Q & A with Dr. Christiane Northrup: On Female Empowerment, Health, Happiness, Sex & Yoga!
A few months ago I saw Dr. Christiane Northrup speak for the first time alongside my friends, Dr. Frank Lipman and Kris Carr at Urban Zen. Needless to say, I was blown away as her empowering approach to women's health and wellness is second to none.
Dr. Northrup is a leading proponent of medicine and healing that acknowledges the unity of the mind and body, as well as the powerful role of the human spirit in creating health. Following a career as a practicing physician in obstetrics and gynecology for over 25 years, Dr. Northrup has dedicated her lifework to helping women (and the men who love them) learn how to flourish on all levels by creating health, prosperity, and pleasure in their lives. She says, “I’ve spent the first half of my life studying and footnoting everything that can go wrong with the female body—and figuring out how to fix it. I’m dedicating the second half of my life to illuminating everything that can go right with the female body, including teaching women how to truly flourish.” Wow!
I was fortunate enough to talk to Dr. Northrup and tried to cover as much as I could -- from osteoporosis to self-empowerment to yoga -- this woman is an unbelievable wealth of wellness knowledge!
MBG: Could you speak about the misconception that women need to take supplements to prevent osteoporosis and what they could be getting from their diet?
CN: When the Women’s Health Initiative stopped abruptly in 2002, up to that point, for 20 years, women were being prescribed estrogen, in the form of Premarin, the urine of pregnant horses, as a way to keep bone mass steady after menopause. It’s fairly well documented that bones lose some mass when estrogen levels drop. But they don’t drop into the fracture range because of menopause-you just lose bone mass. The first Premarin scare in the 70s, where it was noted that women who were on Premarin had a higher risk of endometrial cancer, was the first time that Premarin fell off the stage as the panacea for everything. Then, in the early 80s, drug companies made another case for it and osteoporosis was the main indication. It was seen as the pill to keep you young forever, to keep your heart and bones healthy. But the risk of breast cancer, stroke, and heart disease increased for some women.
So they had to invent something else to prevent osteoporosis, with the mindset being that osteoporosis and fractures were a normal consequence of aging. That’s not the case. It’s not inevitable. Bones are living tissue and you can get bone mass back through weight bearing exercise and Vitamin D from supplements or sunlight. For last 30 years, we’ve vilified the sun, so now we have a worldwide epidemic of osteoporosis. But it’s also the fact that our standard western diet is acid. The bones are a huge reservoir of minerals such as calcium. They are the blood’s major source of alkalinizing calcium, so at night when you’re sleeping, to keep the blood slightly alkaline, the bones will dissolve. If we look at the standard western diet, it’s primarily acid-forming foods: grains, sugar, meat. We need those things, but we want to balance it with greens. To make the body alkaline, we need greens. The general thought is 4-5 servings of vegetables per serving of protein or grain. Every time you take a green drink, you give your body a load of alkalinizing, nutrient-rich substances that help counteract the effect of too much acid in the diet. Most fruits and vegetables are alkalinizing to the body.
What we’ve done in the west, thinking that everything is a drug deficiency, is that we’ve developed alendronate drugs like Boniva. They change bone metabolism that block osteoclastic activity, which breaks down old bones so that osteoblast can build new bone. Bone metabolism is supported by a critical balance between the construction crews and building crews, just as the health of a home or city is supported by a balance between what needs to go and what needs to be built. It’s a daily process. What the alendronate drugs do is by stopping the normal breakdown of bones, they favor the buildup of old bone that becomes brittle over time and becomes so hard and dense that the normal blood supply cannot get into the bone.
These drugs bind to bone in a way that’s not reversible, so nobody knows how long that effect stays in your system even after you’re off the drug. Plus, they’re being given relatively young women to prevent something that might happen years and years and years later.
So what do we do prevent this?
Alkalinize your diet. Make sure your Vitamin D levels are ideal: 40-100 nanograms/ml. Don’t just go to the doctor and make sure you’re “normal.” “Normal” is not optimal. Get a copy of your report. We also need enough Vitamin K, found in dark green leafy vegetables. People are taking too much calcium, a reductionistic approach to this. Bones are made from calcium, magnesium, boron-not just calcium.
What do you recommend for getting more greens into our bodies?
Do greens at lunch and dinner. A serving of broccoli, a serving of kale. Iceberg lettuce does not count. To get enough Vitamin K and to alkalinize our body, we need kale, collard greens, broccoli, arugula, and watercress. You can get a lot more if you do it as a juice. But I want to caution people about is putting too much fruit in with the greens because it counteracts the positive effects of the greens because of the sugar. It’s better to do the greens by themselves, though I know that’s asking a lot. Greens with a little carrot or apple juice are better than no greens at all. In general, do not mainline fruit juice because that’s sugar.
Could you speak about your 'dressing room intervention' that you mentioned at Urban Zen and elaborate on your belief that women have power that’s unique to them to nurture themselves and their relationships?
The organs and processes of the female body are how the divine come into physical form, so I use very specific references. The idea that the egg has the ability to repair a defective sperm and nourishes the fertilized egg for the first three days as it travels through the fallopian tube in order to embed itself in the uterine wall and create a placenta. The egg wisdom is such that not only does she repair something defective and make it better, but she also brings the food, and then she has the wisdom to create a placenta, an organ that nourishes new growth. On a macrocosmic level, women do this for men and for each other when they up-ride another woman and tell her she looks wonderful or lend her support when she’s down. Women act as a placenta for each other. I’ve never seen a woman heal unless she had a community of like-minded people in which to heal. This is not work you can do alone. One positive comment can change your whole life.
I was at a dress shop in Portland, Maine and could hear a woman in a dressing room, putting herself down and wondering if she was too old for this particular look -- the usual dialogue that you hear women doing all the time. And I told her she looked wonderful! This wasn’t about her making the purchase. It was that every time she puts on those outfits, she’s going to hear my voice because I was the placenta for her, the egg that repaired the defect in her eyes because she could not see her beauty. But now, she can. And she’s apt to pass that on to someone else.
We always talk about how contagious bad habits are. Smokers tend to be around other smokers. The opposite is true. One person who stops smoking positively affects people at 4 degrees of separation. We take that principle of contagion and turn it into something positive. As Miriam Nelson, who wrote Strong Woman Stay Young points out, we need communities of people who are exercising, drinking green juicing, and upriding each other in the dressing room together. The Internet is making that so much easier. It’s very exciting.
Could you speak about your work in using the discipline of pleasure in our lives?
When you decide that you’re going to be more positive, there’s a physiologic effect on the people around you. The mediator of this effect is an odorless, colorless gas called nitric oxide, produced by the endothelial lining of every blood vessel in your body under conditions of health and pleasure, meaning sustainable aerobic exercise. Marathon running and over-exercising does the opposite-it causes oxidative stress. Orgasm, or anything pleasurable that is sustainable increases blood flow to every part of our body.
In the instance of erectile dysfunction, it’s very well established the mechanism by which the erectile dysfunction drug Cialis and Viagra work is to enhance the flow of nitric oxide to the penile blood vessel. A woman’s pleasure turns men on and increases their nitric oxide naturally so that they don’t have to use a drug to get the same effect. A turned on woman is what turns on a man, if he’s heterosexual. What turns on a woman is life force in all its forms. A woman will be turned on with increased blood flow to the vagina by watching gay males, women together, or a man and a woman together. Men are more selective. If he is gay, he’s generally not going to be turned on by a man and woman together or two women, he’s turned on by two men. A man is not as multi-modal. Women are more erotically aroused in a more global way. We have to think of it not just as sex, not just as “get him up and get him off” because a happy, healthy woman uplifts whatever she’s involved in.
Women think that women’s health is getting a PAP Smear and a mammogram -- that’s what they’ve been brainwashed into, that’s the discussion of women’s health. It’s unbelievable to me. I’m actually going to talk about women’s health. When women feel great about themselves, their spouses are going to be happier and healthier. It’s a win-win. There’s no downside whatsoever. Because we are relationship-oriented, we are taught that it’s more blessed to give than to receive. Our role models of what is a good woman is Mother Theresa, someone who gives until it hurts. We see in award ceremonies: “She was a tireless worker for women’s rights. She never rested.” I don’t want that on my gravestone. Because you can’t get health out of working tirelessly, out of being a crusader who is always angry, tired, or depleted.
What I’m out to do is to turn this whole idea of self-sacrifice on its head, knowing full well that we live in a world where the majority of the population still prefers a son to a daughter. In India, China, and Muslim countries, women are seen as a burden. In North America and Europe, we women are in a very privileged position. The higher we take ourselves, the more effective we will be in turning around the entire planet. The Earth itself is female, and how an individual woman treats herself, how she allows herself to be treated and how the Earth is treated is the same.
How does yoga play a role in the empowerment of women?
The beauty of yoga is that it is an ancient system in which the body is prepared to receive the fullest of the soul. There’s nobody who stays optimally healthy who doesn’t move their body and have flexibility in their joints and an open heart. One of the things you’ll notice that happen to people as they get older is that their chest cavity caves in more. Yoga keeps the chest open and keeps the heart open so that you can feel, to give and receive fully. The fascial plane run throughout the entire body. They encase each and every muscle and attach the muscle to the skeleton. They’re crystalline structures that have integrin cells, which are actual electromagnetic transfer stations where whatever happens in the soles of the feet as you spread your toes on your mat, changes the way you think, the signals that your brain gets. You become a center of peace on the planet. Some rap song from the 80s sums it up: “Ma body is living proof of peace on Earth.” You have to begin with you, with your breath and shoulders.
The beauty of yoga is this: you keep getting better. The more you do it, the better you get so that the people who are the most together as yogis are older. One of the health distracting things we have going on in western culture is after the age of 30, its all downhill. But in disciplines like yoga, it’s never too late to start, and the improvements are something you can see constantly. It’s the one thing, whether it’s with yoga, Pilates, or tango that you can continually see how the body remolds itself, how the body is an extension of consciousness. It’s a practice that you come back to over and over gain that lets you know in a very concrete, practical way, that the body and mind are one. As you change your mind, your body changes, and as you change your body, you change your mind. I don’t know how people get true life without a discipline like it.
What excites and/or concerns you right now?
I’m really excited about the rise of the feminine consciousness all over the planet. What is particularly yummy is the rise of burlesque as a cheeky, hilarious celebration of female sexuality. S Factor pole dancing, Argentine tango, belly dancing-women are reclaiming their sexuality for themselves, not to turn on men, but to turn on themselves. So women are becoming sex subjects instead of sex objects. That is a luscious example of the rise of the feminine that is associated with increased nitric oxide, increased blood flow, and better health. That’s a sign of Kundalini rising. It’s what we need to balance things.
There’s nothing that scares me because part of my healthcare is that I assiduously avoid the mainstream media. I use my power of choice to choose where I’m going to put my attention because it’s ultimately the only power I have that as I attend to something, I put my attention somewhere and then I increase my experience of that. So I don’t let the media tell me what to think or believe.
However, I’m astounded that the C-section rate is 1 in 3 and that women are now having cesarean births and labor inductions on demand. The maternal mortality from a C-section is 4 times that of a normal birth and the maternal mortality rate has doubled in the U.S. in the past 20 years. That is a travesty. But where I choose to put my focus is orgasmic, ecstatic birth. The same energy that gets the baby in gets the baby out. If I can let women know that some orgasmic, high experience is available in birth, maybe they’ll stop scheduling elective inductions and C-sections
What do you tell someone who wants to make choices like you, but doesn’t know where to begin?
You just begin right where you are, knowing that tiny little steps add over time. Start with something incredibly simple. Look in the mirror every morning for 30 days, deep into your eyes and say: “I really really love you”. At the end of 30 days, something will shift inside of your head. Type-A personality is driven by the ego. As Josh Pais believes, if you follow your thoughts to their logical conclusion, your thoughts will always lead to the conclusion that “you suck.” So, the only way to counteract that is through the wisdom of the heart. Just start with “I love you” in the mirror. Then, you could do an Epsom salt bath before you go to bed.
One of the things I’ve found really fun is Flylady.net. It means “First Love Yourself.” It’s from a woman from South Carolina, a fly fisherman, who teaches people how to have an orderly house. She starts by telling you to shine your sink at night before you go to bed because a shiny sink becomes contagious. So that when you wake up in the morning, you’ve got one focus of order and beauty -- your sink, even if nothing else gets done. Her work is so grounded, so adorable, and contagious. It’s very southern, not hip New York -- it’s practical and it works. So I started shining my sink every night and it’s changed my life. And so now, I can’t go to bed without shining my sink and I love it.
What are you working on now?
There's a new edition of The Wisdom of Menopause and I have another new book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. I’m on Facebook and talk to people regularly. My website, DrNorthrup.com, is loaded with information. There’s a whole A-Z health list where people can get all kinds of health advice. A lot is on there that you can’t get anywhere else. Also, join the Women’s Wisdom Circle -- it’s free, and you can stay updated on everything.
Sarah Greenberg contributed to this interview