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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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The Dangers of the HCG Diet: A Cardiologist’s Perspective

Glass bottle with dropper
When I got the call from the emergency room that my patient Tom (not his real name) had just rolled in with a heart attack, it took me by surprise. Sure, Tom is overweight and has high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But he had recently lost 30 pounds, his cholesterol numbers looked better than ever, and his blood pressure was perfect. Was this just rotten luck? Or was something else going on?

As it turned out, there was indeed more to the story. Tom had been reluctant to let me know that he was on the HCG diet, the latest fad diet sweeping through the country. He had been seduced by a local weight loss clinic’s splashy ad touting doctor-prescribed injections of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), and promising easy and fast weight loss. Typically, the HCG diet also includes severe caloric restriction to as little as 500 calories each day.

HCG is a pregnancy hormone that is made by the placenta. It helps to develop the lining of the uterus, which in turn, keeps the pregnancy from resulting in a miscarriage. Medically, HCG injections are used in fertility treatment, to help women ovulate. The hormone is not approved for use in weight loss.

The HCG diet was first promoted in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s, numerous medical studies from around the world, including the U.S., Germany, and South Africa, had proven HCG to be completely ineffective in weight loss. Not surprisingly, any weight loss attributable to the diet was due to the calorie restriction, rather than the hormone.

I had been aware of the diet, but did not know much about it until Tom’s heart attack prompted me to investigate. What I found out was chilling. HCG is known to increase the risk for blood clots in the arteries and veins, resulting in heart attacks, strokes, and abrupt blockages of the blood vessels supplying the intestines. Although these complications are rare in young, healthy women, older men and women who already have risk factors for heart disease and stroke are putting their lives on the line when they take this drug.

While there was no way to be certain that the HCG was the culprit, I was furious that someone would treat my patient with something so dangerous, so I went on line to see who in my community was prescribing HCG. Since the clinics advertise heavily, it was easy to get this information. I will politely describe these doctors as opportunists who are not particularly respected, and who are clearly putting their own interests above those of their patients.

If you want to lose weight, you’ve got to burn more calories than you eat. It’s that simple, but not always that easy. If anyone tries to sell you a quick fix, it is almost sure to fail. It will likely cost you a bundle, and it may even cost you your health.

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Tags: Diet and Heart Health

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.