Suzanne Somers’ latest book, about her family’s health crisis and eventual recovery, began when her hillside home in Malibu “burned to the ground.” And it only got stranger from there.
“We rented this beautiful home on a mountain and very quickly we stopped missing our (Malibu) house,” recalls the actress and health advocate, who appears Saturday at the 4th Annual WPBF 25 Health & Wellness Festival at The Gardens mall, headlined by Dr. Mehmet Oz.
“But there was an unfinished room downstairs, with standing water and black mold, like a little shop of horrors. It was in the air conditioning and heating ducts. We were breathing it.”
The effect of living in such a toxic environment for four years began to affect both Somers, who found herself inexplicably bloated, and her husband, Alan Hamel, who developed facial tics and spasms. The mold “got into his intestines and in the base of his brain,” she says. Meanwhile, two of the couple’s grandchildren began developing food allergies and were diagnosed with ADD, ADHD and other conditions.
Those dire conditions inspired Somers, long an advocate of natural medicine and hormone replacement therapy, to seek out environmental doctors to help her family. These experts helped get them on the road to treatment, including supplements and detox, requiring the already sugar-restricting Somers to even forgo the occasional fresh date, after learning that mold organisms feed on sugar. Recovery required “starting on supplements, detox and completely cleaning out the body,” she said.
Rather than just keeping that knowledge to herself, Somers did more research, the result of which is her latest book, “TOX-SICK: From Toxic To Not Sick.” As people are affected by toxins like mold, yeast and candida, doctors reveal that they’re often misdiagnosed, and treated with drugs like antibiotics that are even more dangerous.
“I’m sure you’re starting to hear your friends say ‘I’m so bloated,’ or ‘I can’t hold my stomach in, I don’t know why I’m gaining weight, or can’t sleep’ - that’s a big one, or ‘I don’t know what happened to my libido,’” Somers says.
The traditional approach to medicine, she says, does not often address the issues that are the result of “a changing planet. You can say, ‘Well, my grandparents never ate organic. My parents didn’t take hormones.’ But it’s different now. There are great environmental results of that change.”
Somers says that part of her role as a health writer and speaker is as an advocate, particularly for women. She names Oz, her co-panelist at the upcoming health and wellness festival, as someone “very, very respectful of women…When I speak, women come out in droves, because they’re starving for clarity,” Somers says.
“There is a reason that I look like I do. Yes, I do have wrinkles but that doesn’t bother me,” she continues. “I have a lot of energy. I sleep 8 hours a night, I don’t battle my weight anymore and I do have a rocking libido. The answer in achieving optimal health is to mimic nature, to eat real food. If you can milk it, pluck it or shoot it, you can eat it. People love the message because it’s hopeful, not a downer….I’m living that life.”
Part of living that life, for Somers, is sharing her own past in an effort to be honest with herself and therefore help others, which she considers “such a privilege. I’ve written several books about growing up the child of an alcoholic. I needed a lot of therapy to undo that damage, and what I learned was that in almost every situation, you see the part you play in the drama in your life. That helped me to not be a screwed-up person.”
This played into her decision to be a contestant on “Dancing With The Stars” a few seasons ago, as “an opportunity to show all of these millions of people who’ve read my book that it worked! At 68, age is just a number,” she says. “I had the same energy as a 20 year old. All I lacked was the expertise the pros had. I would watch them thinking ‘If I had started dancing at 8, I could dance like you, too!’ I was doing my best. It was my challenge to my body.”
One of the dances she did on the show was a tribute to “Three’s Company,” the seminal ABC sitcom that made her a household name. Somers still speaks fondly of Chrissy Snow, the sweetly dim blond who weekly engaged in hijinks to hide the fact that her male roommate (John Ritter) was straight, something not only against house rules but the moral norms of the day. That concept is now outdated, but not Chrissy’s appeal, she says.
“When I read the script, I thought ‘Dumb blondes are so unlikable, stupid with no intelligence behind them, no common sense,’” she says. “I remember thinking ‘How do I make her likable and lovable?’ I decided that she would never lie, never steal anybody’s boyfriend. She would have a real sense of who she was, a straight shooter. When the writers would write her a line, where Chrissy was telling a lie, or something against her moral code, I would say ‘No, no no.’ I trained them how to write for her.”
As quickly as Chrissy Snow became a sensation, the woman who played her found herself one as well, and generations before Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses began protesting making less than their male co-stars, Somers did the same.
When her contract was up, she says “‘I told my husband ‘I don’t know why all the men are making ten times more, that I’m on the number one show and I’m the lowest paid.’ Somebody had to get the ball rolling, and I guess that was my job to get it started. I’m not even a feminist in that sense. I did if because I thought ‘If I’m the most popular woman on TV I should be paid like (it). But I was paid less than the least popular man. It was about the integrity of a person who happens to be a woman. I still believe Chrissy Snow was worth every penny.”
But instead of getting a raise, or even an opportunity to negotiate, Somers says she was fired “so that no other woman got uppity. They wanted to make an example of me, humiliate me…They made it so I couldn’t get back into television. I was considered trouble.”
This began, Somers says, a lifelong journey of reinvention. Instead of sitting around mourning her TV career, she began a nightclub act in Las Vegas. And during her off hours “sitting in my hotel room during the day, I wrote books. All of these things were sent to me as opportunities. All of them were gifts.
“There was a higher power directing the whole thing, and I never looked back with any regret or bitterness. I look at everything and think ‘What am I supposed to learn from this?’”
IF YOU GO
WPBF 25 HEALTH & WELLNESS FESTIVAL
When: April 2, 10 am-4 pm
Where: The Gardens mall, Palm Beach Gardens