SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The newest go-to diet for those wanting to lose weight fast includes the use of a hormone called hCG. There's no question that it works but there are questions about whether it's safe and sustainable. The answers to the questions about the diet plan depend on who you ask.
"They're going to have great results," said Rhonda Bertelsen with Rapid Body Reducers, an hCG clinic.
"The hCG has no benefit," said Dr. James Bonucchi, a physician with CoxHealth.
"I think it'll be around for a long time," said hCG user Susan Haralson.
"There is no diet that works," said Stuart Hoover, a natural health practitioner who sells hCG.
There's little about which those on each side of the hCG debate agree, except that the diet, which has been around since the 1950s, is growing in popularity.
Placentas of pregnant women produce hCG. Babies use that hormone to turn stored body fat into nourishment. Diet plans use hCG in different forms, including drops for under the tongue, lotions, and injections.
"The body goes into fat tissue and breaks nutrition out of fat and tissue," said Hoover.
That, proponents say, results in weight loss of up to a pound per day.
"I did the program and lost 22 pounds in 3.5 weeks," said Bertelsen.
The FDA has not approved hCG for weight loss but the biggest controversy surrounds the 500-calorie diet that accompanies the use of hCG. While proponents say 500 calories alone wouldn't allow you to reshape your body the way that hCG does, Bonnucchi says no studies have shown that hCG has provided weight loss benefits above and beyond the 500-calorie diet.
"When you look at studies, they've taken hundreds of patients and given them a sugar pill or hCG, and have found no difference between weight loss or where it was lost from," said Bonucchi.
While he admits you will lose weight on the diet, Bonnucchi argues it won't stay off.
"When you lose that kind of weight, it is a crash diet. Anytime you stop, weight will come back on," he said.
"About 75 percent of everyone keeps it off," said Bertelsen.
Some ask about side effects from the diet.
"If it's safe enough for babies and we've been producing babies since the beginning of time, then it's safe enough for us," said Bertelsen.
"It can alter thyroid hormone production, alter ovulation, and cause hair loss," said Bonucchi.
Haralson, who lost 45 pounds in four months, says she hasn't experienced any side effects.
"I think this is a great diet to do," she said.
Others to whom we have spoken say they blame hCG for everything from dangerously low blood pressure to heart problems. Bonnucchi is especially concerned that, in some cases, hCG is prescribed after a consultation with a physician over a webcam, with no physical exam required.
"It is not a healthy way to lose weight," the doctor said.
It's this debate that has Hoover, a natural health practitioner, proposing a compromise. While he tries to talk many of his customers out of using hCG, he admits it can be a springboard for weight loss, but it's not the only answer.
"Lifestyle change has to be a long-term plan. That's the only thing that will offer sustained permanent weight management," said Hoover.
The cost of hCG can range anywhere from $40 for a bottle of the homeopathic drops, to $300 for a series of injections. You should always talk to your doctor before starting this or any diet.