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Hill Diet Good for Fertility, Not So Great for Co-Workers

Feel like there are a lot of hormonal, hungry people running about Capitol Hill these days? You’re not crazy.

Over the past few months, the HCG diet has become more and more popular with members of Hill offices. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., even subscribed to the plan last summer and lost about 40 pounds in the process.

The HCG diet requires the dieter to use a fertility hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, by taking daily liquid drops or by injection. At the same time, the dieter has to cut back his or her caloric intake to just 500 to 800 calories a day. HCG is the first hormone that spikes during pregnancy and is used as a part of infertility treatments.

“HCG is the hormone that is made by the placenta during pregnancy,” explains Andrew R. La Barbera, scientific director of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “Then its purpose is to basically stimulate the ovarian corpus luteum during the early part of pregnancy, during the first week, to make progesterone.”

When HCG is injected, he says, it increases ovulation in women and increases testosterone production in men. When HCG is taken orally, however, it does nothing. The body will simply digest the HCG, because it’s a protein. No respectable research demonstrates that HCG will promote weight loss, La Barbera says.

There’s also a regulatory risk to the diet. In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration made it illegal for manufacturers to use the hormone in over-the-counter diet aids. The ugly truth, says La Barbera, is that no one knows what’s in products currently being sold as HCG hormone drops — they could be anything. Don’t feel bad if you’ve tried the diet. Smart people aren’t immune from fad diets.

“They get sucked into other people’s success,” explains Bethany Thayer, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But “you can’t get all the nutrients you need in 500 calories.”

And diets that restrict caloric intake to fewer than 1,200 calories will have a negative effect on how well the brain’s synapses fire and how fast the metabolic system works.

“The magic formula,” Thayer says, “is to eat less and work out more.”

Staffers and members, hear HOH out: The nation needs you to stop starving yourselves and plying yourselves with hormones. We need you to be smart and creative, not hungry and grumpy.

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