Experts slam pregnancy hormone injections for weight loss
Despite clear and consistent advice from health experts that the "secret" to losing weight is eating less and moving more, it seems we're still obsessed with finding a quick fix instead.
The latest alarming weight loss trend is the "HCG diet", which involves injecting the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin twice a day and sticking to a diet of 500 calories.
The theory goes that HCG, a hormone produced naturally during pregnancy, manipulates the body's natural tendency to store fat in stubborn areas such as the belly and stomach. The diet claims to mix up the body's metabolism and "mobilise stored fat".
These HCG injections, which are offered in several cosmetic and weight loss clinics around Australia, are discussed in the current issue of Harper's Bazaar Australia.
The magazine interviewed a 39-year-old woman named Rachel (not her real name) who is a size zero and injects herself with HCG twice a day.
"There's definitely a stigma to this. People are so judgmental," Rachel told Harper's Bazaar.
"We're living in this 'no pain, no gain' culture. People snigger about lap band surgery and this is tarred with the same brush. There's more respect out there for self-deprivation.
"If I said I got this body by surviving on kale, running marathons on a treadmill and drinking charcoal water, everyone would be applauding me, saying 'You go girl!'"
But health experts say there is no scientific evidence that shows HCG works for weight loss, and the injections could cause significant harm.
"HCG doesn't have any approval for weight loss and we strongly recommend against it," Bu Beng Yeap from the Endocrine Society of Australia told news.com.au.
"To be honest, I don't think there's any decent evidence that it's effective. It seems to be a myth that's floating around.," Prof Yeap said.
"There was a theory that went around a few years ago that in pregnancy you have hormonal changes and you redistribute weight in order to provide energy to the foetus.
"So there were theories that maybe in non-pregnant women it might have some kind of role of modifying energy.
"It's speculative and as far as I'm concerned it's unproven.
"It's something that we strongly advise against and there are recognised complications."
Prof Yeap said the body was not designed to be overloaded with so many hormones.
"If you're giving women HCG, one of the risks is ovarian hyperstimulation," he said.
"In women who are using it to achieve weight loss, there are reports of women having strokes and other major health problems."
Jeremy Cumpston from Sydney's Ageless Clinics estimates he has treated 100 patients in the past 15 years with HCG.
"People are asking for it, but I'd only prescribe it to 20 per cent of patients at most," Dr Cumpston told Harper's Bazaar.
I have to be very familiar with a patient's history before I'd even consider it. And I only ever allow it to be used over a 12-week period.
"I'll only ever consider patients who need to lose 10kg.
"If they're five kilos overweight and the extra heaviness is really affecting them and they're desperate, then maybe I'll consider prescribing it.
"You can't hormonally manipulate your body indefinitely. There will be consequences. Regulate some self control and eat properly."
Last November, the American Medical Association implemented a policy stating that "the use of human chorionic gonadotropin for weight loss is inappropriate."
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians also found that the use of HCG "should be regarded as an inappropriate therapy for weight reduction".