Seriously, Globe and Mail?

An interesting story caught my eye on the Globe and Mail website today (home to the “most authoritative news in Canada”) which has direct relevance to obesity, and therefore worth sharing here on Obesity Panacea.

The story was provocatively titled “People injecting urine to lose weight“, and discusses the use of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG) in weight loss.  This is one of the most thoroughly debunked weight loss gimmicks in existence, as I’ve discussed here in the past.  For example, a meta-analysis on the effectiveness of its use as a weight loss aid concluded:

“there is no scientific 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 or induce a feeling of well-being”.

Further, it has also been noted that HCG used for weight loss is obtained under false pretenses.  From the same study:

“HCG is obtained from the urine of pregnant women who donate their urine idealistically in the belief that it will be used to treat an entirely different condition, namely infertility”

And so I would expect a well-respected national newspaper like the Globe and Mail to report on the fact that both the patients receiving treatment and those altruistically donating their urine are being misled. And yet, despite the rather incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, the Globe article proceeds thusly (emphasis mine):

If you think cutting out carbs in order to shed pounds is extreme, then you’re probably not ready for a new diet regimen that has people injecting themselves with urine from pregnant women.

But at least one woman, who has lost 43 pounds on the diet since June, clearly wasn’t fazed by the idea of injecting herself with someone else’s pee.

“I thought, ‘My goodness, you could lose a pound a day just taking a shot? I’m going to find out about this,’” Sheryl Paloni told TheBostonChannel.com.

Iris McCarthy, a weight-loss counsellor at Success Weight Loss Systems, said that it’s not the urine itself that works the magic, but a hormone in it.

The hormone, called human chorionic gonadotrophin, has been shown to help the body metabolize faster by tricking your brain into thinking you are pregnant, she said. “This will help you have patience to learn how to change your ways and change your relationship with food.”

To be fair, I should mention that the article does include the following rebuttal:

Of course, the fact that the injection program also comes with a strict 500-calorie-a-day diet might also explain why anyone who jumps on the hCG bandwagon could lose weight.

“The hCG doesn’t have anything to do with the weight loss,” Dr. Barry Ramos, a cardiologist, told TheBostonChannel.com. “The fact is if you go on a 500-calorie-a-day diet, you lose weight. The bottom line is, it’s potentially dangerous because you don’t know what you’re injecting in your body.”

But what bothers me about this type story is that it’s presented as merely two differing, but equally valid opinions.  As though health professionals are actually debating whether or not HCG is a useful weight loss strategy.  When in reality, the above statements in support of HCG for weight loss are demonstrably untrue.  It took me all of a 2 hours to determine as much when I wrote my original blog post on the topic 2 years ago, and that included a trip to the library to photocopy articles that weren’t available online.  In fact, simply searching for reviews in Pubmed using the phrase “human chorionic gonadotropin weight loss” brings up this review paper, which concludes:

“we feel that the 20 year-history of the use of HCG in the treatment of obesity should come to an end because injections of placebo appear to be equally effective in all respects.”

It took literally less than 1 minute to find that paper.  Although it’s not surprising that this study wasn’t turned up since the Globe article doesn’t seem to have involved any actual reporting – they simply summarize a report on TheBostonChannel.com (though they did take the time to remove the section which noted that numerous studies have debunked the use of HCG for obesity treatment).  And of course this is not the first time that the Globe has published woefully inaccurate information related to obesity, as I have pointed out in the past.

Stories like today’s literally make me cringe – to think that it will be read by thousands of people, some of whom will now think that HCG is a valid treatment for obesity.  To be fair, the tone of the article seems to be gently poking fun at the use of HCG, but more for how far people are willing to go to lose weight, rather than because it has been shown to be nothing but an expensive placebo.  I expect more, Globe and Mail.

Travis

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3 Responses to Seriously, Globe and Mail?

  1. Jennifer says:

    The “Fit but fat” article on the Globe and Mail web site might be well researched and well-written, but it amounts to telling fat people that they are doomed to a short life. There is no mention in the article about the near impossibility of losing a large amount of weight and keeping it off. It’s like writing an article about how having migraines with an aura puts you at higher risk of stroke without bothering to mention that people don’t CHOOSE to get these kinds of migraines. While it might be possible to mitigate their effect, the migraines themselves are not optional any more than being fat is optional.

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    • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

      Excellent points, Jennifer. For the sake of simplicity, I have removed the links to the other Globe article.

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  2. Paul says:

    The Globe falls into the trap of presenting both sides of the story in a journalistic attempt to show balance. The problem, of course, is that there is no credible argument for the use of hCG. As you indicated, every single study (save one, which scientists were later unable to duplicate the results) have shown it does not outperform a placebo. The “effects” of hCG can be attributed to the 500 calorie per day diet and the one-on-one support that usually accompanies it.

    Articles like this are dangerous because there are plenty of seemingly credible and genuine people who are in the hCG business and are happy to sell you the ultimate weight loss solution. It only takes a couple of keyword searches to find them online. And if you’re desperate for a solution and a little short on critical thinking skills, it’s easy to buy into the hype.

    If you’re interested in some interesting reading, check out…

    … this discussion on the hCG protocol!

    It’s a very interesting back and forth between Elissa, our scientific and technical adviser (Elissa is a food scientist and a former research scientist at the University of California at Davis) and Dr. Ben Gonzalez, who administers the hCG protocol at his Washington D.C. clinic. It’s a long read (the discussion carries on into the comments) but a very worthwhile one.

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