HCG has been involved in several controversies: on the manufacture of steroids and a diet pioneered by a doctor in early 1950s who related it to shedding the pounds. HCG is also recognized for its involvement and importance in fertility treatments and improvement of pubescent abnormalities. So what is HCG, and why does it seem to be valuable but not that familiar?
The HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, is essentially a hormone produced in our bodies. Our biology class teaches us that hormones are chemical molecules made by our endocrine glands or are produced in the testes for males and in the ovaries for females.
The levels or amounts of hormones present in our bodies, all the activities each of them does, and all interactions they have with each other significantly affect our health. As a gonadotropin, HCG is particularly involved with the human processes of sexual maturity and reproduction.
Origins and Functions
HCG is naturally produced in the placenta, an organ that connects the growing fetus to the uterine wall so the baby could take in nutrients, receive oxygen, and secrete or exude wastes. The placenta comes from the chorion villi, which are projections of the outer membrane encasing the embryo. For more information click here.
The HCG promotes progesterone release so the uterus can support the developing fetus and the pregnancy can continue. However, a number of studies are continuously endeavoring to know the other functions of HCG during pregnancy, such as facilitating endometrial receptivity.
HCG greatly increases in amount during the first trimester, during week eight to week ten from the last menstrual cycle. By the tenth week, HCG will begin to gradually decrease.
However, some tumors can also secrete HCG, albeit abnormally. To understand this fact, we need to understand the basic structure or composition of HCG.
Hormones have diverse types and forms and one of them is the protein macromolecule. Proteins are formed by combining amino acids. The human chorionic gonadotropin has a carbohydrate molecule attached to an alpha subunit of 92 amino acids and a beta subunit containing 145 amino acids.
Certain tumors or neoplasms abnormally manufacture the beta subunit of HCG. This is the reason why the presence and elevated amounts of HCG could mean a person has a tumor growth, which may be cancerous. But ultimately, to verify tumor or cancer growth, HCG test will need to be evaluated against other laboratory or clinical examinations.
Urine or blood samples are taken in measuring HCG.
Before we could discuss interpretations of “high,” “normal,” or “low” HCG levels, we must know that the established international unit for measuring HCG is milli-international units per milliliter (mIU/mL). Normally, males and non-pregnant females will have less than 5 whole HCG mIU/mL. Quantitative tests (tests that measure exact amounts) with 25 mIU/mL or more HCG are considered positive in pregnancy. But after other significant lab assessments, a woman with abundant HCG that is found to be not pregnant may be diagnosed with a molar pregnancy, where tissues in the uterus abnormally grow or multiply. On one hand, a low HCG value could signify an ectopic pregnancy—when a fertilized egg attaches to a fallopian tube instead of the uterus, a miscarriage—when a pregnancy has spontaneously been terminated, or chromosomal defect of the unborn baby.
But in general, with regard to HCG test results and their implications, we must remember that laboratories and hospitals may have different normal ranges, and values need to be further evaluated against other tests before any finding or diagnosis could be verified.
So now we understand HCG and realize that as with all other hormones, its actions and levels, even a tiny change and increase or decrease of it can impact our health. We’ll surely continue learning more about the human chorionic gonadotropin hormone from the researches currently delving into it.