When Nancy Brasfield talks about the HCG Diet, there’s gratefulness in her voice.
She; her husband, Billy; and her son Zachary, 18, have used it since April and benefited so much that she doesn’t hesitate to call it a blessing.
It promises radical, quick weight loss with no exercise and no hunger.
Her son lost 50 pounds, her husband lost 22 pounds and was able to abandon two medications, and she lost 25 pounds, then went on a six-week maintenance plan without gaining any back.
The biggest plus of the diet, to her, is that the weight falls off quickly — about 25 to 30 pounds in the same number of days — without exercise and, she claims, without feeling hungry.
“I thank God for this diet,” she said Wednesday.
The HCG Diet, which is offered by about a dozen practitioners in Wichita Falls, has quickly gained popularity in the past year.
It requires dieters to inject themselves with a daily dose of the hCG hormone (which can also be taken with a nasal spray or orally) and keep to a strict, 500-calorie diet regimen for 23 to 40 days to see rapid weight loss.
Some doctors are recommending it — in fact, that’s how Nancy learned about it — and stores like United Supermarkets, Abner’s Nutrition Care, Sunshine Natural Foods and Harvest Drug and Gift now carry complementary sugar-free and organic products routinely used with the diet, and they advertise them as such.
But other health professionals say no dieter can improve on — or ultimately escape — traditional weight reduction by healthy eating and exercise.
“You’re not going to take hCG for the rest of your life,” said Dr. Kenneth Warnock, a Wichita Falls physician who specializes in bariatric surgery. “It’s an alternative that some people will get a temporary response to. But studies continue to show long term you do not have sustained weight loss.”
So what is the HCG Diet that’s got so many people — even physicians — talking about it and even trying it?
The diet is named for the hCG hormone — human chorionic gonadotropin — that proponents say plays a key part in this unusual, fast-acting 23- to 40-day diet plan.
HCG is the hormone excreted into pregnant women’s urine, the same hormone that pregnancy kits test to determine if a woman is pregnant.
Secreted by the placenta, the hCG hormone in a pregnant woman allows the body to tap her fat stores to make sure the developing fetus draws enough nutrition in those early weeks, despite the mother’s morning sickness or poor eating habits.
For this diet, hCG is used at far smaller doses.
Under a doctor’s care, a patient gives himself a daily hCG injection once a day for 23 to 40 days. Combined with a strict, 500-calorie daily eating regimen, it is believed to help a dieter in a similar way.
“The hCG allows your body to release some stored fat. You can eat a very low calorie diet without having the starvation effect, where your body starts holding onto calories,” Dr. Jonathan Pino said.
Pino started his practice in Henrietta in February and has helped about 60 patients use the diet since March.
He’s seen good results, he said.
The dieter drastically reduces his food intake to 500 calories — typically something like a chicken breast and one vegetable and one fruit — but the hCG allows the body to nourish itself further by drawing on stored fat, he said.
Men typically see a 1-pound-a-day weight loss; women, half- to one-pound per day.
“Every patient that’s been on hCG that has completed the diet has lost weight. No one has said, ‘No, it didn’t work for me,’” Pino said. “We have had no problems with it.”
It has helped people who had a stubborn 10 pounds to lose or up to 100 pounds, he said. “It gives people a jump-start to being able to lose it. They don’t lose it all at once,” he said.
Pino even used it himself — twice.
He lost 25 pounds with it in August, then did another 23-day round in April where he lost 20 more pounds. His pants size dropped from a 38 in August 2009 to a 30 or 32 today.
The initial 23-day diet is followed by a six-week maintenance plan.
“After that, we transfer them into another diet program. It’s pretty easy after hCG because they’re already focused on eating lean protein, a fruit and a vegetable,” Pino said.
“It’s not a magic pill. You can’t do this diet and go back to eating how you normally do. It’s merely another diet option. Just a very rapid weight loss that occurs with it.”
Compounding pharmacist Janet Beard at Harvest Drug learned about the HCG Diet at a pharmacy seminar in February 2009. At first she wondered about the science behind it and if it would work long term.
“Our first prototype group (of 10 people) that we did in Wichita Falls went through it last June,” she said. “All 100 percent kept their weight off. From practical experience, we feel like it certainly does have potential.”
Beard had good luck with it; she used two rounds of the diet to lose the 45 pounds that she ultimately lost. She is still 2 pounds away from that weight and wants to lose more but has waited to see if she can maintain this current size.
“Like with so many people, your blood pressure is affected. I was able to go off a couple blood pressure medications. You really need to do it with a physician’s supervision, but when done properly, it can be a great program,” Beard said.
Harvest Drug hosts free information sessions about the diet every Tuesday night at 6.
Research shows the HCG Diet has existed since the 1950s, when hCG was used on children who experienced growth delays, according to data distributed by Champions Clinic in Wichita Falls that sponsors the diet.
Some believe the diet died off for a while because the hCG supply dwindled for a time. But now that more than one company has started developing the hormone and compounding pharmacies can customize such prescriptions, the HCG Diet has come back with a vengeance.
In Dallas some clinics administer the HCG Diet exclusively, Pino said.
Still, the hCG hormone is not an FDA-approved drug for weight loss, he said, voicing a common concern he hears from patients and something that he must regularly clarify. “That’s the biggest red flag.”
However, hCG is an FDA-approved drug at a seven-times-higher dose for infertility, he said. It is like many other medicines that have off-label uses, he said.
“The only major risks come with higher doses — a pregnancy dose. We may see hair thinning and headaches,” he said.
When hCG dieters are able to come off blood pressure and cholesterol medications, it’s simply because of the lost weight.
“It’s not the hCG by any means. It’s the weight loss,” Pino said.
The idea of injecting a potent hormone into one’s body to reset one’s metabolic processes strikes some people as extreme, as it did “Carrie” on an HCG Diet Information Internet site. “So where does the hCG come into play? Anyone who eats 500 calories a day is going to lose weight!” she writes. “The only comments arguing this point I’d be interested in reading are those from someone who did this diet years ago and still feels great and has kept the weight off without muscle deterioration and any vitamin deficiency.”
Warnock acknowledges that using hCG is one of many medical weight management alternatives. “On the one hand, you and I realize any medication we take, even Tylenol, has the potential of undesired side effects. Patients must weigh the potential benefits with potential risks.”
Overweight patients are vulnerable, he said. “As you work with these patients, you feel their pain. Most of them are so desperate. They have a fervent desire to be healthy.”
Patients feel frustrated by the typical advice. “All they’ve ever heard is eat less and exercise more. It’s so much more complex than that, you have no idea,” Warnock said. “There’s no question there’s a genetic component, a metabolic component, an addictive emotional eating component.”
In the National Institutes of Health’s U.S. National Library of Medicine, studies dated Sept. 29, 1976, Feb. 17, 1990, and Sept. 4, 1995, examine the hCG treatment for obesity with double blind, placebo-controlled trials.
All three studies concluded there is “no scientific evidence that hCG is effective in the treatment of obesity and does not bring about weight-loss or fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger or induce a feeling of well-being.”
The 1976 study found no statistical difference in weight loss, percent of weight loss, hip and waist circumference, weight loss per injections or hunger ratings and concluded, “hCG does not appear to enhance the effectiveness of a rigidly imposed regiment for weight reduction.”
However, the hcgobesity.org website includes a more recent, double blind study done by three doctors using the oral version of hCG. Results showed patients lost weight and inches more effectively with hCG, that they coped more efficiently and were in a better mood, and that the diet produced no side effects. “This study appears to contradict former conclusions on the issue of hCG and obesity,” the authors wrote. “We attribute those differences to a different approach, including variables not assessed in former publications.”
That study more accurately reflects the experience Nancy Brasfield and her family tell.
In February she was getting her annual checkup at her doctor’s office when her doctor mentioned the diet to her and said it had helped others accelerate weight loss.
Brasfield, who had already had lap band surgery nearly two years before, still had more weight to lose — and family members who wanted to lose weight also.
She decided to try it, as did her husband and 18-year-old son.
She shopped around to find a program that was affordable. Costs can range from $200 to $500 and go higher still.
Even several fellow teachers at Jefferson Elementary, where Brasfield is a teacher, did the diet together throughout the spring.
The family didn’t eat out as often, saving money that balanced the cost of the program. Soon Nancy and her husband were able to abandon the high blood pressure medicine with their doctor’s approval because their blood pressure had dropped so much.
The family was now saving more than $200 per month on medication.
“We were thrilled,” Nancy said. “There were no side effects.”
They weren’t hungry, and their energy increased, she said. “It’s just one good thing after another.”
Her main struggle came with the emotional side of eating. “We’re so used to eating,” she said. The diet didn’t allow her to put creamer in her coffee, which interrupted her morning ritual. It was the biggest sacrifice, she said.
Dr. Lynn Jennings, who promotes the diet through her position at Champions Clinic, learned about it from another doctor in Amarillo. She decided to try it herself as a test case and lost 22 pounds; she’s kept it off and will soon try to lose another 15 pounds.
“I had to be convinced in my mind it was safe,” she said. “Once I saw it worked and had no side effects, and that no one who has done it has had problems, I’m pretty convinced it’s safe.”
Ultimately it promotes a healthier lifestyle because it quickly extricates patients from their bad eating habits and sets them on a new course. “The weight loss is a carrot to get people to get healthier. It’s very gratifying to see the pounds come off. To me, it’s even more exciting to come off blood pressure medication,” Jennings said.
She recommends it to patients — who have no other health problems — who are 18 to 79, “and the 79-year-old did fabulous,” she said. “If you don’t lose weight on this diet, you’re doing something wrong.”
Champions Clinic’s literature claims nearly 20,000 clinical studies conducted worldwide document the broad benefits of pharmacological growth hormone therapy, including reduced body fat, increased muscle mass, higher energy levels, enhanced sexual performance, restoration of youthful immune function, stronger bones and more.
“This is not mystical science,” said Kevin Byrket, Gold’s Gym general manager and certified physical trainer, who has familiarized himself with the diet through journals and says it can be helpful — to a point. It puts the body into a starvation state, which forces it to find an alternative type of calorie to burn, he said.
The HCG Diet can be effective in starting a broad lifestyle change quickly. “The weight is like a boulder sitting in place for a long time that seems to cement itself into the earth,” he said Friday. “The diet helps your body work like a furnace that burns brighter and hotter and causes you to lose weight. It requires something significant enough to get the body to move into a different metabolic system. But to think you’re going to eat this way the rest of your life is certainly unrealistic.”
It’s not hard to lose weight; it’s hard to keep it off, and that’s where this diet may let you down, he said.
“It’s like a loan. You’re buying yourself time,” he said. “Your body can make some changes metabolically. But if you don’t maximize this break with a good, sound exercise program, you’re wasting the time. The window isn’t open forever. Use the diet to get in there and change your life. But to do the diet and make no significant changes in your lifestyle, without incorporating exercise and stress management, you’re wasting your opportunity.”
The exercise adds the bone density strength and endurance for heart and lungs that will help you live longer and generate the energy to keep up with a busy life, he said.
Since he moved from California to Wichita Falls, Byrket said, he has observed terrible eating habits and an epidemic of diabetes in Wichita Falls.
The HCG Diet can help by weaning folks off “the crap that’s killing them everyday” and move into a sensible eating plan, he said.
This week, Nancy Brasfield is in the first week of her third round of the HCG Diet.
“I’m telling you, it works,” she said.
It requires her to do a little more cooking and packing of lunches than she was used to, but it’s been worth it to her.
Now she’s trying to lose a little bit more in anticipation of her 30th wedding anniversary, where she and her husband will celebrate by taking a cruise.
She expects the discipline of the diet to carry over to her cruise ship eating behavior — and that the cruise should offer a variety of ways to exercise.
“It will not be a food fest for us,” she said.
She may make this diet an annual ritual, something she does every year to stay healthy and keep her weight in check.
“We are so happy that we found this … all three of us,” Nancy said. “It’s just been a godsend to our family.”
Source: By Ann Work, July 11, 2010 for Times Record News at http://www.timesrecordnews.com/news/2010/jul/11/dieters-try-to-lose-wait/