INDIANAPOLIS - A growing number of women, even some men, are taking a pregnancy hormone in an effort to lose weight.
People have reported losing drastic amounts of weight in a short period of time using the HCG Diet, created by a London physician in the 1950s, but it's controversial.
Nancy Landman is not pregnant, but she gives herself a daily injection of HCG after trying typical methods to lose weight.
"I was working out with a trainer. I was dieting. I was doing all the things that I thought I was supposed to be doing and it just wasn't working," she said.
Landman has lost 30 pounds in 27 days and said she feels great.
People who come to Dr. Sheila Thomas' facility in Indianapolis hoping to lose weight are often prescribed HCG.
"We advertise 40 pounds in 40 days on the HCG," Thomas said. "HCG is a natural hormone produced by women."
The level of HCG dramatically increases for pregnant women, helping to keep an unborn baby healthy with fuel and nutrition. For weight loss purposes, labs receive HCG from pregnant women, then manufacture and sell the hormone to compounding pharmacies, where physicians buy it for dieting patients.
"HCG burns about 1,200 to 4,000 calories of your fat, and it actually gives it back to you," Thomas said. "So it's basically saying your fat is feeding you."
HCG dieters are instructed to stick to a strict plan of 500 calories a day.
"When you're on the HCG, you don't go through a starvation because your body is receiving enough calories to not take you into starvation," Thomas said.
Laura Dean, an Indiana University Health dietician, agrees with critics who say HCG is neither safe nor effective.
"I don't think this is something I would let my patients do or would recommend to them," she said.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved HCG as an infertility treatment, not for weight loss.
Dean recommends an exercise and diet routing that doesn't promote extreme weight loss and severe calorie restrictions.
"One to two pounds per week for an adult is really a healthy weight loss goal," she said. "They're losing weight more slowly, but they're losing weight in a healthy way and it's going to stay off."
Thomas said people who do the HCG Diet must do so under close medical supervision and shouldn't buy the hormone online.
"The best HCG that you should do is pharmaceutical-grade HCG that's coming from a physician and that's coming from a credited pharmacy so that you are getting the right amount of HCG in your body," Thomas said.
Nancy said she believes she has finally found a diet that works.
"I used to have a sweet tooth. I own a bakery. I couldn't care less about sweets now," she said. "It's changed my life."
The HCG Diet has grown in popularity recently, mainly because of word of mouth. Patients can take it as an injectable, nasal spray or droplets.