Christiane Northrup, M.D. – Helping Women Live The Next Exciting Chapter
BY CHERYL HARBOUR
As a board-certified OB/GYN, Dr. Christiane Northrup has been involved with women during the most important stages of their lives. She continues to do that through her writing, speaking, thinking, and research. Among the first medical experts to recognize and talk about the unity of mind, body and spirit, she continues to explore ways to help women live healthy, full, and interesting lives at any age. Her thoughts and advice resonate so clearly because she’s been through the experiences many women have.
She’s a mother and grandmother, and she’ also experienced divorce, menopause and the exhilarating journey of re-inventing herself — numerous times — to reach her current condition, which she calls “happy, healthy, flourishing and being.” She doesn’t just want that for herself – she wants it for all of us. And she says men can be just as vulnerable, so there are messages for men here, too.
For this issue of GRAND, Cheryl Harbour spoke with Dr. Northrup about her unconventional medical career, her insights into being ageless, and what the Argentine tango taught her about life.
GRAND: Dr. Northrup, you have been enlightening and influencing women for about four decades, so please tell us what or who influenced you to choose the field you did and why you decided to become a doctor.
NORTHRUP: My father was a holistic dentist. He believed that one could see the health of a person in their mouth. My parents were joggers before anyone was running. My mother did yoga way, way back when I was 12, so I had an introduction to a healthy lifestyle that was so counterculture at that time.
I had a sister who died when she was six months old because my mother had been prescribed antibiotics for the entire pregnancy for viral pneumonia. My sister wouldn’t eat. Then, later, when my brother was born, he also wouldn’t eat. My father put in a nasal gastric tube and my parents fed him every hour. They had gone to every known medical person to try to find answers. Nobody could tell them what was going on with my brother. Finally, when he was a year old, they saw a doctor who was a pioneer in pediatric endoscopy. She found that his esophagus was badly eroded and she told my parents to take out the tube. They did and after a couple of days, my brother began to eat. He’s now in his 50s and running an international company.
After all of that, I remember telling my mother I was going to medical school to find out why doctors don’t tell you the whole truth. I never intended to practice medicine, but then I saw a baby born, burst into tears and nearly fell to the floor weeping.
GRAND: Coming from that background, which is certain dramatic, you had to go through a lot of advanced training. As you step back and look at the entire span of your career – from the early days when you were immersed in traditional medicine as a student and resident to your courageous decision to be a different voice for women’s health – how do you feel about the way health care has progressed?
NORTHRUP: It’s very interesting. The path has split in many ways. When you’re traveling, you can get what you want almost anywhere – organic food in airports, a yoga class wherever you go. On the other hand, there isn’t much focus on prevention. And there’s still no place for unconventional ideas in conventional medicine. They look at you like you’re crazy. There’s a great physicist who said “Science moves forward – one funeral at a time.” Ideas about things like Vitamin D, thermograms for breast cancer, the negative consequences of HPV vaccine don’t reach people because standard conventional medicine is the last remaining unquestioned religious belief system we have.
GRAND: I’ve read that you focused the first half of your career on treating what could go wrong with women’s health and the second half illuminating what could go right.
NORTHRUP: That’s all I’m spending the rest of my life with. So the first thing you’d do, if you want to know everything that goes right with your body is stop looking so hard for what can go wrong. Because the problem with finding something like that is now you have this in your mind like a worm. Instead, understand that your body knows how to heal.
GRAND: If you were to suggest to women who are in their 50s, 60s and beyond some ways to stay healthy and pay tribute to their body’s own ability to stay healthy, what kinds of things would you like to influence women to do?
NORTHRUP: First, I’d like to have everybody correct the way they stand and sit because, as my Pilates teacher says, “It’s not your age. It’s your fascia.” The connective tissue in your body gets molded according to the way you move and how you sit over time. We’re born with perfect posture. Look at a two-year old. Their behind is behind them. When they sit, they are ramrod straight – not bent over a cell phone. They call that posture “the j- spine.” But we’re taught to roll our pelvis in. So I’d say unroll it.
As for yoga – I love it but make sure you’re doing it the right way. Too many people who do it the wrong way end up with total hip replacements.
A lot of people love running but they shouldn’t be doing it on pavement. We were designed to run on the earth. In fact, I’d advise people to walk barefoot on the earth more often, to get out in nature more, to be in the sun more. I’m not talking baking in the noonday sun, but dawn or dusk. Protect your face but the let the sun do its job to produce vitamin D in the fat layer of our skin. It will make you feel so much better. Those are just a couple of things that are easy to do.
GRAND: You talk about self care and self development. We often hear about self care – such things as taking time for ourself and trying to reduce stress. But self development may need some more explanation because that often becomes an issue once women have finished raising their children or after they’ve had a long career. How do they develop themselves?
DR NORTHRUP: Especially with the empty nest thing, right? It’s so tempting for women to get back into caring for others because they don’t know what they themselves want or need. In my own life, when I went through a divorce I didn’t really know what colors I liked or what furniture I liked because my husband had a lot,of,opinions and I went along.
So what you need to do to develop yourself is to determine what lights you up. And if you don’t know yet, then go and be with someone who’s doing something that lights them up and borrow it for awhile.
GRAND: I know one thing that you found to light you up was Argentine tango. How did that happen?
NORTHRUP: I’d always wanted to dance but never had the chance. There was only one dance teacher in my town and I remember my father coming up the driveway with my tap shoes that arrived literally one week before the dance teacher left town. Many years later, I was walking down a street and looked through a window to see a couple doing Argentine tango. And I thought, “Oh my God – that’s it.” At first I tried to get a friend and my sister and their husbands to do it with me. We took some lessons, but nobody would practice, and we stopped. A few years later, I just decided, “You know what – I want to do this. Nobody is going to help me do this. I just have to make the time and do it.” And I want to say it was harder than medical school. Learning Argentine tango at midlife – that’s hard because nobody cares that you have a New York Times best seller. Everybody’s equal on the dance floor.
GRAND: Did Argentine tango teach you anything about life?
NORTHRUP: At the dances, I used to see women with sourpusses on them at the side lines complaining that no one was asking them to dance. And I thought, well, that is clearly not a good strategy. I learned that you need to present some kind of welcoming countenance to get anywhere in life. You especially need to know that as a woman. So, I just stood on the side lines and I smiled and eventually I learned Argentine tango.
GRAND: After this interview there may be a lot more people signing up for Argentine tango because it sounds wonderful, but I’m sure your point is that for each of us, there’s something we can find for ourselves just by being a bit brave.
NORTHRUP: It can be horses, gardening, or anything — but you have to make the first move. It could even be online dating. There are many people meeting the love of their life on social media.
GRAND: I’ve heard you say that age is just a number so women don’t have to expect certain things or expect to wither as they get older. Is it the same for men?
DR NORTHRUP: Men can absolutely be as vulnerable as women. However, we all know that, in general, things are easier for men. But this is the key thing. When we’re talking about self-development, you get to the point, where it turns out you can be alone. You really like your own company. Only when you can be with yourself can you be with someone else. I’m finding out that when you love what you’re doing and are willing to be alone, the universe will send someone every time. The minute you don’t need it, you’ll get it.
GRAND: Is it true you’ve said “senior moments” are a myth?
NORTHRUP: Yes. Depending on the type of cognition you have, women tend to be very multi-modal in their thinking. It’s evolutionary. We’re kicking the woolly mammoth out the door, nursing a child and stirring the soup all at the same time. What happens is neurotransmitters in our brain stay at a very high level and that makes women maximally receptive to a lot of different ideas. You go into a room and you forget why you are there; that’s not the beginning of dementia. That’s having a whole lot going on at the same time. You are drawing from a very rich life with many experiences so thoughts come into your head from 25 years ago and you can incorporate them and update your life through this depth of experience.
GRAND: That sounds so positive. Is that what our culture tells us?
NORTHRUP: Definitely not. What I do is just assume that all the rhetoric about women my age does not apply to me. And if enough of us start doing that, it creates a morphogenic field or quantum energy field where it’s easier for the next woman to step into it. That’s my message in Goddesses Never Age – that women all over the world are refusing to drink the kool-aid that “it’s too late” for them. They’re no longer under the thrall of the hypnosis of an ageist culture.
GRAND: On that theme, I have one more question to ask. People have described you as a visionary pioneer…rebel…rock star…beloved authority. How do you describe yourself?
NORTHRUP: I would just say happy, healthy, flourishing and being.
GRAND: I’m going to remember that. Thank you!
What is an energy vampire?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – CHERYL HARBOUR
Cheryl Harbour is the special editor of our “My GRANDbaby” section and author of Good to Be Grand: making the Most of your Grandchild’s First Year, a combination of up-to-date information and grandparently inspiration.
THE FOLLOWING IS THE UNABRIDGED TRANSCRIPT OF GRAND’S CHERYL HARBOUR (CH) INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTIANE NORTHRUP (CN).
CH: Hello, GRAND readers. This is Cheryl Harbor, an editor for GRAND Magazine. Today. It’s my pleasure to speak with Dr. Christiane Northrup. She’s a visionary pioneer in women’s health, a board certified OB/Gyn and three-time New York Times bestselling author : Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom; The Wisdom of Menopause; and Goddesses Never Age: The Secret Prescription for Radiance, Vitality and Wellbeing. In 2013 Reader’s Digest named Dr. Northrup one of the Hundred Most Trusted People in America. And in 2016 she was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul, 100 a group of leaders who are using their voices and talent to awaken humanity. She’s the mother of two and the grandmother of two.
Welcome, Dr. Northrup — we’re really pleased to have you here today to talk about some of your own journey and the journey you’ve taken other people on. Maybe we’ll just start at the beginning and you could tell us if you were influenced by something or someone in particular to become a doctor and choose the field you did?
Yes, I was influenced in a completely counter intuitive way. My father was a dentist. His brother and sister were medical doctors. They made fun of him. He was a holistic dentist. He believed that one could see the health of a person in their mouth. He believed in making beautiful smiles. My mother made yogurt. This was before there was any packaged yogurt. My parents were joggers before anyone was running. My mother did yoga way, way back when I was 12, and so I had an introduction to a healthy lifestyle that was so counterculture at that time. On the other hand, at a Thanksgiving dinner with my dad and his brother and sister and their families, I quickly saw that we were healthier than the M.D.s.
Then I had two experiences that were sent me on my path. I had a sister who died when she was six months old because my mother had been prescribed an antibiotic called streptomycin for the entire pregnancy for viral pneumonia. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, by the way. And I believe that it damaged the baby. She wouldn’t eat and died at the age of six months old. They wouldn’t let my mother hold her because it was back in the day when hospitals were considered fortresses against germs.
After that, when my brother was born, he also wouldn’t eat. So my parents signed him out of the hospital against medical advice, something that you can no longer do without having your child taken away by child protective services.
My dad put down a nasal gastric tube and my parents fed him every hour on the hour. They went to every known medical person. Nobody could tell them what was going on with my brother except that my mother was told he was mentally a damaged. Finally when he was a year old and weighed 10 pounds they found a woman doctor who was a pioneer in pediatric endoscopy. She put down an Ng tube with a light on it and saw that his esophagus was eroded. She said, “You need to take the tube out or it will perforate the esophagus.” They did. After a couple of days, he started to eat. We do not know why. He’s now in his fifties, running an international company has a very high IQ.
And when I interviewed at the University of Buffalo Medical School, who do you suppose interviewed me? My brother’s attending physician. He looked at me and he said, “Are you those Ellicottville Northrop’s?” I said yes, and you could tell that he was waiting for me to say, “Oh yeah, well, you know, my brother, they signed them out of the hospital and he died.” No, we signed him out of the hospital and he lived. So you see that I was what we would call radicalized before I went to medical school as opposed to so many people who go into medicine because they had a family member who was sick. And so as little kids they’re kind of determined that they will become the hero and rescue the family member from everything that happened. I did the opposite.
I told my mother, when I go to medical school, I’m going to find out why doctors don’t tell you the whole truth, like maybe tell you when they don’t know what’s going on or maybe bring in other aspects of things, nutrition and that kind of thing. So then I went to medical school. Why? Because it was a better degree than a PhD. I swear to you — that was the only reason . I never intended to go to medical school. I thought that my aunt and uncle had lifestyles that sucked. They left every Thanksgiving dinner every Christmas dinner early for their patients. So I didn’t want to do what they’d done. I figured I’d never practice. Then I saw a baby born, burst into tears, nearly fell to the floor weeping. And that was it.
Years later I wondered why was that? Why did I have that enormous emotional reaction? Only later — like last year — did I realize all of that was my attempt to save my mother from the grief of a baby that died. And not only my mother, but to save me from a mother who never really… let me just say I was not the kind of kid she wanted. She wanted Olympic athletes. She got a couple of them, but I was not one of them and so that’s why we do what we do and that’s the human level and the soul level. The path was perfect. Nobody did anything wrong. That was the perfect path for me to do this work that I’ve done.
CH: Coming from this background, which is certainly dramatic in terms of how you made that choice — you obviously had to go through a lot of medical school and advanced training. All that time, were you also somewhat critical of traditional medicine because you had these other ideas about how things could be for people?
CN: Difficult? Absolutely. I’ll give you an example. I’m at St. Margaret’s Hospital for Women and a woman delivers twins, beautiful, beautiful twin girls. Beautiful. Only the cord got tangled. Now this is very, very rare, but the cord got tangled between them during the birth process and they both died. I go over and I wrap the two babies up in receiving blankets so that I can show the mother these beautiful baby girls and the attending physician says she does not need to see that. “Get them outta here.” I knew that she’d have dreams about babies with no faces possibly for the rest of her life, and there was nothing I could do. There were many moments like that — many, many, many moments.
On the other hand, I’m a Libra Sun. I knew that ranting and raving about what was missing was not the way to go. And I loved my colleagues and the nurses and the other doctors. I loved them. They were just operating from what they knew. I knew there was a missing piece called our emotions, our soul qualities, all the rest of it, but they didn’t know that and so my job was not to say “You’re doing it wrong.” My job was to keep my mouth shut to the extent that that I could and then when it was my turn and when I was out in practice myself, do it differently and that’s exactly what I did
CH: As you step back and look at the whole span of your career, from those early days to what you see now, you were among the first to really emphasize the unity of body and mind and spirit. How do you feel about the progress in how healthcare is delivered? Have we come a long way or not so far?
CN: It’s very interesting. The path has split in many ways. It’s better than it’s ever been in terms of when you’re traveling, you can get broccoli in the middle of the United States. There’s far better food at airports than there’s ever been. There’s even organic food at some of them. So we have a different consciousness now. You can find a yoga class almost anywhere. And then, on the other hand, in terms of medical care, I believe that for most of us it’s worse than it’s ever been. It’s kind of like “take a number.” There isn’t much focus on prevention. I have a good friend who went to his primary care doc and wanted to tell the primary care doc how much he’d been helped by having optimal levels of vitamin D and reading Michael HolicK’s work from Boston University. He wanted to point out that the recommended daily dose of vitamin D is just the amount that prevents a gross deficiency and diseases like scurvy, beriberi, Pellagra or rickets. But there’s a big difference between adequate and optimal. And so when you have vitamin D levels that are optimal, there’s a 70 percent decreased risk of postpartum depression, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, breast cancer, like all kinds of great stuff. And we’re supposed to be in the sun more and all the rest of it. His primary care doctor just looks at him.
They still look at you like you’re crazy and that’s just vitamin D. So can you imagine saying to your doctor, “Listen, I know why I got breast cancer. My husband left me. I had so much resentment and so much grief, but I got a thermogram and I saw that I was heading down that path. I had a biopsy and I reversed it. I completely changed my diet. I listened to Ty Bolinger in The Truth about Cancer. I read Radical Remission, and now I’m better than I ever have been.” There is no place for this in conventional medicine. They look at you like you’re crazy. So they’re still resisting in a way that — at this point — I just don’t expect anything different. There’s a great physicist who said “Science moves forward one funeral at a time.”
CH: I hear what you’re saying and among a lot of my friends, I feel like there has definitely been a move towards trying to look more broadly at ways to stay healthy. I know that your advice to women is probably something many of them consider. I read that somewhere that you focused the first half of your career on treating what could go wrong with women’s health and the second half illuminating what could go right.
CN: That’s all I’m spending the rest of my life with: what can go right. So the first thing about what can go right is to stop with all the screening because the minute you’re screened and you get a worrisome diagnosis, you’re on a whole different path. So let’s talk about ductal carcinoma in situ of the breast. I mean if we look at the last 30 years with mammogram screening, what have mammograms found? They have found an unprecedented amount of ductal carcinoma in situ, which is probably something you would die with but never die from. We have studies that show 40 percent of women who died in car accidents in their forties have ductal carcinoma in situ. But it’s not cancer. It’s an undefined lesion of unknown etiology. And even the National Cancer Institute said we need to change the name. So the first thing you’d do — if you want to know everything that goes right with your body — is stop looking for what can go wrong. Because the problem with finding something like that is that now you have this in your mind like a worm, right?
People think, “Oh my God, what if maybe I don’t know.” And so we’ve had the number of prophylactic mastectomies go up by, I think it’s 400 percent because of this screening error. So that’s the first thing. Stop looking for everything that can go wrong. Understand that your body knows how to heal. I understand everyone’s got the mindset, “Oh my God, we got it early. Thank God my life was saved because we got it early.” Now there are some things where that probably holds weight, but we also have data on dreams. If you have a dream that you have a breast cancer or colon cancer maybe, then, that’s a good time to check it out. And that’s the work of my friend Larry Burk, who is a radiologist at Duke.
The reason I’m even starting with screening is most people think that disease screening is healthcare. It’s not healthcare. I don’t go in and do that stuff. No, preventive medicine is dental care. I just had my teeth cleaned today. That’s very good preventive medicine and they did my blood pressure because they always do and it’s always fine.
CH: if you were talking to women who are in their fifties or sixties or beyond…if you were going to try to influence them to do the things that will keep them healthy and will pay tribute to their body’s own ability to heal, what kinds of things would you suggest?
CN: Well, the first thing I would do is have everybody correct the way they stand and sit because, as my Pilates teacher says, “It’s not your age, it’s your fascia.” The connective tissue in your body gets molded according to how you move and how you sit over time. So the work of Esther Gokhale is available to everyone. She wrote a book called Eight Steps to a Pain-Free Back. She had a disc problem as a young woman and was told she needed back surgery. She went all over the planet to study the people who don’t have back pain. And she found that there are people who bend all day long picking up things and they never have back pain.
We’re born with perfect posture. Look at a two year old. Their behind is behind them. When they sit, they sit up, ramrod straight. They’re not all bent over a cell phone and the only curve in their spine is at L5-S1, It’s called “the J Spine.” Your behind is supposed to be behind you. And what does that do? It puts your pubic bone underneath you where it’s meant to be to hold in your pelvic content. Also, when you bend over, you should hinge at the hip keeping the back straight. Then the hamstrings are strengthened and lengthened and you never get back pain.
So I’d start there and learn how to stack it, stretch it, lie down. It’s unbelievable. I did a class with Esther Gokhale in Palo Alto and who were the people in the class? A neuropathologist, somebody who worked at Google, someone who worked on the autonomous car project with five years postdoc math at MIT. She was teaching these brains how to be in their bodies, how to walk, how to bend. It was exhilarating. Such great advice. So I would start with how you move every day.
Also I noticed, by the way, an awful lot of people who do yoga end up with total hips. If you’re hyper flexible and you can put your heel behind your neck, that means that your joints over time are going to want to lay down dense fascia to protect the joint. You’re the person who’s naturally drawn to yoga. You can get in all the poses, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. I love Yoga, but make sure that you do it in the right way. The original yoga is you contract the muscle and stretch it at the same time. Let me give you an example, okay? When your dog gets up from lying down, what does the dog do? It does a perfect downward facing dog. Think about this: It puts its paws out. It contracts the muscles and it stretches everything. Or when you yawn in the morning, you get your hands up over the head.
What we need more of is remodeling your fascia and stretching out the muscles at the same time. We need to learn how to work in our bodies. I’ve watched way too many people, women and men who were runners, right? They’re runners, runners, runners, runners, and then in their forties, their back hurts so much they can’t do it anymore, and so they switch to swimming or biking. We really can’t be doing a run on pavement. There is no human that ever ran on pavement in all of human history until very recently. We’re designed to run on the earth.
The other thing I would do is have people walk barefoot on the earth way more because the earth has an electromagnetic field that gives negative ions to the body and decreases cellular inflammation by 20 percent after just standing on the ground for 20 minutes. So I would suggest being in nature a lot more. And being in the sun. I’m not talking baking noonday sun. I’m talking like dawn or dusk, exposing as much of your skin as possible. You can cover your face and get some vitamin D. You’ll feel so much better. So those are things that everyone can do, right?
CH: Right. I’d like to shift our perspective just a little bit and talk about an interesting concept I’ve seen in your writing repeatedly. You talk about self-care and self-development. We’re more familiar with the idea of self-care — you know, it can mean simple things like taking time for yourself and not getting stressed and all that. But please talk a little bit about self-development because I think that’s an issue for many women once they stop raising their children or they’ve had a long career. How do we develop ourselves? Can you give us some advice on that?
CN: I really can. That is so key, especially with the empty nest thing, right? It’s so tempting for women to get back into caring for others because they don’t know what they themselves want or need. Like when I went through a divorce, I didn’t know what colors I liked. I didn’t know what furniture I liked. I didn’t know anything. Why? Because I had been giving over to my husband’s opinion about what the furniture would be. He had a lot of opinions and I went along. I didn’t mind. I was just trying to be a doctor and raise a couple of kids at the same time, so I didn’t really come home to myself until my forties. And a lot of women—and men, too can relate: Astrologically, age 42 is when your soul wakes up and says, “What about me?”
So what you need to do, moment by moment, to develop yourself is to determine what lights you up. And if you don’t know yet, then go and be with someone who’s doing something that lights them up and then borrow for a bit. Let me give you an example. One of the things that I had always wanted to do, for years and years and years, is dance. I wanted to dance when I was six. There was only one dance teacher in my town. And I remember my father coming up the driveway with my tap shoes that had arrived, literally, about a week before the dance teacher moved away. And that was it. Then I took some partner dance lessons with my husband, but that never worked out. So I always wanted to learn to dance, and my assistant Diane, who was my first nurse and who’s worked with me for 35 years, said, “Look, you’ve always wanted to learn dance, so just do it.”
I’m down on Congress Street in Portland on a January night looking in the window of Maine Ballroom and I see a couple dancing the Argentine tango. And I thought, “Oh my God, that’s it.” I thought I had to go with a partner, so a friend and my sister and their husbands agreed to go with me and take some tango and salsa lessons. But nobody would practice. Nobody wanted to go la, la, la. So, I didn’t do it for a couple years. And then finally I just decided — you know what, I want to do this. Nobody is going to help me do this or assist me at doing this. I just have to make the time and do it. And I have to tell you, and I want to tell your whole audience, that was harder than medical school.
Medical school was slam dunk. You just show up. You do the thing and you get through. But learning Argentine tango at midlife and nobody cares that you have a New York Times best seller. They don’t care anything. They care whether or not you could dance. And I couldn’t ever. Everyone’s equal on the dance floor. You know, if you go to learn how to box, it’s the same. They don’t care if you’re a stock broker. When put yourself in a situation where you are a rank beginner, it’ll bring up all your stuff. Then what you have to do is get through it with a smile on your face.
I saw all these women who wore sour pusses on them at the sidelines complaining that no one was asking them to dance. And I thought, well, that is clearly not a good strategy. By this time I was teaching at the Momma Gina’s School of Womanly Arts in New York City and I had learned that you need to present some kind of welcoming countenance to get anywhere in life. You especially need to know that as a woman. And so I just stood on the sidelines and I smiled and eventually I learned Argentine tango. I did it for about seven, eight years. I have a whole tango community. And then recently, it’s like tango is in my body. I don’t really need to go anymore. But I did like it obsessively.
I just couldn’t get enough because I was feeding that heart of mine, my sort of broken heart. And that healed it. I got a community. I got new friends. I made my living room into a tango room with mirrors and I had tango parties and potlucks. I always told my daughters, “Everyone’s looking for a good gig” and they are.
CH: After this interview we may have a lot more people signing up for tango because it sounds wonderful. But I am sure your point is that for each of us, there’s something we can find for ourselves just by being bit brave.
CN: It can be, you know, horses, gardening, anything, anything. But you have to make the first move, and it could be online dating. I mean, more people are finding love through online dating now than at any time in human history. You may hear some horror stories, but the truth is there are many people meeting the love of their life on social media, on dating sites. And is that comforting? Oh my God, you bet it is.
CH: Do you feel that age is just a number and you don’t have to expect certain things as you get older –you don’t have to expect to wither and all that? Is that the same for men as women? Or are women particularly good at withering or holding back or letting themselves just dwindle
CN: Men can be absolutely as vulnerable as women. However, we all know that, in general, things are easier for men. I met a male friend a while back — about a year ago — and I said to him, “How’s your dating life? It must be like shooting fish in a barrel for you because, in general, if you’re a healthy, good-looking man and you’ve got some kind of modicum of money, it’s easier for you to find companionship.” However — now this is the key thing – we’re talking about self -evelopment, right. When you really develop yourself, it turns out you can be alone. You really like your own company, you can be with yourself. Only then can you be with someone else. So the major result of self-development is liking your own company.
I’m finding out when you find what you love and the minute you’re willing to be alone, the universe will send someone in every time. The minute you don’t need it, you’ll get it. So the one thing you want to do as a woman is stop buying into what the culture teaches you about getting older. I mean, the truth of the matter is that women in their sixties and seventies are having the best sex of their lives. Gina Ogden did this research. You don’t need to deteriorate with advancing age. What we call aging in this culture is deterioration.
When you go in to the doctor and you’re age 50 or age 60 or age 70, the talk is about deterioration. A friend of mine just went in for a routine physical. You know what she was given? She was given a sheet of paper on what to do when she gets demented. Like, what if you don’t? What if you’re in, you know, not in the right mind. What do you want people to know? Now, listen, I have filled in the “Five Wishes.” I’ve done all the estate planning. My kids know what I want when I die. I’ve got a will. It’s not like I think I’m immortal, but what I know for sure is while I’m here, I’m going to be alive.
So I noticed that when I wrote Goddesses, Never Age, it was a prayer, it was like, “Boy, I hope this is the truth.” And then I found out it is the truth. I’ve never felt sexier. I’ve never felt more confident. I’ve never felt more vital. And then today I see Jane Fonda on the cover of People magazine. I love the show “Grace and Frankie.” My daughter likes the show and says, “It’s like getting to watch my mother without the substance abuse.” She says it’s because I’m a combination of Grace and Frankie without drugs or alcohol. She says, “Probably your belief in holistic health wouldn’t let you go down that road.” It was the truth — I can’t handle it. I’d never liked it. I’m kind of lucky.
I’ve never liked the taste of alcohol. I’ve never been drunk. I’ve never been high. And the plant medicine stuff that everyone’s into, like mushrooms and Iowaska (tea made with herbs from the Amazon basin) — my body goes no, no. I don’t have a moral thing about it. I’m just lucky.
CH: You have also said that “senior moments are a myth.” Can you explain that to us?
CN: Women tend to be very multimodal in their thinking. I can sync five or six things at once — most women can, evolutionarily speaking — in order. We’re kicking the woolly mammoth up out the door, nursing a child and stirring the soup all at the same time. It is the right-handed, left-hemisphere dominant white male that has been the model of successful cognition which is do one thing at a time. Concentrate, focus, and you know, and remember everything.
Well, what happens, particularly after the final menstrual period, is your FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone) levels in your brain stay elevated for the rest of your life. And what that does is it make you kind of maximally receptive to a lot of different ideas. What happens often is you go into a room and you forget why you were there. That is not the beginning of dementia, that’s having a whole lot going on at the same time. We also know that were pushed into our right hemisphere more. Music, art, dreaming are all more in the right hemisphere. Left-handed men have the same thing.
So you find yourself saying, “Oh God, I can’t remember the name.” Like I’m on a plane and I’m watching the movie “Love Actually” and I cannot remember Colin Firth’s name to save my life. He’s one of my favorite actors. So what I did was I became mindful about it and I thought about Colin Firth. Mindfulness, by the way, is a benign appreciation of one’s thoughts and feelings in the moment. That’s all mindfulness is. You’re appreciating yourself in the moment. So I’m not beating myself up. “Oh God, I can’t remember that actor’s name. I’m having a senior moment.” I don’t do that. That increases cortisol and epinephrine and it makes the problem worse, and then you go through a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, I go down a mindful path with great appreciation and affection for my own mind. I find his name and then I embed it into my head and then I don’t forget it again.
Another thing that I find happening — and I’m sure you do as well: You are drawing when you speak from a very rich life with many experiences, and therefore as you’re speaking, thoughts come into your head that maybe were from 25 years ago. You can incorporate them and update your life through this depth of experience. So as Mario Martinez says, “Growing older is the opportunity to increase your value and competence.” But, that’s not what this culture does. That’s definitely not the message that’s communicated, but it’s a great message to hear and to embed in yourself.
So what I do is I just assume that all the rhetoric about women my age does not apply to me. That’s how I go through life. That doesn’t apply to me. And if there’s enough of us doing that, do you see it begins to create a morphogenic field or a quantum energy field where it’s easier for the next woman to step into it. You see, I wrote Goddesses Never Age and for me it’s like Roger Bannister, who was told nobody could break the four-minute mile barrier. He was told no human could do this, and he had burned both his legs and was told he could never walk again. And then he ran the four-minute mile. He broke the barrier within the collective unconscious and suddenly people were doing it all over the world.
So through my own personal efforts, I break the barrier of this age thing and now from reading the book, women all over the world are getting onboard and refusing, refusing to drink the kool-aid that it’s too late for them. And as a result, I see women living their best years, having their best sex, meeting new men or women, changing their sexual orientation, getting dressed up — whatever it is they want to do because they’re no longer under the thrall of the hypnosis of an ageist culture. Are we in an ageist culture? Yes. Is there evidence for that? Yes. I was talking with a friend the other day who is just finishing up a divorce and she’s railing about “I’m invisible” and I thought “You better get an audible copy of Goddesses Never Age. And let me talk to you because you’re brave. You’re just taking your own place.” I don’t want to be around women like that or men like that!
CH: Well, I’m really excited that we will be able to get more of this message out and we’ll also make sure that people can see the books that you’ve written, including the newest one, Dodging Energy Vampires. Before we end our conversation, I have one more question to ask you. People have used various terms to describe you: visionary, pioneer, rebel, rock star, beloved authority. What do you use to describe yourself? What words might you use?
CN: Oh, I would just say “happy, healthy, flourishing, being.”
CH: I love it. Happy, healthy, flourishing, and being. And we can all — whether we’re a doctor or a successful author or someone people recognize on the street or we’re following a whole different path. — we can be those things, can’t we? Dr. Northrup, it has been wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much.
Dr. Northrup mentions:
The Vitamin D Solution: The Three-step Strategy to Cure Our Most Common Health Problem by Dr. Michael Holick
Radical Remission: Surving Cancer Against All Odds by Kelly Turner, Ph.D
8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back : Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot by Esther Gokhale
Dreams That Can Save Your Life: Early Warning Signs of Cancer and Other Diseases by Larry Burk and Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos
Exploring Desire and Intimacy (and other books) by Gina Ogden
The Mind Body Code: How to Change the Beliefs that Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success by Dr. Mario Martinez, a U.S. clinical neuropsychologist and the founder of biocognitive science: a new mindbody paradigm that investigates the inherited causes of health and the cultural learnings of longevity.
Learn more about:
Hip hinge: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DyHJet_X-w
Five Wishes is a United States advance directive created by the non-profit organization Aging with Dignity. https://fivewishes.org/