HCG Diet Controversy

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“I`ve never been this heavy before and I wanted to lose some weight,” said Connie Hart, whose fight to be thin has been a never-ending one. “It`s been an up and down battle,” she said.

But the Davenport woman thought she finally won the battle when she decided to give something new try. “It was amazing, it was amazing,” she said.

Hart lost 45 pounds in just 40 days on Human Chorionic Gonadotrpin, otherwise known as HCG, a fertility hormone produced in women’s placentas and found in pregnant women’s urine. The hormone is supposed to suppress your appetite so you can function off the required 500 calorie per day diet.

“'500 calories is not that much,” said Hart. When asked if it was enough to sustain energy, Hart said, “Yeah, I was fine.”

But the HCG diet alone was not enough for Hart to keep it off and less than a year later she gained back all 45 pounds.

“Rapid weight loss equals rapid weight gain,” said Dr. Margaret Millar, a sports medicine physician in Moline. Dr. Millar says not only is HCG an ineffective way to get healthy, it’s also dangerous. “Risk factors are huge,” she said.

Risks—such as gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and heart arrhythmias—reasons why in December theU.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of all over-the-counter HCG products marketed for weight loss, in all stores across the country.

But in a News 8 hidden camera investigation, we found stores in the Quad Cities are still selling HCG. One retailer even admits it’s illegal.

“They took it off the market,” the owner of Davenport’s Herb Cellar told our undercover photographer.

Another store, Complete Nutrition, not only tells our photographer it’s banned, but has to leave the room to get the hidden HCG.

“Technically we`re not supposed to sell it, but I`ll still sell it to you,” said the Complete Nutrition employee.  “Actually I got to go in the back and grab it.”

GNC, insists their products don’t contain the HCG hormone, even though the letters “HCG” are written on several product labels. The labels and what an employee tells our undercover photographer can be deceiving.  “Do you guys have HCG?” asks our photographer. “ Yeah we do, we have the drops right here,” said the GNC employee.

The FDA says it’s only a matter of time before Quad City Stores selling HCG face consequences.  “Stores that do not correct violations and stop selling these products may face enforcement action, possible legal penalties or criminal prosecutions,” said Shelly Burgess, a FDA Public Affairs Specialist.

Though the federal government is clear, all over-the-counter HCG products marketed for weight loss are banned, not all believe it.

We asked the owner of the Herb Cellar, why she is still selling HCG when the FDA says it is illegal. “The FDA didn't cite the company we get our HCG from so we are not afraid of it any more so we're only selling what we have left,” said Rita Beranek, Herb Cellar owner. (The company responses from GNC and Complete Nutrition can be found below. )

The FDA may be cracking down on HCG sold in stores, but remains hands off in some doctor offices where people like Hart are legally getting the stuff at $150 for the prescribed injections.

 “Even in the studies with the injectable stuff, it`s never been shown to definitively cause fat loss,” said Dr. Millar. When asked why doctors are prescribing it, Dr. Millar said, “Because it’s big business.”

News 8 wanted to ask Hart’s doctor, Moline’s Dr. Ilesh Kurani, why he is prescribing HCG for weight loss. After he canceled one interview with News 8, Dr. Kurani refused to answer our questions.

Hart is sticking by her doctor, the injections and the 500 calorie per day diet.  “This diet is fine because if it wasn`t fine why would doctors prescribe it?” she asked. Hart says the diet helped her drastically shed pounds once before, which is why, despite the warnings and her failed attempt to keep weight off the first time, Hart is giving HCG another shot.

“The injections give me hope,” she said, “I`m going to succeed this time.”

Complete Nutrition Response:

At Complete Nutrition, we go to great lengths to stay in compliance with all federal regulations when it comes to our products. We are fully aware of the warning by the FDA issued in December regarding these types of products. Immediately following, we pulled this product from shelves. The product should have never been sold to a customer and we are taking all necessary measures to ensure our compliance with the FDA. Corrective action is being taken with regard to the employees involved in these incidents. Complete Nutrition is committed to incorporating quality, personalized healthy solutions at our stores with the support of trained consultants. We put a huge emphasis on training our staff to work closely with customers to educate them about everything they need to know about our products, and how to use them properly.

                                              – Jeff Buethe, owner Complete Nutrition franchise in Davenport

 GNC Response:

 We have been assured by the third party vendors of the HCG products that GNC carries that they have not been contacted by FDA concerning the sale of these products.  All such products are labeled as dietary supplements, and are not homeopathic drug products. They are based on nutritional supplement formulas and are not homeopathic products covered by the FDA warning letters of Dec. 6, 2011.

 We are not aware of any action or statement by the FDA since that date that suggests that these or other nutritional such dietary supplement products are covered by the agency's warning letters of Dec. 6, 2011.

                                                                                      Laura Brophy, GNC spokesperson