If you've heard of the hormone HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotropin) — a hormone produced by the placenta during pregnancy — it's probably because you've either heard of, or been on, the HCG Diet.
The HCG Diet is a weight-loss approach that combines a very-low-calorie diet with injections of fat-burning HCG. It's a dieting method that's been recommended by some holistic physicians for decades. It's recently seen an upsurge in popularity, driven by questionably effective, over-the-counter preparations of HCG … plus a lot of annoying spam!
Well, 2011 was a year of dramatic news about HCG — some negative, some positive.
In December, both the FDA and the FTC sent warning letters to several manufacturers of over-the-counter HCG weight-loss products, putting them on notice that their pellets, liquids and sprays were "fraudulent and illegal," and giving them 15 days to stop selling them (this did not apply to prescription forms of HCG).
Good News for Patients with Fibromyalgia or Pain
Now for the good news! Earlier in the year, at the 27th annual meeting of the American Academy of Pain Medicine, one of the top pain doctors in the U.S. presented some super-positive news about HCG. In a small study, HCG injections provided remarkably effective pain relief for patients with fibromyalgia and others who suffered from severe, intractable pain — so severe that they needed the equivalent of 120 mg of morphine a day for pain.
The doctor conducting the study was Forrest Tennant, MD, from the Veract Intractable Pain Clinic in West Covina, California. Dr. Tennant specializes in helping pain patients who no one else has been able to help. In this case, he was helping people even he'd not been able to help much.
"These were not run-of-the-mill patients," he said. "These were 'the severest of the severe,' what we would term as very intractable patients."
Dr. Tennant began his HCG study after learning about a nearby weight-loss clinic that used HCG injections as part of its weight-loss program. The clinic had observed that some of its clients who had been plagued by intractable pain were experiencing unexpected relief after receiving the HCG injections.
His one-year study included 12 patients who had severe, intractable pain for five years or more. Six of them had spinal conditions, and the other six suffered from either fibromyalgia, arthritis or headaches. All of them had constant pain, including:
- peripheral pain (in the arms, hands, legs or feet) that responded poorly or not at all to local therapies,
- severe insomnia,
- two or more symptoms of a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system, like tremors and colds hand and feet, and
- "presumed abnormal neuroplasticity" (pain so unrelenting that it alters nerve cells).
When the study started, all 12 patients were taking long-acting narcotics for chronic pain and short-acting narcotics for breakthrough pain. Their "morphine equivalencies" ranged from 500 to 1,500 mg a day — a massive dose.
Dr. Tennant gave the patients a challenge dose of 500 to 1,000 units of HCG subcutaneously. In just one week, 8 of the 12 patients reported feeling improvement in pain symptoms. For the next year, those 8 patients continued to receive 1 to 3 HCG injections per week (subcutaneous dosages were 1,000-3,000 units per week; HCG shots are easy to self-administer, like insulin). No other changes were made during the patients' therapy.
And People Received a Lot of Relief
They had fewer flares of severe pain. Seven of the 8 patients cut their use of narcotics by 30-50%. Five of the patients said they experienced some pain-free hours. All the patients reported more energy, better concentration, and less depression. And after the year was up, all of them said they wanted to stay on HCG — which was hardly surprising, given the benefits.
It's important to note that these kinds of positive results are very rare in patients with severe, intractable pain. "It's been my experience that severe intractable pain patients with presumed abnormal neuroplasticity, who are being maintained on opioids, seldom report improvement with any non-opioid therapy," said Dr. Tennant. He added that it's uncommon for intractable pain patients to reduce their narcotics while experiencing more pain-free hours.
How Does HCG Relieve Pain?
For now, the mechanisms are theoretical. Perhaps it's by neutralizing the opioid-caused suppression of hormones, reversing abnormal neuroplasticity, said Dr. Tennant. Perhaps it's because HCG directly strengthens and heals nerve and brain cells.
Dr. Tennant has put another 30-40 intractable pain patients on HCG, and says "we're getting positive results in 85 to 90% of them."
What's the Future for HCG as a Therapy for Pain?
I don't see HCG injections becoming a first-line therapy. But I think it could be a big leap forward for severe pain patients who don't respond to any other therapy — and a way for them to either avoid or reduce the use of narcotics, which can have so many downsides. Frankly, I suspect it has fewer side effects and would be lower cost than the 3 FDA approved medications currently available for fibromyalgia. The main down side is that it is an injection.
What a wonderful, new development in the therapy of chronic pain!
"Human Chorionic Gonadotropin in Pain Therapy," Practical Pain Management