The Cost of Crash Diets – An In-Depth Examination of the hCG Very Low Calorie Diet

It’s summer. And society is screaming at you about “beach bodies!” And maybe you’re genuinely, and dangerously, overweight — and you do really need to shed pounds. Regardless of your circumstances, trendy and flashy crash diets are — sadly — always “in style,” but never any good.

And one trendy crash-diet that has been really influencing people lately (and for a long time too) is the hCG VLCD, or: human chorionic gonadotropin very low calorie diet. hCG is made by the placenta during pregnancy — and as this diet dictates, you get injected with hCG. The “very low calorie diet” portion of the process means you have a daily limit of 500 kcal (kilocalories).

Does this sound dangerous yet?

The traditional hCG VLCD is a 26-day process that involves 23 injections. In fact, quotes Dr. Simeons (the inventor of the hCG diet), “Patients who need to lose 15 pounds or, 7 kilos or less require 26 days treatment with 23 daily injections.”

But some simple research of published studies quickly shows you how detrimental this is to your health. Let’s start with the hormonal component of this diet: human chorionic gonadotropin injections.

The Food and Drug Administration warns that hCG does not aid in weight loss, and has issued joint warning letters to firms marketing hCG for weight loss. Injecting hCG as part of a weight loss treatment is not an approved usage by the FDA. In fact, the FDA attaches a warning label to approved hCG products stating, “There is no substantial evidence that it increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction, that it causes a more attractive or ‘normal’ distribution of fat, or that it decreases the hunger and discomfort associated with calorie-restricted diets.”

Furthermore, hCG is a hormone, and interfering with your hormonal balance without careful supervision and testing can have consequences. hCG injections have been associated with headaches, blood clots, leg cramps, temporary hair thinning, constipation, and breast tenderness.

Now that we’ve addressed the dangerous and recklessly false promises of hCG, with help from the FDA, let’s dig into some scientific studies for some hard facts on how starvation diets will harm you.

Which brings us to the 500 calories a day part of the diet. Eating only 500 kcal a day is a starvation diet. There are no two ways around it.

Here’s one major problem: starvation diets can result in diabetes. Let’s look at a study that was published in 1996. Michael Koffler and Eldad S. Kisch examined seven initially obese individuals. All seven participants underwent “a strenuous weight-reduction program” involving severe calorie reduction and “developed diabetes mellitus: non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in five cases and insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in two cases” (Koffler M, Kisch ES. J Diabetes Complications. 1996 Mar-Apr;10(2):109-12).

Starvation diets can even result in sudden death in obese patients. The abstract of a 1992 study states, “A major concern with the use of starvation or semistarvation diets for weight reduction in severely obese people has been the reports of sudden death due to ventricular arrhythmias” (Fisler, Janis S. “Cardiac effects of starvation and semistarvation diets: safety and mechanisms of action.” Am J C/in Nuir 1992:56:2305-45).

Finally a 1987 study conducted by Barrows and Snook on the effects of a very low calorie diet; this study concerned a 420 kcal/day diet — only an 80 kcal difference between this study and our hCG VLCD crash diet in question. The study’s abstract states, “A 4-6 mo study was conducted to examine effects of a very-low-calorie, high-protein diet and realimentation on energy expenditure, resting metabolic rate (RMR), and serum thyroid hormones of obese women aged 30-54 yr. Fifteen healthy women, greater than or equal to 126% ideal body weight, were placed on the diet (420 kcal/day) and lost an average of 1.1 kg/wk until a predetermined goal weight was attained.” As the study ended, it was found that “T3 values remained significantly below pre-study values” (Barrows K, Snook JT Am J Clin Nutr. 1987 Feb;45(2):391-8).

Ok, there’s a lot there. The takeaway is: the study was 4-6 months, the participants were 15 healthy yet obese women aged 35-54, and they were placed on a restrictive 420 kcal/day diet. And, “T3 values remained significantly below pre-study values.” But what does that mean in simple terms? Well, low T3 is commonly seen as an indicator of starvation or hypothyroidism — and guess what… A common and major symptom of hypothyroidism is unexplained weight gain. This is all a big and technical way of saying: a severe crash diet will actually cause you to gain weight in the long run.

So here we are in 2017, still discussing hCG and the very low calorie diet. People still believe this is a safe way to lose weight. But our secondary research has shown that there is a history of scientific studies that show the dangers of hCG and the very low calorie diet. And to be clear, just some of those dangers are: symptoms associated with hypothyroidism (like a poorly functioning metabolism), diabetes and even death.

Those are just a few (very serious) examples of why we don’t take diets lightly at Protea. Our mission hinges on helping you live a healthy and happy life — and health and happiness don’t come from quick fixes in a syringe… or from starving yourself.

Everyone’s path to their healthiest self is different. That’s why we take the time to deeply and thoroughly examine our patients. We run extensive labwork, and we talk with you. We use hard data, as well as insight gained from speaking with you, to determine how we can help you enhance your life — with an actual lifestyle change. And with that lifestyle change, that we discover together, you will find your version of success.


Works Cited:

  • Medication Health Fraud – Questions and Answers on HCG Products for Weight Loss Center for Drug Evaluation and Research –
  • “How to Do the hCG Diet – Original Diet hCG” Dr. Simeons’s hCG Diet WebMaster,
  • Koffler M, Kisch ES. “Starvation diet and very-low-calorie diets may induce insulin resistance and overt diabetes mellitus.” J Diabetes Complications. 1996 Mar-Apr;10(2):109-12,
  • Fisler, Janis S. “Cardiac effects of starvation and semistarvation diets: safety and mechanisms of action.” Am J C/in Nuir 1992:56:2305-45,
  • Barrows K, Snook JT. “Effect of a high-protein, very-low-calorie diet on resting metabolism, thyroid hormones, and energy expenditure of obese middle-aged women.” Am J Clin Nutr. 1987 Feb;45(2):391-8,