DALLAS - No matter how much she weighs, 45-year-old Carmen Hillebrand's family loves her. However, that didn't stop her from not liking how she looked just three months ago.
"They say, 'Oh, I love you no matter what.'" she said. "But, you're feeling like, 'No, it's not me. I want to go back to what I was.'"
With the help of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) drops, Hillebrand says she has started to get closer to the way she looked on her wedding day. The drops, which are a pregnancy hormone, are placed under her tongue daily.
Some doctors believe HCG can change the metabolism by tricking the body into acting as though it is pregnant, using stored fat to feed a baby that doesn't exist. While dieters are placed on a 500-calorie-a-day diet, many claim they don't feel hungry because the body is flush with fat calories, as if they have eaten more.
HCG is only legal by prescription, according to the FDA. The hormone is currently only approved for use in fertility treatments. But, Hillebrand, and thousands of other dieters, are now buying HCG in stores or online in a homeopathic drop to lose weight.
"It's been diluted down to where there's nothing left but the energy of the particular substance," said Bryan Bradford, a nutritionist at the Sunflower Shoppe. "But, it works on the cellular level."
Bradford believes in eating right and exercising as the number one method to lose weight. He admits he was skeptical about HCG at first. But, the product has been selling like crazy, and now he too says he is a believer.
"First one or two people, sure, maybe [it's a] placebo," he said. "But, after hundreds of people now, I know there's more to it now."
Marjorie Bell said she never had luck losing weight and keeping it off. On HCG, she says she has lost 72 pounds in the last year without feeling hungry.
"I've lost 20 inches off my stomach alone," she said. "But, I've lost 68 total inches off my body."
WFAA tested two products purchased on the Internet to see if they actually contain HCG, the ingredient that's supposed to make the diet work. The results on the so-called prescription-strength products were "iffy." The test on the homeopathic drops were negative for HCG.
Dr. Robert True, a Colleyville gynecologist who prescribes the hormone as part of a $1,000, doctor-supervised weight loss program, said he believes the homeopathic HCG is essentially water.
"Water with extremely diluted HCG inside it," he says. "Not enough to do anything, and if there was anything there, as I said, it's probably out of date anyway."
Prescription-strength HCG only lasts a few weeks and must be stored at a certain temperature. One of the products WFAA purchased online was out of date when it arrived in the mail.
In a statement to WFAA, the FDA said the non-prescription products "are unapproved new drugs and are illegal."
Critics say it's actually the 500-calorie restriction that goes along with the HCG diet that makes people lose weight.
Carmen Hillebrand doesn't know why the homeopathic version works, but she said it just does.
"As of today, it's 48 pounds," she said. "I think it's being really successful for me."
Sunflower Shoppe complies and cooperates with the FDA’s current position on hCG products. However, Sunflower Shoppe has seen hCG yield safe and effective weight loss benefits with no known side effects for the thousands of its hCG customers. In its 40 years as a reputable source of natural health products, Sunflower Shoppe has and will continue to practice responsible and strident measures, such as with hCG, to ensure the safety and effectiveness of products it sells.