Are Stomach Pains a Side Effect of the HCG Diet?

An HCG diet is a very-low-calorie eating plan that incorporates hormone injections to promote the mobility of excess fat and suppress your appetite. For those following the HCG diet, any number of factors can cause severe stomach pains, from the 500-calorie-per day meal plan, to the effect of HCG. Before going on a new diet, especially one that is so low in nutrients, you should talk to your doctor.

Hunger Pains

The National Institutes of Health explains that healthy adult males need at least 1,500 calories a day for proper functioning and that females need at least 1,200 calories a day. On an HCG diet, you’re permitted to consume only about 500 calories, a small percentage of the recommended intake. Chronic hunger is defined by Merriam-Webster as a craving or urgent need for food that can cause an uneasy sensation. Hunger contractions can occur when your stomach is empty for several hours. According to the “Textbook of Medical Physiology,” when hunger contractions are extremely strong, they can last for two to three minutes and even become painful 1.

About HCG

HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is a hormone that is produced in the placenta during pregnancy. In the 1950s, British endocrinologist, A.T.W. Simeons theorized that the compound redistributes fat from areas where it tends to accumulate, suppresses hunger and helps burn excess fat. Over at least the past 30 years, many studies have discredited these claims, forcing the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate HCG. What they found, according to Center for Drug Evaluation and Research press officer Shelly Burgess at the FDA, was that there’s no evidence that HCG reduces weight beyond that resulting from calorie restriction 4. Using HCG can lead to water retention and ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, or OHSS, both of which can cause severe abdominal pain 2.

Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome

HCG is approved for use in the treatment of infertility by the FDA. When used this way, HCG causes OHSS in about 10 percent of women, according to MedlinePlus. Most experience mild symptoms, which include abdominal bloating and mild stomach pain. Those who have severe symptoms experience severe pain or abdominal swelling. OHSS is a condition characterized by enlarged ovaries that can leak fluid into the chest and belly. This complication can occur after any kind of in vitro treatment, but is most common after HCG injections. Because HCG is not approved for the treatment of overweight and obesity, the FDA does not have statistics on how many patients develop OHSS while on an HCG diet.


An HCG diet can help you lose weight. However, it’s not the hormone that is responsible for burning excess fat. In a 2011 “U.S. News and World Report” article, Harvard Medical School assistant professor Pieter Cohen, M.D., says that weight loss from the HCG diet is “mainly because you're hardly consuming any calories. And any benefit is not going to last." To drop pounds without pain, you need to burn more calories than you eat, consume healthy foods and increase physical activity.