Many of you may have heard of the HCG Diet, a popular weight-loss protocol where the hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG or hCG) is given to a person by injection or liquid drops. What most people don’t know is that it is also used to boost fertility in people struggling with infertility.
What is HCG & What Does It Do?
HCG is a protein hormone produced by the placenta that is immediately released after implantation of a fertilized egg and is required to sustain pregnancy. During the early weeks of pregnancy, HCG stimulates natural progesterone production by signaling the corpus luteum (the mass of cells that remains in the ovary after ovulation) to continue to release progesterone, which causes a woman to miss her menstrual period. Production of HCG increases steadily, doubling about every 48-72 hours, during the first 10 weeks of a healthy pregnancy.
Use of HCG as a Fertility Treatment
Scientists have recently learned that HCG may be released prior to implantation to support implantation of an embryo. One 2014 study by researchers at the Reproductive Medicine Centre PROCREA in Mexico City of 210 women going for In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), reports that intrauterine injection of HCG before an embryo transfer during IVF showed a “significant increase” in the implantation and pregnancy rates for those receiving the HCG injection versus those who did not.*
HCG is used as an injectable medication prescribed for medical infertility treatment. HCG is administered during medically-assisted fertility treatments in a variety of different situations when anovulation is a problem. HCG is believed to increase the probability that more healthy eggs are released from the ovaries. HCG injections are used in controlled ovarian hyperstimulation (COH) to induce or trigger ovulation for women with PCOS, or to assist with IUI, IVF or ICSI. HCG injections are often used when other medications have been taken to induce ovulation and failed, according to the American Pregnancy Association.
HCG has also been used to treat other fertility conditions such as:
- Maintaining progesterone production in the first few days after insemination
- Increasing sperm count in men with low sperm count
- Stimulating the development of the underdeveloped testicle/s in young boys
The Risks & Side-Effects From Use
HCG intramuscular injections do not come without side effects and cautions should be considered prior to use. It’s possible that the following symptoms may be experienced:
- an allergic reaction to the drug and/or soreness or skin reaction at the injection site
- upset stomach
- headache and/or joint pain
- hesitancy to inject oneself due to needle size
It is also important to mention how emotionally-intense, regimented, medically-assisted fertility procedures can be for some couples; from timing tests and scans, to injections and required frequent monitoring, and the possibility of conceiving multiples.
There’s a risk with HCG treatments of developing ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS) (ReproductiveFacts.org from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine). OHSS is when the ovaries rapidly swell to several times their normal size because they are producing a number of mature follicles which may cause the ovaries to leak fluid into the abdominal cavity. Most cases of OHSS are mild, but some may experience bloating, mild abdominal pain, or nausea. Severe symptoms present as sudden, severe abdominal pain, vomiting, or symptoms of dehydration. Often sexual intercourse, strenuous exercise, and lifting are advised to be avoided to avoid risk of injuring swollen ovaries.
Are There Natural Alternatives?
HCG is an important naturally occurring hormone for successful implantation and pregnancy. For some women struggling with infertility, this hormone may not be properly produced and released. While a doctor may suggest use of a medically-assisted fertility treatment that includes HCG injections, she may want to first consider natural options for supporting hormone balance and spontaneous ovulation.
Prior to considering ovulation-inducing medications like HCG, it may be most beneficial for a woman to address the underlying issue preventing or delaying ovulation, in addition to supporting overall hormonal balance. This will help the body to improve hormone levels in order to promote ovulation and sustain pregnancy on its own. Medications are known to be fast-acting; however, most do not address the underlying imbalance.
Medical professionals caution that HCG injections are medications and should only be used under the strict guidance of a qualified healthcare provider.
*Note: This study did not include couples where the male partner presented with azoospermia.
- Álvaro Santibañez, Jorge García, and Olga Pashkova, et al. Effect of intrauterine injection of human chorionic gonadotropin before embryo transfer on clinical pregnancy rates from in vitro fertilisation cycles: a prospective study. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 2014,12:9. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3911962/
- Infertility Medications. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/infertility-medications/
- In Vitro Fertilization. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://dukefertilitycenter.org/treatments/ovulation-induction/injectables/
- Fertility drug: Gonadotropins. (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.babycentre.co.uk/a6188/fertility-drug-gonadotrophins
- Roger W. Harms. M.D. Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. (2004) 449-450. Harper Collins.
- Side Effects of Injectable Fertility Drugs (Gonadotropins). (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/side-effects-of-injectable-fertility-drugs-gonadotropins/
- Medications for Inducing Ovulation (booklet). (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.reproductivefacts.org/news-and-publications/patient-fact-sheets-and-booklets/documents/fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/medications-for-inducing-ovulation-booklet/