published in "The Journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists" examined over 5,000 pregnant women in effort to investigate the risk of high blood pressure and infertility drugs. Women who used fertility treatments were almost twice as likely to experience gestational hypertension and preeclampsia than women who got pregnant spontaneously.
Is This an Emergency?
- Baylor College of Medicine: Pulmonary Embolism; The Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery; June 2011
- “The Journal of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists”: Hypertension in Pregnancies Supported By Infertility Treatments. Role of Treatments, and Multiple Gestations; Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, MD; August 2007
- National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What are the Health Risks of Overweight and Obesity?
- New York Times: Diet Plan With Hormone Has Fans and Skeptics; March 2011
- USAToday.com: HCG Weight Loss Products are Fraudulent, FDA Says