The XX Factor

Another Reason To Never, Ever Take Health Advice From Suzanne Somers

Suzanne Somers has some controversial ideas about health, specifically about largely unregulated hormones called bioidenticals. Last year I posted about Somers’ bizarre regimens , which had been mentioned in a Newsweek cover story and include rubbing estrogen and progesterone creams on her arm and injecting estrogen directly into her vagina. According to Newsweek , Somers claims this hormone therapy is “virtually risk free.” If you believe that, you should read the story of Minnesota mom Jill Ajao, who is profiled in the September issue of Elle -the article is not yet online-by Ann Bauer (Ann is a former professor of mine).

Ajao, in an unhappy marriage, was suffering from a low libido. She had also gained a bunch of weight. She couldn’t sleep. Her doctors found that she had a low thyroid coupled with depression, and treated her with a cocktail of antidepressants, anti-anxiety meds, sleeping pills, and hypothyroid medications, to no avail. Then, she read Somers’ The Sexy Years , which recommends bioidenticals as the cure for Ajao’s problems. Ajao’s hormone levels were within the range of normal, but she began to take progesterone and use a testosterone cream, which were also prescribed to her by a doctor whom Ajao says wrote the scrip without seeing her.

At first, Ajao felt great-her libido was back and she felt omnipotent. But she quickly spun out of control. She started screaming at her kids, and became hypersexual in a way she never had before. “I’d get on a bus and see a cute young guy and think, I have to have that,” she tells Bauer. But then things got even more intense. She sought out S&M on a Web site called Adult Friend Finder and had an anal sex experiment with a stranger that was so extreme, she became briefly incontinent. The married Ajao panicked- she eventually called the cops and made a false rape claim in order to cover up the affair.

To blame this awful chain of events purely on the bioidentical therapy would be wrong-and Bauer avoids the easy excuse for Ajao’s actions. Maybe Ajao would have had a similar breakdown without the extra testosterone. She quotes a psychology professor who tells her, “It’s a mythology that compulsive sexual behavior is produced by excessive hormones.” But as Bauer points out, there are “no widely accepted medical guidelines for prescribing testosterone to women to increase sexual desire,” and it’s not approved for use by the FDA. Though correlation does not necessarily lead to causation here, it’s certainly enough to warrant serious scientific inquiry into this treatment rather than just taking the former Three’s Company star’s word for its safety and effectiveness.