DALLAS — No matter what medical critics say, dieters swear by HCG.
"I've lost 43 pounds total, and feel great," said one dieter.
"I've lost 20 inches off my stomach alone," another claimed.
HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotropin, a pregnancy hormone that supposedly causes the body to use stored fat for fuel while keeping hunger pangs at bay.
And now, HCG is surrounded with legal controversy and confusion.
After a News 8 report in February 2011, the FDA ruled that over-the-counter, homeopathic HCG is illegal because it uses a tiny amount of the federally-regulated HCG hormone.
Yet these products are still widely available in health food stores and online.
In October, the Texas attorney general added that HCG can't be "marketed or advertised for a medical use unless that purpose has been approved by the FDA."
HCG is FDA-approved for fertility treatments — not weight loss. Doctors, however, can prescribe HCG legally for an "off-label" use.
Professional Health Products Southwest of Arlington, Optimum HealthCare in Pantego, and Dragon's Breath Massage of Keller were among six businesses in Texas ordered by the Texas attorney general to "significantly alter" their advertisements.
Yet ads small and large for HCG abound.
A giant billboard off the Dallas North Tollway in Plano advertises the HCG diet for Advanced Comprehensive Medical.
News 8 spotted another sign outside a small pharmacy in Pantego. Pharmacist Mike Smith said he didn't know marketing HCG was illegal.
"Everything I read was referring to the homeopathic over-the-counter version," Smith said.
Medical experts are mixed about whether HCG works or not, though the diet continues to surge in popularity.
Total Med Solutions recently produced a paid segment on WFAA's "Good Morning Texas" program to talk about prescription weight loss, including HCG.
"We actually reached out to the FDA," said company president George Thompson. "We called them to make sure that we were in compliance with the way that we prescribe the prescription HCG."
Thompson said he was given no reason to believe that talking about the benefits of HCG could be illegal.
He was surprised when the Internet search engine Google briefly blocked his company's Web site during a pay-per-click campaign that had nothing to do with HCG. He said Google representatives told him that any mention of HCG on a Web site could result in blockage.
In a statement to News 8, Google said it disallos "ads for human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) in relation to weight loss/weight control..."
Yet, if you run a Google search on HCG, page after page pops up.
When it comes to HCG, the legal messages are as unclear as the science behind the diet itself.
News 8 contacted the FDA and asked if over-the-counter HCG is potentially so dangerous, why doesn't the agency stop more companies and clinics illegally selling it?
The agency's response? They don't have the manpower, because the diet is so widespread.
The Texas attorney general declined to talk to News 8, but a spokesperson told us their crackdown into illegal advertising of HCG has only just begun.