Doctor Claims Diet Starves Clients

Patients Eat Less Calories, Take HCG Shot

HOUSTON - Two women successfully lost weight, but some doctors said that their method was dangerous.

For the first time in her life, Tracie Omlie no longer checks to see if she is the largest person in the room. She told KPRC Local 2 that she no longer has nightmares about seats in airplanes or movie theaters.

Since she dropped from a size 24 to a size 12, the mother of two is beginning to think of herself as a normal-sized person.

"I have never been a thin person. My whole life I have been overweight. I have a great job. I have my beautiful kids, but I was so unhappy. It holds you back," said Omlie.

"Right now, I have lost 86 pounds. You have to be happy with yourself and that is something I have learned in just the 80 pounds I lost," Omlie added.

Like Omlie, Melissa Lima has dropped several dozen pounds. The wife of former Houston Astros pitcher Jose Lima told KPRC Local 2 that when he died of a heart attack last year, she went to get life insurance for herself but received bad news.

"I went to get tested for life insurance and they flagged my account and said I couldn't get it because my cholesterol was 295," said Lima.

A visit to the doctor delivered another blow.

"My doctor said I was a day away from a heart attack ,and I said, 'A day away from a heart attack? Are you kidding?' My husband just had a heart attack and now I am facing it with two children," said Lima.

Lima said she has not only dropped pounds, but also dropped her cholesterol 50 points.

Both Omlie and Lima claim their success comes from HCG.

The human chorionic gonadotrophin hormone is found in pregnant women and is the reason home-pregnancy tests turn positive.

In the 1950s, Dr. Albert Simeons noticed malnourished women could give birth to babies who were not malnourished. Simeons reasoned the hormone HCG must be programming the body to mobilize calories from stored fat deposits and deliver it to the fetus. The doctor then tried low doses of HCG and starvation-style diets to find a combination he claimed did the same thing in non-pregnant people.

It is an idea undergoing a revival in Houston. HCG-only clinics are popping up all over the city, including Donna Pontello's Equilibrium in the Bellaire area.

"They come to us after they have tried everything. Whether it is that last 10 pounds or 100 pounds, this is the only thing I have seen work hand over fist every time as long as they follow it," said Pontello.

Clients are given a strict, customized 500-calorie diet plan. The plan contains specific do's and don'ts' when it comes to combining foods.

It also comes with a B-12 shot, a physical and a round of weigh-ins to measure everything from glucose to cholesterol.

Once through, the clients will return every week to get seven syringes filled with 125ml of HCG. The shots are injected into the fat of the stomach.

Pontello told KPRC Local 2 that people can build up an immunity to the drug, so those losing weight are cycled on and off of it with the ultimate goal to quit when they reach their goal weight.

"It is doing something because you would starve if you only ate 500 calories without the HCG, and there is just no way we could keep people coming on a 500-calorie diet because there is no way they would not be hungry," said Pontello.

But Dr. Dian Ginsberg with Women's Specialty Healthcare isn't buying the HCG diet.

The OB/GYN told KPRC Local 2 that there is not enough HCG in the shots to have the kind of impact the women and the clinic claim. Ginsberg reasons the patients are simply on a starvation diet, which will cause a person to drop pounds quickly, but at a danger to their health.

"The initial thing we as physicians looked at is how is the HCG enabling you to lose weight? How is it mobilizing the weight from the hard to reach places? And then you find out you are dropping your caloric intake to 500 calories, that's significantly decreased. The big question: Is it really doing anything or are they starving people," said Ginsberg.

The Food and Drug Administration has 14 clinical studies connected to HCG and has found no basis for the diet claims. The only proof HCG works as a diet drug is from the stories people tell.

"Number one, you have to say is it dangerous to go on a starvation 500-calorie diet, so assuming the HCG isn't doing anything, she is eating 500 calories a day. That created the question: Is the diet eating away at the woman's own muscle? The heart is a muscle, the intestines have muscles. So what is it doing to her actual body while she is starving herself," said Ginsberg.

Pontello said the lack of calories is made up by the stored fat.

"All their nourishment is coming from the stored fat. The 500-calorie diet plan is to teach you portion control and build a foundation for what you should eat after you come off the HCG. The shot has everything to do with the weight loss. What we are teaching them has everything to do with afterward, keeping (the weight) off. They are learning new ways of eating, they are making better choices, so there is all this stuff going on behind the scene," said Pontello.

Ginsberg said that if people want to try HCG, they need to at least make sure a doctor is supervising the program and refrain from keeping it from their own doctor.

"I would like to believe there is a physician watching over these people and checking them weekly to make sure they are getting reasonable nutrition. So, if you are going to do it, it is really important that you make sure to go somewhere that's got a physician that is going to watch over you," said Ginsberg.

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