This week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered companies to stop selling homeopathic hCG diet products. The pills, pellets and drops—diluted from pregnancy hormone hCG—are fraudulent and ineffective for weight loss, the agency said. It’s the latest in a series of FDA crackdowns on illegal weight-loss products—though previous efforts have mostly involved faux-’natural’ diet aids laced with unlisted (and often illegal) pharmaceuticals. The problem with the homeopathic hCG products—that they actually contain little to no trace of an active substance (in this case hCG)—is uncommon in the diet drug world, though typical of homeopathic remedies.
The hCG diet is perhaps 2011′s most talked-about fad diet trend. HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by the human placenta during pregnancy and found in the urine of pregnant women. The original hCG diet involved low-dose, daily injections of hCG, along with an ultra-low calorie diet (about 500 daily calories, high in protein and low in carbs and fat). The hormone injections allegedly reduced dieters’ appetites, making the reduced calories bearable. Marketers tout hCG dieters who’ve lost 20-30 pounds in as little as a month.
The Journal of the American Medical Association and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have both warned that hCG is neither safe nor effective as a diet aid. But hCG diet success stories abound. And the popularity—and high price—of the injections spawned the sale of ‘homeopathic hCG’ pills, pellets, drops and sprays. Prepared via homeopathic dilution, they contain either no hCG at all or only trace amounts.
While people sometimes use the term ‘homeopathy‘ in reference to all sorts of natural remedies or alternative medicine, homeopathy actually refers to a very specific process of successive dilutions of a natural, medicinal substance into a preparation or remedy used in treatment. Many homeopathic remedies have been so diluted as to contain no trace of the original medicinal substance. This makes them, in effect, harmless—but not effective. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, “most analyses have concluded that there is little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition; although, some studies have reported positive findings.
This is largely because a number of its key concepts are not consistent with the current understanding of science, particularly chemistry and physics.
In the case of the homeopathic hCG remedies, “people think that if they’re losing weight, HGC must be working,” said the FDA’s Elizabeth Miller in a statement. ”But the data simply does not support this – any loss is from severe calorie restriction. Not from the hCG.”
Here’s a kind of unintentionally hilarious (yet informative!) video from the FDA and Miller about over-the-counter hCG.