Many people are latching onto a diet plan that promises rapid fat loss-up to 30 pounds on a monthly basis-and, judging by its recent surge in popularity, actually delivers. Although the so-called hCG meals are either a weight-loss miracle or a dangerous fraud, dependant upon who’s talking. The plan combines drops or injections of hCG, a pregnancy hormone, with just 500 calories a day. Although some believers are incredibly convinced of its power they’ll willingly stick themselves by using a syringe, the federal government and mainstream medical community say it’s a scam that carries way too many health risks and doesn’t result in real hcg.

“It’s reckless, irresponsible, and completely irrational,” says Pieter Cohen, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Can you shed weight upon it? Obviously, but that’s due to the fact you’re hardly consuming any calories. As well as benefit is just not gonna last.”

HCG is approved by the United states Food and Drug Administration to help remedy infertility in women and men alike. However its weight-loss roots trace straight back to the 1950s, when British endocrinologist A.T.W. Simeons discovered that giving obese patients small, regular doses from the hormone helped them lose stubborn clumps of fat. It only worked, however, when in conjunction with a near-starvation diet. Simeons began touting hCG as being a potent appetite suppressant that might make anything over 500 daily calories unbearable. And that he claimed the hormone could blast fat in key trouble spots like the upper arms, stomach, thighs, and buttocks, while preserving muscle. Save for several tweaks, the present day-day incarnation is largely as Simeons presented it: Dieters supplement an extremely low-calorie diet plan with daily injections prescribed off-label by medical experts, or take diluted, homeopathic hCG- typically in drop form-sold online, in drugstores, and also at nutritional supplement stores.

The reason why the hCG eating habits are experiencing a revival now is unclear, but the hype has sparked a response from the FDA. In January, the agency warned that homeopathic hCG is fraudulent and illegal when sold for weight-loss purposes. Though the FDA said such products aren’t necessarily dangerous, their sale is deceptive, since there’s not good evidence they’re effective for losing weight. What’s more, all hCG products, including injections prescribed by way of a doctor, must possess a warning stating there’s no proof they accelerate weight loss, redistribute fat, or numb the hunger and discomfort typical of a low-calorie diet.

Nonetheless, doctors remain doling out prescriptions for your daily injections, typically inserted to the thigh. At New Beginnings Weight Reduction Clinic in Florida, for example, an in-house physician has prescribed injections to 3,000 clients since 2008, and clinical director Jo Lynn Hansen has observed a marked jump in interest. There, clients can select either a 23-day plan ($495) or a 40-day regimen ($595). After taking a six week break and eating normally-in order to avoid against becoming “hCG-immune”-many resume the procedure, completing multiple cycles. “We certainly have people flying in from across the country,” Hansen says. “It’s merely a tiny little needle that pricks your skin. You can now get it done.”

Though hCG dieters incorporate some leeway in the direction they spend their 500 daily calories, they’re urged to pick organic meats, vegetables, and fish. Dairy, carbs, alcohol, and sugar are all off limits. A day’s meals might consist of coffee plus an orange for breakfast; just a little tilapia and raw asparagus for lunch; a piece of fruit from the afternoon; and crab, spinach, Melba toast, and tea for lunch. If dieters slip up, they’re motivated to compensate by drinking only water and eating only six apples for 24 hours. That’s shown to help squeeze out water weight, a psychological boost to assist them to get back on track.

“It wasn’t that tough to drag off, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat,” raved London-based fashion stylist Alison Edmond in February’s Marie Claire. “In the end, I lost a total of 25 pounds, finding yourself in a weight I hadn’t been in ten years.” Despite success stories like hers, scientific evidence around the plan is shaky at best. In 1995, researchers analyzed 14 clinical trials in the hCG diet. Only two concluded hCG was anymore effective than a placebo at helping people lose weight. And nearly ten years earlier, a report from the Canadian Medical Association Journal stated hCG has “no value” as a method of managing obesity, and therefore the diet continues to be “thoroughly discredited and therefore rejected by most of the medical community.”

Detractors repeat the hormone isn’t some miracle ingredient to weight-loss-the restrictive weight loss program is. “Should you don’t eat, you slim down,” Cohen says. “If hCG truly diminished hunger, it would be an excellent drug. However if which were the situation, why couldn’t you only modestly reduce your intake while using the it? Why would you will need to simultaneously starve yourself?” But believers insist that, because of hCG, they can stay with a minimal-calorie diet without hunger pangs, while losing excess fat. They’re adamant that hCG is vital on the diet’s success. “Everyone is strongly convinced that it hormone will keep them with a 500-calorie diet. And the strength of suggestion can be a very strong force,” says Cohen.

Naturally, the regimen isn’t without risks. The hormone is recognized to cause headaches, thrombus, leg cramps, temporary hair thinning, constipation, and breast tenderness. The FDA has received one or more recent report of an HCG dieter building a pulmonary embolism, a potentially fatal blood clot in the lung, says agency spokesperson Shelly Burgess. Yet, the hormone’s full risk profile is unknown. “HCG was studied briefly [for weight-loss] and located to get ineffective, so that we do not know what its potential risks are,” Cohen says. “Do I have data which it causes heart attacks, stroke, or cancer? No, I don’t, because we don’t know at this stage.” While hCG could be safe on its own-the FDA says it’s safe for an infertility treatment-pairing it with an extremely low-calorie diet may have unexpected negative effects.

Two years ago, Lori Hill, 40, of Salt Lake City, Utah, began a 28-day hCG diet cycle. She says she lost about 26 pounds, including thigh fat, largely without hunger. But she felt ill very quickly, and also by the final week from the diet, Hill-a fit and active soccer referee-couldn’t climb your flight of stairs without 08dexppky for breath. The effort made her muscles burn and shake, too. After completing the cycle, Hill regained all of the weight she had lost, with an additional 15 pounds. “I starved myself and threw my nutrients from whack,” she says. “You’re tricking your system into helping you to starve, without feeling any major hunger. What you’re doing to your body just isn’t worth every penny.”

There’s no doubt that 500 calories every day is tantamount to malnutrition-dieters should never dip below 1,200, say experts-and federal dietary guidelines recommend a lot more than 3 x the volume of calories the diet prescribes for girls ages 19 to 30. Moreover, extremely low-calorie diets may cause severe bone and muscle loss, electrolyte imbalances, gallstones, and in many cases death. “I’ve heard many people repeat the adverse reactions with this diet are overwhelming,” says registered dietitian Keri Gans, a spokesperson for your American Dietetic Association. “Plus they could start once a day in-you’ll start feeling irritated and tired.”

To Gans, the regimen is nothing but a crash diet-as well as an expensive one in that. A far more sensible way to weight-loss, she says, is no more mysterious than choosing healthy foods, limiting portion sizes, and exercising. “This is another approach for people who believe there’s a silver bullet, but there is however no such thing. This all diet does is reveal to you how you can restrict, and an individual can only accomplish that for such a long time without returning to old habits.”