Hard Swallow What a concept: Mouth sprays to make you younger, sexier, thinner. What a scam, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Earlier this month, the government agency persuaded a federal court to temporarily block sales of the sprays by three California companies -- Pacific Herbal Sciences Inc., Natural Health Product Inc. and New Star Marketing Group Inc. The FTC says the companies falsely claimed that their products contained, or caused the body to boost production of a substance that would reverse aging -- human growth hormone (HGH). Ads for one Natural Health Product item, the Natural Rejuvenator HGH-R, sold online, said that it leads to an 82 percent increase in fat loss, a 75 percent improvement in sexual potency and a 62 percent improvement in memory.

A Response John Brockway, Natural Health Product attorney, said the company wasn't out to deceive anyone with its product, priced at $99 for a three-month supply. He said the product contains HGH (though the FTC says its tests show otherwise), which the company buys from a lab. "If anyone isn't satisfied, they can get a 100 percent guarantee," he said. "It doesn't work for everyone. We can't say that it will."

HGH Hype When prescribed by physicians for growth deficiency, HGH injections can cost $7,000 a year and up. But even such pricey treatments aren't intended to produce the dramatic effects claimed by the makers of the far less expensive sprays. A 1990 New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) study often cited by online product makers found that 12 elderly men treated with injections of HGH lost about eight pounds of fat while gaining about 10 pounds of muscle mass. But this study involved only men with below-normal concentrations of HGH.

A 2003 NEJM article criticized the growing number of HGH products sold over the Internet as diet aids, memory enhancers, skin smoothers, etc. "None . . . have been shown to be efficacious," it said. In fact, HGH taken by mouth would not be effective because it is degraded by gastric acid, according to the authors, researchers at the University of Virginia Medical School.

-- Rebecca Adams