Popular Weight Loss Gimmick May Give You Mad Cow Disease

Photo by cupcakes2

Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG) is the most thoroughly debunked weight loss gimmick in medical history.  We have known since the mid-1970’s that hCG has no impact on body weight whatsoever.  I’ve discussed it a number of times, and it always amazes me just how much evidence there is that hCG is no better than a placebo.  My favourite hCG-related quote comes from this systematic review, which sums things up pretty nicely:

“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”.

And don’t forget that it comes from the urine of pregnant women who are often misled into thinking that it is going to be used for fertility treatments (a legitimate use of hCG).  Seriously.  From the same review as above:

“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”

So when it comes to body weight, it seems pretty clear that hCG is nothing but a placebo. An expensive placebo that is obtained by misleading pregnant women into donating their urine, but a placebo nonetheless.  It couldn’t get any worse for proponents of hCG for weight loss, right?

Actually, it could.

It turns out that urine-derived fertility treatments like hCG could transmit prions, the misfolded proteins responsible for brain-wasting diseases like mad cow disease, and it’s human equivalent, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.

These findings come from a paper published in PLoS One earlier this week.  As I mentioned in passing up above, hCG and other gonadotropin hormones are derived from the urine of pregnant women to be used as a legitimate fertility treatment.  In this new paper Alain Van Dorsselaer and colleagues examined hCG and these other urine-derived treatments for the presence of non-gonadotropin protein.  They found that prion protein was a major source of non-gonadotropin protein in urine-derived hCG.  In other words, prions have made their way from the donors into the hCG.

So there are prions in the urine-derived hCG – should we be concerned?  From the paper (emphasis mine):

Current urine collection systems pool the urine of thousands of donors and, unlike the blood collection system, do not allow for donor tracing. There is also no mechanism of ensuring that the designated donor is actually the one who provides the urine, as donation is normally done at home. However, even if donor management and tracing were flawless, the fact that prionuria may exist well before the onset of clinically overt prion disease, without being detectable by current methods, remains a cause for concern. Furthermore, the now indisputable detection of prions in urine of experimental animals, the lack of a species barrier for human-to-human transmission, the relative efficiency of the intramuscular injection route for prion transmission, and the young age of fertility drug recipients all support application of the ‘precautionary principle’ for urinary derived pharmaceuticals. As risk management paradigms shift towards more proactive approaches intended to ‘anticipate and prevent’ emerging risks [23][26], a careful examination of the risk of transmission of human prion disease through the use of urine-derived hormones and peptides would appear to be warranted.

Now I personally don’t know much about prions, but I’m taking this to mean that we should probably investigate this more closely if we’re going to continue giving people urine-derived hCG for any reason.  Also, we should stop giving hCG to people who don’t need it!  Interestingly, this exact issue was discussed in the February issue of the West Virginia Medical Journal (what, you don’t read WVMJ?).  Although his editorial was published before the new paper in PLoS ONE, Dr Roger Toffle argues that prions could theoretically be passed from donor to recipient resulting in Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, and cites the initial discontinuation of human-derived gonadotropins as being due to concerns over this very issue (Dr Toffle also explains that increased demand for hCG among people trying to lose weight has resulted in shortages and increased costs for those attempting to procure it for legitimate fertility-related purposes – yet another downside to the  promotion of hCG for weight loss).

In their new PLoS ONE paper, Dr Van Dorsselaer and colleagues are quick to point out that while these new results suggest that it is theoretically plausible that prions could be transmitted through urine, there have not been any documented cases of it actually happening.  Still, we have now arrived at an odd situation where a common weight loss gimmick may have a better chance of giving you mad cow disease than helping you lose weight.

Let’s just briefly recap:

  1. hCG is obtained by misleading pregnant women who think they are donating their urine to help people get pregnant,
  2. hCG is no better than a placebo in promoting weight loss,
  3. The (nonsensical) demand for hCG in the treatment of obesity has resulted in increased costs for people who need hCG for legitimate uses, and finally
  4. hCG may give you mad cow disease

The cost-benefit ratio clearly doesn’t make sense when it comes to hCG for weight loss.


ResearchBlogging.orgVan Dorsselaer, A., Carapito, C., Delalande, F., Schaeffer-Reiss, C., Thierse, D., Diemer, H., McNair, D., Krewski, D., & Cashman, N. (2011). Detection of Prion Protein in Urine-Derived Injectable Fertility Products by a Targeted Proteomic Approach PLoS ONE, 6 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017815

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Popular Weight Loss Gimmick May Give You Mad Cow Disease

  1. DrMobs says:

    On the other hand, this recent paper (Depressive-like Behaviour of Mice Lacking Cellular Prion Protein. Gadotti VM, Bonfield SP, Zamponi GW. Behav Brain Res. 2011 Mar 22. ) suggests that the extra prion may make you happier (if you are a mouse forced to go swimming or be suspended by your tail and the administered prion reaches your brain cells).

  2. Sarah says:

    If I were a mouse suspended by my tail and forced to go swimming, I would welcome mad cow disease as an alternative to my terrible mousey life.

    But back to the topic at hand! I had never heard of hCG before, but its craziness reminds me of the stories (real or true? too lazy to look it up on Snopes) about diet pills they sold in my grandmother’s era that simply contained tapeworm – a surefire way to lose weight for sure, but also a surefire way to get tapeworm.

  3. Lisa says:

    This blog post should come with a warning. I posted it on Facebook and some people got pretty mad, saying it had worked for them. Rock on, though, guys!! I love your site.

  4. espi says:

    well i used hcg and it did exactly what it said, 30 lbs in 3o days and no hunger. still no signs of mad cow! lol, such silliness. even if it was a placebo, it was well worth it to lose the 30 lbs! good job though guys, stay educated but let’s not be rediculous…

    • Heyjami says:

      I lost 20 lbs in 30 days and also resulted in my roseacea going away and need for heartburn meds. Sometimes science needs time to catch up with unexpected use and benefit. I took measurements and only my bodyfat was reduced (I’ve done BFL and lost lean mass so this was unusual!). I’ve read the studies and they don’t follow the Simieon protocol strictly. Those studies that do follow it experience 1/2-1 lb per injection weight loss. I personally cannot do vlcd’s on my own – and in fact I could tell when my hcg lost it’s potency because my entire outlook and compliance took a dive. Your blog has taught me that indeed there is much more than calories in vs burned calories and the whole human body is a rich ecosystem that cannot be underestimated.

  5. shawmutt says:

    Silliness? Oh the irony–let’s inject hormone in my body and eat 500 calories a day, and then call people who criticize that silly!

    Sadly, my wife has several friends who are on that “diet”. When I showed her this article, she simply said “you’re a man, you don’t get it. They don’t care about the risks because they’re getting skinny”.

    So basically, they are like the amateur body builder who chooses to wreck his body with steroids to look good at the beach. Will it be worth it when the weight comes back and then some? Is the loss of lean body mass and wrecked metabolism worth it? This diet, along with other fad crash diets, insures the diet industry (Big Diet?) continues to make billions of dollars on fools. I too lost 30 lbs, but it’s been over the last six months by just eating normally and exercising moderately, and it will still be off in six months. It took me 20 years of yo yo dieting, but I finally get it and it’s easier than I imagined. Watch my portions, move around a bit more, and voila! weight melts off.

    I think I’m going to write my own diet book and call it “The Tortoise Race, How to Lose the Weight for Good!” Slow but steady wins the race!

  6. DebraSY says:

    Shawmutt, you’re in the honeymoon phase, and I’m happy for you, and I hope you can make it last for a long, long time, or even forever. Maybe since it’s only 30 pounds you will. Now, to pee in the beer, and I apologize in advance.

    Please know that your body, including your endocrine profile, will likely change and the process will get more challenging. That’s why regain is so common. It’s not because people are ignorant or “don’t realize it’s a lifestyle change” or “get lazy and return to their old ways.” Even people who lose weight through slow (and six months isn’t all that long, really) weight-loss methods involving nutritious foods commonly regain. Earnest, disciplined people. Give yourself a few years before you write that book (something most celebrities fail to do and regret). Keep on keeping on. Live joyfully most of the time, eat healthfully most of the time, exercise most days and treasure the body that happens. And when your scale shows you a weight slide of even a couple of pounds, believe it, heed it. Tweak your routine.

  7. Pingback: Prions Found in HCG

  8. Pingback: HCG-Schwindel » eBalance.ch Heinrich von Grünigens Blog

  9. Nora Streed says:

    I noticed that last time I donated blood there were new questions in the info packet about HCG use, and signs up that said you could not donate if you had used it (ever).

    I just took a quick look at the exclusion criteria online at the Red Cross site, and it’s not mentioned, although it says that there will be more questions added when you go donate.

  10. jane says:

    One question you might like to ponder is if the transmission of CJD was really such a risk then why haven’t we seen any cases in the past 50 yrs considering thousands and thousands of people have used it for weight loss and fertility treatment and then there are the thousands using other urine derived drugs too. I don’t see any epidemics of CJD yet. Maybe it is a concern however, it is pretty questionable to what degree we need to worry about it.

    And as for the HCG diet, how do you think these people are losing their appetites for 40days and also not feeling tired wasted and hungry? I’ve noticed this is the main difference in what people say …you don’t feel starving. Others who have tried it without the HCG haven’t had the same luck and seldom last 40 days.

    Also does it occur to anyone that not everyone can lose weight through diet and exercise…eg if your hypothyroid it’s practically impossible. I eat 1500 cal a day (I’m 5’9″ ) based on protein and vegetables and all natural foods, no processed anything and never lose a single pound because I am hypothyroid (taking meds for it). People probably think I eat like a horse and in truth I eat less than everyone I know. I know a huge amount about nutrition and good health, exercise etc. But no one listens to a word I say because I am fat, not super fat but fat. As if thinness is the only thing that qualifies you to know anything about good health.

    I am considering this diet myself as I have read many threads from hypothyroid patients who have done it and lost weight and some having even got off the thyroid meds saying that it has somehow reset their hypothalamus. One of them having been on thyroid meds for 25yrs previous to the diet.

    Hey I don’t know for myself, I haven’t done it. But I certainly reserve judgement on things I have never tried. And try to thoroughly look at both sides of the subject, hence why I am even reading this article.

    However, I don’t think you guys have done anywhere near enough research to say anything definitive, but I guess you haven’t really said anything truly definitive anyway; ) How were the studies you site conducted, who with, what conditions, what dosages, what protocol, was it HCG or the animal equivalent ? I’ve read somewhere one study was done with an equivalent animal chorionic gonadatropin, which is not the same obviously. There’s a ton of anecdotal evidence out their from people actually doing this diet. Just because it is anecdotal can you really just completely ignore that. I don’t think that is entirely scientific in itself. I believe there are genuine studies out there saying the opposite of the studies you mention too…so how do you address that issue?

    Lastly have you ever had a real weight problem yourself..been trapped in a body that you don’t feel you’ve done anything to deserve? If you have you might understand the sense of despair some people have to just be normal again and not be constantly judged by society because they are perceived as having no self control. And maybe some people are overweight through lack of self control so what suddenly enables to have that self control when they follow this hcg diet?

    So those are my thoughts and questions upon reading your article…thanks for making it available as it’s quite hard to find many negative view points on the HCG diet that aren’t from people just poo poo it without any evidence, at least you bring a potential concern to light and give a person something genuine to consider.

    • Travis says:

      Just to clarify, I wasn’t involved with this new study, or any other study on hCG. But there have been several, the vast majority of which have shown that when people are given hCG or a placebo, the effects on weight loss are identical. So the anecdotal reports aren’t surprising – the research evidence suggests that simply giving people an injection of salt water and telling them it’s hCG will have the same effect.

      For your questions related to the studies themselves, I’d suggest that you check out the link to the systematic review that I cite in the post, which has a nice synthesis of all of the available research on this topic.


      • jane says:

        I found this interesting website by Dr Belluscio http://oralhcg.com/english/index.htm and he mentions that he did double blind study himself 20yrs ago and submitted it to the most important medical journals but it was refused on the basis that is was not “interesting enough”. Makes me wonder how many other studies have been refused on the same flimsy basis? And therefore how reliable are the mainstream medical studies in the first place, have they already made up their mind what the outcome is going to be before the studies are done and if any other studies shows the opposite of what they want then it is simply not included in the “reputable” journals or at least 99% are not included so as to weigh heavily on the side of the argument the wish to prove.

        Here is his Double Blind Study for those who might be interested http://oralhcg.com/english/in2.6.htm

        and here is additional research information http://oralhcg.com/english/in4.3.htm

        Hormones can have very significant effects on the body as I am sure you already know, so it is not entirely unlikely that HCG does do something worth looking at regarding weight loss. But why the refusal from the medical journals to give it any air time? I am sure there would be many people who would find it very interesting indeed. Wouldn’t you?

        • Travis Saunders, MSc, CEP says:

          I’ve seen that study a few times, and it’s not shocking that it wasn’t published in it’s current form – it’s not really written up like a regular scientific manuscript. And more important, the results tend to suggest that hCG has little impact on body weight and other markers of adiposity . In fact, hCG had no impact on weight, and little impact on circumferences and skin folds (although it’s pretty tough to understand their results section at times…).

          So the study really didn’t show hCG to be very useful, and it’s written up incredibly poorly… so not a shock that it didn’t get published.

          With respect to your most recent comment, I think it’s an issue of where our money should be spent. If hCG were truly effective, you’d expect the balance of evidence to at least line up on the “pro” side. If a systematic review of 14 studies suggests it has no impact, then it’s very unlikely to be a truly impactful intervention. If we did 100 studies maybe it would be shown to have a very small impact on some measure, but even that seems unlikely since there is no physiological mechanism that can explain why it should work, aside from “hormones have effects on the body”.

          There’s been more than enough evidence to conclude that it has very little impact, and it seems silly to continue to do research on it (at least with gov’t funding) when we have a very limited amount of money with which to do research.

      • jane says:


        I followed the link ‘systematic review’ which takes me to the study of the comparison of 14 studies on the use of hcg in obesity.

        I notice of the 14 studies done only 6 were said to be done according to the Dr Simeons protocol, 2 of those six had positive findings in favour of hcg and 4 negative.

        Of these 6 studies I could find with the full text available. (couldn’t find Lebon and Miller) The 6 using the correct protocol, they being the only ones worth review due to the others deviating from the Simeons protocol.

        However, upon reading the Craig study (this was a negative outcome study) I found it deviated from the protocol by adding potatoes, carrots, okra and beets .. some of which are high GI foods which could cause hunger and blood sugar spikes? So that really leaves 5 following the protocol properly (maybe? or maybe not??) 2 studies in favour 3 against.

        You could pick holes in any of these studies and I found articles from people who had picked holes in the positive studies and others in the negative studies.

        But in the end, the six studies came down to who one decides to Believe might have done a proper and exacting job.

        But as for …Science!… I would have to say there needs to be far better than this to come to any genuine conclusions, it’s kind of ridiculous to say that hcg has been thoroughly debunked when it has barely been given a look in, except for a wee bunch of poorly designed studies.

        I am still undecided as to the truth here, there’s simply not enough evidence either way.

  11. Grant Gordon says:

    I posted to http://www.obesitypanacea.com/2009/04/human-chorionic-gonadotropin-hcg-for.html which I realized isn’t being updated any longer. I guess I shouldn’t point out that if messrs Janiszewski & Saunders were real they’d either update their website or take it down.

    I’m not going to make the full posting that I made previously, however to summarize.
    I am the co-founder of a publicly traded biotech corp which deals with therapeutic proteins. I fully researched HCG prior to utilizing it & IMHO it is perfectly safe for human use. I’m into my 4th week of self treatment as is my wife.
    In addition:-
    * I have lost over 21lbs
    * My body fat % has dropped by 12%
    * I have no hunger pangs or cravings
    * I have no dizziness or headaches

    Much as I generally speaking agree with these bloggers, their irrational reaction to HCG is quite mystifying.

    p.s. I have instructed my VP that if I contract bovine spongiform encephalopathy to notify Obesity Panacea immediately :)

  12. @Jane,
    I’m writing on the HCG diet and thought you made some excellent points in this discussion. Please email me at jdeardorff@tribune.com if you’d be willing to be interviewed for the story to be quoted or to provide background.

    (I’d also love feedback from anyone else who has tried the diet or has looked at the science behind its efficacy and safety.)

    Julie Deardorff
    Chicago Tribune

  13. Lindsay says:

    I only had vanity pounds to lose and I did the hcg diet with homeopathic drops I got for $39. I followed the protocol 99%. ( a few bites of cookies towards the end). You know it’s not a placebo bc you feel like death for a few days…and then half way through I felt sooo amazing, I have never had so much energy, felt on such a high and slept like a baby…. Plus I lost .5 lbs per day, on average. Also usually when I lose weight fast, my skin gets looser looking for a while, but while on the hcg my skin stayed perfectly tight and my breasts stayed big. Now unfortunately once the hcg was out of my system, my skin got a tad loose and my breasts shrank up. However it soon normalized, though my weight stayed off. It’s been almost a year and I haven’t gained it back. But you have to read the protocol ” pounds and inches ” and do it CORRECTLY. so um ya it does work and you are very wrong.

  14. Maxwell Geriggan says:

    I’ve been injecting myself with 500 IU a week to prevent shrinkage during steroid cycles. Know plenty of others who do the same because it’s a pretty common thing among guys using steroids. Mostly sourced from India and China. We’ll see where this ends up.

  15. Carol says:

    I have struggled all my life with weighty issues, tried every diet on the planet it feels like. I do NOT eat junk food and I exercise regularly yet still could not sort the weight out. Very depressing! Then I tried homeopathic HCG and what a miracle! No hunger, not lethargy, no muscle wasting or flabby skin, only fat loss, more energy, and I am told I look years younger. I have lost just over 100 lbs so far and for the first time in my life I have been told I am slim, and even skinny. Music to my ears I can tell you!! I do feel great in a very thankful way.

    You can knock the HCG and those who take it all you like folks, but it worked for me and many others I know of. I could not contemplate doing a 500 calorie diet cold turkey, it would be dreadful, that is if I could stick to it for more than a few days. But it is not just 500 calories the body is using, as body fat has a calorific value.

    And even if it were just Placebo, what the heck, it still enables people like myself to lose weight without any side effects. That has to be good.

  16. Kay says:

    Thank you for this! I recently stopped the hCG Diet (Omnitrition version) because of all the horrible side effects. I’m just amazed at what keeps popping up about this awful diet. I am keeping a blog until I am done with all my doctor’s appointments (caused by this diet) and have shared your link. http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual.asp?blog_id=5353071 Thank you again. While many people are stubborn and don’t want to know what this diet may do, I know you have stopped some people from even trying this. That is awesome!

  17. Sarah says:

    Well, my father did an injection in May of 2011, started showing signs of CDJ in June and by August 2011 was dead by sporadic CJD. Coincidence????? We, his family, don’t think so.

    We have been trying to get the injection tested and nobody will touch it. The CDC, FDA, and the National Prion Disease Pathology Surveillance Center all say they don’t test injectables. So, how would they know if it is a true risk?

    Past research says the incubation period for a tainted injection is up to 10 years before Iatrogenic CJD develops. However, have studies been done on what triggers sporadic CJD??? Supposedly, it just happens and they have no knowledge of how or what triggers the prion proteins in a brain to start folding in on themselves.

    You won’t see anything on a blog such as this from the actual victims of this disease because some of the symptoms are not being able to read or comprehend what they see and eventually end up blind and mute before death. If anyone else has experienced a family member taking an injection and then developing Sporadic CJD, I would love to hear from them.

    • Sarah says:

      Oops correction to above entry…

      I meant to say Varient CJD in the above Blog entry instead of Iatrogenic in the following sentence…

      “Past research says the incubation period for a tainted injection is up to 10 years before VARIENT CJD develops.”