“Why be stout” queried a newspaper ad in 1927, “when all you have to do to bring back natural slimness is rub your body with Dr. Bouchard’s Flesh Reducing Soap?” “It will absorb all fatty tissues from any part of the body and take away from large hips, double chin, ungainly ankles, arms, legs, bust and waistline.” Readers were assured that it was “perfectly safe and proved that dangerous drugs, dieting, steam packs or exercises were needless.” Also in 1927, researchers discovered a hormone in the urine of pregnant women that stimulates the production of progesterone, which in turn prompts the production of blood vessels in the uterus needed to sustain a growing fetus. That hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), would form the basis of the first pregnancy test. It would also become useful as an ovulation inducer for women experiencing fertility problems. However, it would be as a purported weight control miracle with claims rivaling Bouchard’s Soap that HCG would flash into the public eye.
P.T. Barnum famously claimed that there is a sucker born every minute. But KevinTrudeau, the king of infomercial scams, is making a valiant attempt to prove that Barnum was an optimist. Overweight people are a very large and inviting target for the crafty Kevin Trudeau who has managed to resurrect a mercifully forgotten diet plan that had been introduced in the 1950s by British endocrinologist Albert Simeons. Injections of HCG, coupled with a five hundred calorie a day diet, lead to effective weight loss, claimed Simeons. Dr. Simeons had been investigating human chorionic gonadotropin as a treatment for Frohlich’s syndrome, a delayed development of the genitals in adolescent boys caused by a pituitary gland disorder. The term “gonadotropin” actually means “stimulating the gonads,” and some athletes have even been known to use it to counter testicular shrinkage due to steroid use. Baseball star Manny Ramirez was suspended for fifty games in 2009 for using the drug. Although there was no proof that Ramirez had been using steroids, the finding of HCG in his urine was a red flag. It is common for steroid users use HCG both during and after a steroid cycle to boost testosterone production and restore testicular size.
It was precisely HCG’s effect on the genitals that had intrigued Simeons, but during his trials he also noted that boys treated with the hormone had their appetite curbed and lost weight. Surprisingly, they never complained of hunger! That was enough for Dr. Simeons to refocus his research on the possible use of HCG as drug for weight loss. There was some theoretical justification for this since during pregnancy HCG is known to mobilize fat from areas in the body where it is stored, such as the hips, belly, thighs and the derriere in order to ensure that the developing fetus is well nourished even if mom doesn’t eat right. Of course any weight loss regimen must limit caloric intake. But Simeons contended that with elevated levels of HCG in the blood even severe calorie restriction would not cause hunger. And his restriction was severe indeed, 500 calories a day! That’s basically starvation. Simeons argued that the extra calories needed to fuel the body would be derived by metabolizing the fat that was being released from fat stores.
It seemed as if the Holy Grail of weight loss had been found! Other researchers weren’t so sure. Neither was the U.S. Food and Drug Administration which declared that all advertisements for HCG injections must include the disclaimer that “this drug was not approved as a safe and effective treatment for weight loss.” Still, the fact was that people who received daily injections of HCG and maintained the 500 calorie diet were losing significant weight. But was it the hormone that was keeping the hunger pangs away? Scientists were intrigued enough to mount a number of studies. By 1995 fourteen randomized double blind controlled trials had been published. The conclusion of a meta-analysis of all the trials was emphatic: “there is no evidence that HCG is effective in the treatment of obesity; it does not bring about weight-loss or fat-redistribution, nor does it reduce hunger.” Basically, the researchers declared, HCG is an effective placebo. As a result HCG disappeared from the radar until it was resurrected by Trudeau as part of his “They Don’t Want You to Know” series.”
“They” apparently constitute some sort of nebulous alliance between industry, the medical establishment and government, who for their own nefarious reasons want to keep people sick and fat. One would think that endorsement by a felon with multiple convictions and millions paid in fines would not amount to a marketing success. But one would be wrong. Never mind that the Federal Trade Commission even charged Trudeau with misrepresenting the content of his book in which he claimed that the HCG weight loss plan is easy and safe. Trudeau’s popularization of HCG resulted in the sprouting of clinics offering injections and hucksters selling “homeopathic” versions of the miraculous weight loss product. Homeopathic HCG drops are a total scam because they contain no HCG at all. In any case, HCG is a protein and would be quickly broken down in the digestive tract if taken orally. Both the FDA and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have issued letters to several companies warning them that they are selling illegal homeopathic HCG weight-loss drugs that make unsupported claims. Canada should follow suit.
Since HCG is a legal prescription drug, albeit for infertility, physicians are free to prescribe it as they choose. And for those who choose to prescribe it in this fashion, there’s a tidy little profit. The safety of HCG in terms of regular injections for weight loss has never been established, and it is curious that people who are worried about trace amounts of endocrine disrupting chemicals in the environment are willing to pump a known hormone into their body on a regular basis. >While the risks of HCG may be unknown, the risks associated with a five hundred calorie diet are well established. Gallstones, irregular heartbeat, electrolyte imbalance, nausea, hair loss and fatigue are just some of the delights of a starvation diet that consists of coffee and an orange for breakfast; a little fish and raw asparagus for lunch; a piece of fruit in the afternoon; and a dinner of crab, spinach, Melba toast, and tea. Little wonder there’s weight loss. Little wonder there are legions of dieters who boast about quickly losing twenty to thirty pounds. That’s what starvation diets can do. But where are the people who have taken this road and have managed to keep the weight off after a year? It all comes down to a basic question. When it comes to dieting and health, should we trust the peer-reviewed literature, the FDA, Health Canada, or should we listen to an infomercial mogul with a reputation dirty enough to warrant a search for Dr. Bouchard’s Flesh Reducing Soap? Maybe I shouldn’t even mention that because Kevin Trudeau might resurrect this folly as well.