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Somers at 60: 'Ageless' wonder

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Suzanne Somers certainly looks ageless on the cover of her new book by that name.

She wears her blond hair long and with bangs, the same as when she co-starred in the 1970s/early '80s sitcom Three's Company. Her smile is wide, her lips full and her teeth perfect.

Somers has a lot to smile about these days. Ageless last week was No. 10 on the USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list and is currently No. 2 in The New York Times advice category. And Somers, a sexagenarian as of Oct. 16, says she feels as energetic at 60 as she did at 35.

The wellspring of her well-being and the subject of her new book: controversial "bioidentical" hormones made by compounding pharmacies. She rubs estrogen cream on one arm daily and progesterone cream on the other arm 14 days a month. (She also gets periodic "drips" of vitamin C and of glutathione, an antioxidant.)

She says her husband, 10 years her senior, rubs testosterone cream on one thigh and DHEA -- a steroid hormone -- cream on the other. They both inject human growth hormone. Somers takes the view that bioidentical hormones are not drugs. "I'm not taking any drugs," she said last week in a phone interview. "I'm replacing all my hormones that I lost in the aging process with non-drugs."

For Ageless, Somers writes, she interviewed "the most forward-thinking doctors in America," all of whom prescribe bioidentical hormones -- "the juice of youth" -- to patients middle-aged and up.

But Somers could easily have found an equal number of doctors who are skeptical of the bioidentical hormones she describes in Ageless: They're "made from soy, wild yam and other plant extracts" that are "synthesized in a lab to exactly replicate human hormones."

Like other proponents, Somers says that bioidentical hormones should not to be confused with Premarin, an estrogen pill synthesized from the urine of pregnant mares that "has nothing to do with what we make in our own bodies."

Critics of compounded hormones, such as OB/GYN Michele Curtis, point out that horse urine is as natural as wild yam. And postmenopausal women who want bioidentical hormones can chose Estrace, Estraderm and other drugs that, unlike compounded hormones, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

"The biggest problem I have with (compounded) bioidenticals is lack of standardization and quality control," says Curtis, of the University of Texas-Houston Health Science Center. Curtis says she has not read Ageless, but after a reporter read excerpts to her, she said Somers is "spinning the facts. She's not malicious. She truly believes it."

Physician Adriane Fugh-Berman, who teaches about complementary and alternative medicine at Georgetown University, says there's no evidence that long-term use of bioidentical hormones, which Somers promotes, is any safer than long-term use of Prempro -- Premarin plus progestin. A government-sponsored study in 2002 found that Prempro hiked heart attack, stroke and breast cancer risk.

Somers acknowledges "there's a lot of study left to do. But what are women my age supposed to do?"

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© Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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