Sex and the City and the Suzanne Somers

I went and saw Sex and the City 2 with a friend the other night, and I have to say I enjoyed it. It was fun, corny, light-hearted, and the clothing and furniture made it pretty to look at. But I had one major complaint that spoiled it for me, and that is that Samantha’s entire story-line was basically a commercial for Suzanne Somers’s books and alternative medicine anti-aging nonsense.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

Samantha is the oldest of the group of four ladies (she’s 52 in this movie), and she’s obsessed with staying young. Right near the beginning of the movie she’s asked what surgeries she’s had done to keep her so young, and she replies that she hasn’t had any, and then proceeds to pull out Suzanne Somers’s book (from memory I think the specific book was Breakthrough: Eight Steps to Wellness) and starts talking about all of the hormones and pills she takes and the creams she rubs on herself and patches she wears.

This becomes her gag throughout, as she’s always constantly either rubbing an expensive-looking cream on herself, or swallowing ridiculous amounts of pills. If you’ve seen the previews you know most of the movie takes place in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and when they arrive at the airport there she has all of her drugs confiscated. From this point on she starts complaining about her menopausal symptoms, and she starts rubbing yams and eating hummus because apparantly they have some natural estrogen or something. To top it all off, near the end of the movie (seriously now, spoilers) a room full of women remove their burkas to reveal youthful looking, New York-style fashion wearing women, who are (surprise!) discussing the Suzanne Somers book in their book club.

What makes it worse is that all four of the stars of the movie are smart, successful women, and they offer her no skepticism apart from a little bit of attitude at the silliness of taking so many pills. It’s sad, especially considering the success that the movie is having, to think that women might watch it and think that if they use all of these undoubtedly expensive products, they too could look like Samantha. I hope that most people would approach this skeptically, but I think that this feature-length commercial will unfortunately lend the semblance of credibility to her alternative therapies.

My heart sank immediately when Samantha first pulled out Somers’s book and started talking about bio-identical hormones, but that’s largely because I read skeptical blogs (like Respectful Insolence), so I had seen a lot of evidence-based responses to Somers’s claims before I saw the movie. But even without that prior knowledge, there were some red flags that anyone’s skeptical side could pick up on:

1. Appeal to Celebrity: taking medical advice from an actress is not prudent. Suzanne Somers is not an expert, so before starting any treatment she recommends make sure to consult your doctor, and read reviews of her treatments by skeptical experts, so that you’re not only getting the information supplied by people who have professional or financial interests in promoting these treatments.

2. Naturalistic Fallacy: When Samantha is having her pills taken from her at the airport, she protests by saying “but they’re all-natural!” This is appealing to the fallacy that since something is natural, it’s safe or good for you, but this just isn’t so. I guess Samantha forgot that other substances, such as cocaine or marijuana, that would be confiscated in airport security are also natural. Many natural substances are poisonous to humans, and even ones that are seen as safe and healthy, like Vitamin D, can be overdosed on. One shouldn’t assume that because Suzanne Somers claims the treatments she endorses are natural (I say “claims” because there’s nothing natural about the process of synthesizing bio-identical hormones), that they are healthy and don’t carry risks.

3. Testimonials: Stories are a convincing way to sell a product, as anyone who’s been sucked in by an infomercial knows. But often products that are promoted with the use of testimonials just aren’t supported by scientific evidence. The Skeptic’s Dictionary has a good article on why testimonials are unreliable forms of evidence: “Anecdotal (Testimonial) Evidence“.

4. Quality of Life: Anyone considering a treatment or a lifestyle change should weigh the pros and cons. If somebody is convinced that the anti-aging methods promoted by Suzanne Somers actually work, they should look at Samantha’s lifestyle in this movie and decide whether all of the time spent counting out pills (she swallowed a whole handfull at one point), rubbing creams on herself, and obsessing over her hormone levels is worth the benefits. Personally, I would take the wrinkles and hot flashes and spend the time I saved by not obsessing over my looks doing things I enjoy. One should also keep in mind that supplements aren’t nearly as regulated as pharmaceuticals, so if you’re on a regime that involves swallowing handfuls of supplements daily, you may be risking exposure to contaminants. More on that here, and here.

5. How Kim Cattrall (the actress that plays Samantha) actually stays young: A red flag that should be obvious to every person who is wondering whether they should start a regime like Samantha’s, is that Kim Cattrall looks like she does without all of the hormone nonsense. I browsed a few websites and interviews done with the actress, and she claims to keep her looks by sticking to a strict diet, exercising at least 30 minutes per day, and using botox (guess who else uses botox? Yup, Suzanne Somers). So it’s possible to look just as good as Kim Cattrall without the use of hormone therapies (that are possibly dangerous and that aren’t supported by science).

I hope that most people who watch the movie would pick up on at least a couple of these red flags, and look into Somers’s claims thoroughly before starting such an over-the-top anti-aging regime. Here are some good places to start if you’re looking for a critical look at the things she’s promoting:

  • Dr. Harriet Hall looks at bioidentical hormones in an article for Skeptic Magazine
  • Quackwatch recommends steering clear of bioidentical hormones
  • Science-Based Pharmacy explores the veracity of claims made about bioidentical hormones
  • Newsweek criticizes Somers’s poor grasp of the science behind the treatments she endorses

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10 Responses to “Sex and the City and the Suzanne Somers”

  1. 1 Jeffrey June 3, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    “Personally, I would take the wrinkles and hot flashes and spend the time I saved by not obsessing over my looks doing things I enjoy.”

    It is different for every person, and your statement is obviously your opinion. The reason I say this is because my wife, for example, could not handle her symptoms and not only was it affecting her personal life but it was affecting her professional life. That is why she underwent bioidentical hormone therapy and feels much better and has minimized her symptoms after 5 months and counting of bhrt.

  2. 2 Global Villager June 4, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Fantastic post! I will never watch this movie so I didn’t mind the spoilers. Considering the audience for a film like this it doesn’t surprise me that it is chalk full of natureopathic mumbo jumbo. I know several women at work that were talking about this stuff and they’re also fans of the show, so I find that interesting.

    Sadly, most people who watch this film are not sceptical about such things and the points you make are not obvious to them so well done!

  3. 3 Carolina Maine June 5, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I scrolled down to not read the spoiler, but I will most likely go on bio-identical progesterone because of a cycle issue and I have used the Kokoro cream-it helped a little. The other will be a shot-a painful one:(

    Anyway-I thought of you today when I was putting the finishing touches on my new blog. I still blog on poetry-just not as much. The new blog is about my journey in faith.

    LOL! I’m not here to convert you-don’t worry about that. It’s just that now-when you click my gravatar-people will come to my new page and assume I came here to convert.

    Just giving you a heads up-and if you want to visit-please do. I’m going to review books and readings-and just share thoughts-basically-what you do here. I’m not going to let it get ugly though-I get all stressed out.

    Anyway-that banner still cracks me up. Have a great weekend! I want to see SACII soon:)

  4. 4 Jeffrey June 15, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    “Newsweek criticizes Somers’s poor grasp of the science behind the treatments she endorses”

    What you failed to address is that the authors of this article by Newsweek are 2 people (a male and a female) with absolutely no medical background at all…Remember that this is the internet and people can pretend to know what they are talking about, even if it is a “well-respected” news source.

  5. 5 EnlightningLinZ June 18, 2010 at 7:34 pm

    Jeffrey – I think you missed the point I was trying to make, especially red flag #3.

    And in response to this…

    “What you failed to address is that the authors of this article by Newsweek are 2 people (a male and a female) with absolutely no medical background at all…Remember that this is the internet and people can pretend to know what they are talking about, even if it is a “well-respected” news source”

    I say…

    “What you failed to address is that the author of this book, Suzanne Somers, is 1 person with absolutely no medical background at all…Remember that this is the free world and people can pretend to know what they are talking about, even if it is a big, thick book”

    The Newsweek article was well done, and I linked to other articles by doctors and scientists who perhaps you would find more credible when it comes to Somers’s claims.

  6. 6 Jeffrey June 21, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    I don’t back Suzanne Somers as the “expert” to trust when looking into bioidentical hormone therapy, but I was emphasizing the fact that not only do the authors of the newsweek article have zero medical backgrounds, but Newsweek is heavily funded by pharmaceutical company’s, which would benefit from a smear campaign.

    Anyway, if you want a recommendation from a leading expert in hormone therapy, and from someone who has an immense wealth of knowledge when it comes to the subject I suggest, Hormone Harmony by Dr. Alicia Stanton. If you want another perspective on the topic from an expert, try that out.

    Thanks for the reply.

  7. 7 Jeffrey June 22, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Here is a website that has helped me learn a lot as well, on bioidentical hormones

  8. 8 EnlightningLinZ June 24, 2010 at 10:16 am

    Jeffrey – you know pharmaceutical companies sell the bioidentical hormone stuff too, right?

    I find it strange that you would reject criticism from a magazine that has a fairly good track record, and you ignore the other links that I provided, yet you have no problem believing what’s written on websites put up by people and companies that have financial interests in selling bio-identical hormones. I’ve only had time for a quick perusal of the websites you linked to, I hope to have a chance to read them over in more depth on the weekend…it’s been a busy week!

  9. 9 Jeffrey July 13, 2010 at 8:19 pm

    Sounds good, I have been on bioidentical hormones for 4 months now and I have felt better each month. I have decided to do pellet therapy and it really is a great way to balance my levels without having to put on cream or a patch. Hopefully there are other people that benefited from bioidenticals that can share there story to you as well. Because as much as we like to listen to articles, personal experience is a better substitute.

  10. 10 Connie January 24, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Here’s what I can say about a woman her sixties with 5 grandchildren under my belt–that would be me. I LOVE bio-idential hormone replacement therapy. The fact that my skin is incredible, is a bi-product not a reason for taking the hormones. What I like is this: my bone mass increased. I was osteoportic before beginning a regime of bio-identical hormones. My last bone density test showed that I had regained all the bone mass I had lost and that I had not just tolerable bone mass for my age. It was steller! So say what you will, but I prefer to replace my hormones than my hips.

    Add to that, an increased interest in life, zest and vitality (did I mention SEX–WOW) and I can say that you nor anyone else can disuede me from the use of bio-identical hormones. And I will continue to recommend the same therapy for all my friends.

    Talk to me when you’re sixty. I’ll have a little more trust that you have a valid opinion on the topic. I don’t know how old you are now, but I’ll still be swimming laps when you turn. If you want to face your 60s without them. Sorry for you.

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