Tami Simon: You’re listening to Insights at the Edge. Today I speak with Dr. Christiane Northrup. Chris Northrup is a visionary pioneer and the world’s leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. She is a leading proponent of medicine that acknowledges the unity of mind, body, emotions, and spirit. She has authored the groundbreaking New York Times bestsellers, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom and The Wisdom of Menopause. With Sounds True, Chris has released the audio program, Creating Health: Honoring Women’s Wisdom.
In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Chris and I spoke about the limitations of disease screening and what it means to take individual responsibility for your health. We also talked about how emotional issues can drive the physical manifestation of symptoms and the effect of the menstrual cycle on listening to your soul’s call. Here’s my conversation with Dr. Christiane Northrup.
Chris, as an expert on women’s health and someone who has been in this field now for several decades—and we could say has [seen]—if not it all, seen a lot. I want to begin our conversation by asking you a couple of big, general questions. So here we go.
What would you say are the most important factors for a woman who wants to stay healthy throughout her entire life cycle? I want to talk about the do’s and the don’ts and maybe we’ll start with the do’s. The most important do’s. These are the things I really need to keep in mind to be healthy.
Christiane Northrup: Alright. The most important thing that you can do to remain healthy is to understand that your health is your natural state. It is not something that you buy from a doctor and it is not something that can be well-monitored with our current disease-screening modalities. Usually, an abnormal lab test or an abnormal something will come only after you’re noticing something in your own body. We have created women’s health now—in the United States in particular—as a search-and-destroy mission so that women actually believe that their breasts can’t stay healthy without mammograms.
There’s an old Arabic saying, “If you keep digging you’ll find something.” We currently have a situation in which—since 1980.3 million women have been over-diagnosed with so-called breast cancer—something she would die with but never die from and we’re calling it DCIS, Ductile Carcinoma in situ. Women are even getting bilateral mastectomies for this out of fear. I use breast cancer because it has been so effectively marketed by places like the Susan B. Komen Foundation and you’ve probably noticed ever since the war on cancer was started—I believe—in the Nixon administration, we have not exactly won the war. As long as you see your body as a warzone with enemies coming in through the skin, through the mucosa, through everything—as long as you see danger all around, you can really never be vibrantly healthy because you’re in a state of waiting for and looking for disease.
We call our healthcare system “a healthcare system” and it has very little to do with health. It has a lot to do with disease screening—a lot to do with putting people on medication—lifelong medication—and it is overly invested in drugs and surgery and not in health.
TS: Now, OK, we’re starting here, I think, on a pretty controversial point. So, I want to just clarify for a moment—because I’ve been under the impression that I need to take more responsibility, get my act together, and make sure that I get a regular mammogram. And here you’re telling me, “No, my body is in a natural state of health and unless I find a problem I can relax about that?”
CN: [Laughs] That’s what I’m telling you. Now, yes, it’s controversial—but I guess what I want women to know is if they get a regular mammogram every year, as is recommended, they have a 100% chance of having an abnormal finding that will require a biopsy. 80% of those are benign. I want to tell you—and everyone else I know—the limitations of disease screening. We now have high-resolution mammography. It’s picking more and more of the things that would not kill you that you wouldn’t even know you have.
Do you see the problem? Once you’ve got something that shows up on a test, you and your doctors are absolutely—you have to investigate it further. Same thing goes with a routine annual pelvic exam—which by the way there is absolutely no data in well women that this prevents ovarian cancer or does anything.
I want you to know about this study. These studies get lost all of the time and they’re all over the medical literature. This is one my faves. This is from November 2008, the Archives of Internal Medicine. They followed 200,000 Norwegian women between the ages of 50–64 over two consecutive six-year periods. Half received a regular periodic breast exam or a regular mammogram and the other had no regular breast screenings. Now stay tuned—this is the big boom; this is where we get the marching band to come out.
The study reported that the women receiving regular screenings had 22% more incidents of breast cancer. Twenty-two percent more incidents of breast cancer. The conclusion: the women who didn’t undergo regular screening probably had the same occurrences of breast cancer, but their bodies corrected the abnormalities on their own.
So I want everyone to know—all women to know—what I personally know. What I personally know is that to stay healthy my health is in my own hands. There are a couple of things: an optimal level of vitamin D in your blood—which is 40–70 nanograms per ml—decreases your overall risk of all cancers by 50%. Not smoking adds a ton to your life. Regular exercise adds seven years to your life. It is the stuff that you do for yourself—however we’re herd creatures and community equals immunity, so we all need a tribe that we hang out with to stay healthy. Very few people who are hermits stay healthy for very long because we need other people and when we’re around like-minded people—all of whom are exercising and doing yoga and are foodies and they’re trying new recipes of healthy stuff like the Mediterranean diets—then we thrive.
My 87-year-old mother just took off across the country in her RV with her best friend Anne, who is 90. They thought they better go see the redwoods; they’d never seen the sequoias. They’re driving across the United States on back roads. Neither one of them is on a single prescription medication. I want people to study that, you see.
TS: OK, now I have a couple questions. You mentioned vitamin D and a certain quantity. How do I know how much vitamin D I might need?
CN: Well, what’s interesting about that is all of the studies—and if you go to grassrootshealth.net. This is an advocacy group that has webcasts of all the top vitamin D researchers in the world like Michael Holick at Boston University [or] one of the Garland brothers from California. All of the people who have done the research. What they’re trying to do is make sure that people know this stuff now and don’t have to wait 20 years until it gets into medical practice.
Generally speaking, most people need 5,000 international units of vitamin D per day in the northern hemisphere—not around the equator but 5,000 per day—to keep their blood levels in the optimal range. If you study women who have had hip fractures or breast cancer, you almost invariably find that they’re the ones whose vitamin D is in the lowest range. Now, when it comes to nutrients, we have an old paradigm at play, which is the deficiency disease: scurvy, pellagra, beriberi. Those deficiency diseases of course only showed up after they began devitalizing the food. So optimal nutrition and getting the RDA (recommended daily allowance) are two distinctly different things. So the nutritionists on the cutting edge—particularly with vitamin D—will talk about how there’s a big difference between just getting by and not getting rickets and having enough vitamin D that it has an impact on breast cancer risk, heart disease risk, blood pressure, bowel cancer, breast cancer.
TS: OK, so what I hear you saying is that if I’m eating a healthy diet in general—you know the Mediterranean diet—that type of healthy diet—that I’ll probably have enough vitamin D in my system?
CN: No, you probably won’t—unless you’re out in the sun with most of your body exposed during the times when the sun is the brightest. So, you can imagine—I’m in the state of Maine. We have had rain for the past five days. I’m not getting the UV light on my skin to make vitamin D. So most people—interestingly because we’ve now been taught to be afraid of the sun because of skin cancer, there is a worldwide epidemic of suboptimal, if not deficiencies, of vitamin D.
However, if you’re a lifeguard and you’re out there in the sun all day and you’ve built up to those levels, your body will make 10,000 international units in 30 minutes and then it won’t make any more than that because that’s as much as you need. Clearly, you can overdose on vitamin D as a supplement. You can never overdose on vitamin D from the sun. But, in general, what we find is that even people who regularly vacation in sunny places aren’t outside enough to get optimal levels.
So, therefore, here’s the easy thing to do: you can get your blood tested—very easy blood test. Grassrootshealth.org has finger-stick test kits available for about $60 and you can order one and they’ll test your vitamin D level for you. Michael Holick finds that—in people who have blood levels that are very low—it sometimes takes 50,000 international units per week to get them up to optimal in about an eight-week time period. But those high doses are done under the care of a doctor who knows what they’re doing.
TS: OK, well I have to say Chris—I wasn’t really expecting this but you’re kind of blowing my mind. Meaning—you’re telling me, first of all, that I don’t need to have as much intensity around a regular mammogram and a regular pelvic exam, which I thought were baseline good health commitments, and that I should go hang out in the sun more.
CN: I know. Isn’t it amazing? The very things that we have been told ensure our health are incomplete. Now, one of my good friends, Larry Burke, is a radiologist from Duke and he recently wrote a blog for the Huffington Post on women whose breast cancers were diagnosed via dreams. Our bodies tell us when something is going wrong. They tell us. We know. Women know.
So there are then the opposite stories that you hear, which is that a women went in and kept saying something’s wrong, I know something’s wrong and the doctor says, “No; you’re fine.” But the far more common thing is that she’s fine and they tell her that something is wrong. You know if you go in for a blood test—a battery of blood tests—one of them is going to be off. That’s just the way it is.
Look at what we’re doing with the statin drugs; everyone with a cholesterol [level] above 200 gets a statin drug like Lipitor. These cause myositis, which sometimes is not reversible. Women are also given Fosamax. We’re finding with Fosamax, there’s a rash of women needing root canals and having atypical fractures of the femur—right in the center of the femur—because that stuff makes the bone so dense that blood can’t get in. Bone is a living tissue and it needs to constantly remodel along vertical vectors of force. When you give something like Alendronate—Fosamax—you stop the normal remodeling of the bone. So yes, the bone gets denser [in] studies, but it’s brittle. It’s not a strong bone.
So you see, when you go in for conventional medicine you’re very apt to be put on something that you don’t really need and that has—I love Bruce Lipton, who says these things are not side effects, they’re effects. [Laughs]
So here’s what you can do instead. For those women who want to have their breasts screened—and by the way, the mammogram is a gold standard and the recommendation is that you start after the age of 50 and you get one every two to three years for mammography. The US Preventative Services Task Force issued a statement—I believe—several years ago saying that the annual mammogram from age 40 on is not necessary. The American Cancer Society didn’t agree, the American College of OBGYN didn’t agree. So yes, this is controversial.
A lot depends on the person—so whoever is listening, you have to ask yourself: “Do I feel safer in my body? Do I feel better when I go and get these tests done?”
I have dozens of women who listen to my radio show on Hayhouse who say to me, “Thank you—I didn’t really want to do that anyway, now I’m relieved. I already knew I didn’t want to do that.”
My entire career has convinced me that our health is in our own hands. It actually begins with our thoughts and our beliefs and it is our thoughts and our beliefs that drive our behavior. Bernie Siegel used to say [years ago], “We need to give ourselves ‘live’ messages.” Many patients give themselves “die” messages. I had a patient once who said, “I was feeling depressed on the way up here to see you, therefore I did not use my seatbelt. I realized I didn’t care if I died.”
TS: Now there’s a quote from you in your work that, “There’s no disease that isn’t mental and emotional, as well as physical.” I wonder if you can say more about that?
CN: Yes. I was on Gary Null’s radio show the day after Angelina Jolie made her announcement about her bilateral preventive mastectomy because of having the BRCA1 breast cancer gene. Gary was citing data that when a woman gets an abnormal mammogram result, her risk of a heart attack increases by 2,000%. After 9/11, here in Maine, the heart attack rate at our hospital quadrupled within the next week. Now there wasn’t any cholesterol that came riding up from New York City to Maine that clogged arteries. What there was, was enormous fear and the biochemistry of fear is vasoconstriction of the coronary arteries and an outpouring of epinephrine—the same thing that you see injected into the heart to get it going again when it stops. But if you’ve ever received a dose of epinephrine, you know that it feels incredibly anxiety-provoking. What was that movie with Uma Thurman and John Travolta where she had a drug overdose and they had to start her heart up again with epinephrine? It’s not a nice way to live in your heart.
We know that—and everyone has seen this in their family—when someone dies who’s been married a long time—let’s say after a 50-year marriage—when the husband dies, the wife is generally dead within six months or vice versa. When they say she died of a broken heart, they’re not kidding. So heart disease is one of the best studies for the mind-body connection.
PMS has always been one of my favorites because what I found years ago was that the women with the most severe PMS were the ones who had suffered the most abuse in childhood. The beauty of the menstrual cycle and our connection with the moon is that it literally connects us with the ebb and flow of creativity. You become very vulnerable, pre-menstrually, to the unfinished business in your life and you suffer to the degree that there is still some unfinished business in your life. Most of the unfinished business in our lives, by the way, just comes down to an iteration of the belief [that] I’m not enough and I’m not loveable. It’s actually pretty simple.
We have the famous ACE study—the “Adverse Childhood Experiences” study started by Vincent Felitti at the University of California [at] San Diego when he was head of a weight loss program. He noticed that the people that were losing the weight successfully were the most apt to drop out of the program. One day he heard an 18-year-old who was 100 pounds overweight say, “Overweight is overlooked, and that’s exactly what I need to be.” She had been raped and gained 100 pounds after that. So Felitti went on to study the adverse childhood experiences and found that slightly over 50% of all middle-aged, middle-class people in their study of 70,000 people had had at least one adverse childhood experience and these were directly and positively correlated. The number of these—the “dose”—of adverse childhood experiences was proportional to the number of emergency room visits, premature death, and the number of drug prescriptions.
All because, as children, we make a decision based on our parents’ behavior about whether or not we’re worthy or loveable. And then our beliefs attract to us the proof of what we’ve already decided about ourselves. The path out of that is to question our beliefs and come back to the truth—which is if we’re here, we’re supposed to be here and that our health is in our hands and that when you change your thoughts, you change your life—you change your beliefs.
That’s what Louise Hay’s entire life’s work has been about. You can heal your life. Louise Hay—founder of Hayhouse, a big multinational publishing company. All started by a woman who was sexually abused, beaten, raped, gave up a baby for adoption when she was 17, and then divorced from the man of her dreams—who she says made her Louise Hay. She gets a self-published book at age 55; she’s on Oprah and Phil Donahue the same week; the book becomes a bestseller. It was self-published. She then hires her accountant to run the burgeoning self-published book and Hayhouse is the result. One woman’s story about what one person can do when they decide that they have the power to change their lives. Oh, and Louise also had either vaginal or cervical cancer—I’m not sure which—which she healed through diet and affirmations.
TS: Now Chris, I’m imagining someone who might be listening to this and thinking, “I appreciate that Chris is pointing me back to myself in terms of taking responsibility for my health—knowing how my body’s doing. It’s in my hands. But the fact is I feel nervous about that. I’m not sure that I’m getting accurate readings from my dreams or from my internal guidance system. I want to go to the doctor to have some studies and tests done from an external source because I’m not clear [that] I’m getting an accurate read.” What would you say to someone like that?
CN: Go to the doctor, absolutely. Absolutely! No problem with that whatsoever, because you do what you need to do in the moment.
So I’ll give you an example from my own life. When I was in my 40’s I developed a big fibroid—a benign tumor of the uterus. Forty percent of women get them. I knew it was from, “Creativity that hadn’t been birthed yet.” But for the life of me, I couldn’t—I did acupuncture, dietary change, I did everything. Finally, one day I got just sick of dressing around it, so I went to a surgeon who I knew and loved and just had the thing removed. But as I was going under anesthesia, I asked the anesthesiologist and surgeon to say these words to me: “Prepare for surgery; heal faster.” Which you can look at online—the five healing statements that have been scientifically proven to decrease pain and length of hospital stay. Peggy Huddleston’s work: Prepare for Surgery, Heal Faster. So I did that and I asked them to say, “And when you wake up, the pattern that contributed to this fibroid will have left your body.”
That was ‘97; in ’99, I was a divorced woman. Now, I am not blaming my former husband. I had a pattern in my body of funneling my creative energy into a dead-end relationship that wasn’t mutually satisfactory at that point. Many women find this at midlife—by the way, that’s what menopausal symptoms are. They’re a wakeup call from your soul. You have to live your life from the inside out.
But you use every available avenue and for most people, having a doctor on board—you know the Readers Digest poll of the most trusted people in America, most people said their doctor. So if you’ve got a great relationship with your doctor, then good. Because we all need an external source of validation, whether you work with a therapist, an acupuncturist, a naturopath, massage therapist. I have my whole team of people that I work with—it’s just that I don’t do an annual physical as the biggest contributor to my health. I can’t even remember the last time I had one. Only, because I have much more immediate moment-to-moment feedback. Plus, every time I get my insurance policies updated, I have to have an EKG, a urine analysis, cholesterol, blood panel, weight, and all of the rest of it.
So I get the numbers on a regular basis. I think that that can be very worthwhile to see what the trend is. For instance, if your HDL—the good cholesterol—is on the way down chances are that you have glycemic stress and you’re eating too much sugar and you can reverse that with a dietary change and it’s really fun to see the numbers change. The key is to have the right doctor. Have one who understands health and nutrition and exercise and recommends those things.
TS: And what if I want to increase my sensitivity and sense of inner knowing about my own health condition? What would you recommend for someone who has that longing?
CN: I love good medical intuitives for that reason, because they can help with that. Dreams are really good. Think about it. Dreams are a broadcasting system from your soul. Every night they broadcast, but you have to write them down. Now, Doris E. Cohen, author of Repetition: Past Lives, Reincarnation, and Rebirth—who has done dream analysis for 30 years—points out that it’s real helpful to give your dream a title, like it’s a newspaper headline. I’ve found that that nails it every time. After you work with your dreams for about a year and you write them down in a discipline, you’ll begin to see patterns emerge. One of my friends had a dream that he was bleeding to death while on the toilet. When he woke up, he realized he needed a colonoscopy. He went and he had a very tiny beginning of a bowel cancer. He said the dream saved his life.
This stuff works. I mean it really works. The other thing that I love, love, love—I like to do divine love meditations regularly. I work with Robert Fritchie—who is founder of the Worldserviceinstitute.org. If you go to that website, Bob teaches you exactly how to do a petition and connect with divine love. Divine love being the most powerful healing source on the planet. There are also many testimonials on the site. It’s a 501C3 so he doesn’t need to worry about the drug company or the FTC or the FDA coming after him for false medical claims.
So, here’s how you do a petition. I do this every day. With my spirit and the angels help I bring divine love into my thymus (that’s the organ in the body that distributes divine love to the rest of you). I acknowledge my whatever—grief about a relationship that isn’t working out or worry about a daughter or whatever because we live on planet Earth and stuff happens. I ask that this situation be healed with the divine love according to the Creator’s will.
Now, I don’t think of God as a big bearded old man in the sky. In Eat, Pray, Love, she says, “God comes though me as me.” So it’s just a different part of myself that’s beyond time and space. Then I just sit and allow the divine love to come through my body. Bob finds that when we remain connected with divine love, it’s possible to heal almost anything. Now that’s not taught in medical school so people don’t believe it. Plus we’ve messed it up tremendously with religion.
TS: That’s helpful that you shared with us that petitionary prayer. Thank you. Now, Chris I’m imagining someone listening—again—who is inspired by what you’re saying to take care better care of themselves in one way or another—to exercise more, eat better, reach out for social support, etc. And yet they hit this obstacle and the obstacle is, “I don’t really like myself,” or, “I don’t feel worthy,” and somehow they skid out in some form of self-criticism. What would you suggest to such a person?
CN: I think that you’ve just hit it on the head. That’s the biggest thing we do, self-criticism, particularly women. So Louise Hay had a tried-and-true exercise that I’ve recommended for 30 years and that is that you just look into the mirror, look into your eyes, and say, “I love you. I really love you.”
After about Day 20, you’ll see the real you looking back at you. You’ll begin to soften around yourself because the truth of the matter is that we are love. It is the false self that criticizes.
Look at children. So a child hasn’t yet been brainwashed into anything. Look at a 2-year-old—they think their poop is fascinating. They haven’t learned that their thighs are too big. They haven’t learned that their hair doesn’t do the right thing or that their ears are too big. They haven’t learned any of that. No one taught them that they were less than perfect.
Gay Hendricks wrote a wonderful book called, Learning to Love Yourself, and he has another great exercise that I love which is that you find a part of yourself that you don’t like—not hard if you’re a woman. Let’s say it’s the cellulite on your rear end. And you say, “I hate this cellulite on my rear end. I love myself for hating that cellulite.”
As Robert Holden says, “The voice of the critic controls us through shame.” Shame is the most painful emotion known to humanity and he says the difference between shame and guilt is this: guilt says, “I did not do well. I didn’t do a good-enough job.” And shame says, “You are not good enough.” In other words, you’re bad.
So, you have to separate your essential self from your own behavior—and at Momma Gena’s School of Womanly Arts, there’s a fun one. When a woman starts to complain about herself another woman will look at her and say, “That is adorable. Your degrading of your size is one of the most adorable things I’ve ever heard. Aren’t you adorable?” You elevate it—you use extension and humor and shame cannot survive and drive the bus when it’s called out and humor calls it out every single time.
TS: There’s one more thing I’d like to talk with you about before we wrap our conversation here, which is [that] you talk about how sometimes in our life, when we’re going through certain passages, that what we’re experiencing could be considered a wakeup call. You mentioned menopause as a period in our life that could be a wakeup call—that we could see it that way. I’m wondering if you could speak to that. Wakeup call to what? What are waking up to?
CN: [Laughs]What usually happens at midlife—and remember it’s a process not an event, so it’s a 6–13 year process. What usually happens is you become irritable about the things that you were willingly doing for the past 20 years. Folding the towels, doing all of the shopping, cooking the meals, cleaning up after everybody, trying to fit in and have everyone love you. Well, what happens is—if you have put yourself last, which many women do—you’re going to begin to become irritated by this continuing self-sacrifice, because your soul is knocking on the door saying, “What about me?”
And your soul is aided and abetted by your hormones because estrogen dominance will create a kind of epinephrine-like cortico-estrogen stress hormone that knocks on the amygdala and the forebrain, where the memories are stored. All of the memories of having been done wrong by someone will come up. You’ll remember them. Many women remember abuse that they never even thought of or they had forgotten long ago.
So, generally, the wakeup call comes as you taking a stand for yourself. Now, what would be great is if you understood that the day or two before your period and the first three days of your bleeding were sacred times, when you’re more in touch with the dictates of your soul. If that were the case, then all during your cycling years, you could tune it to the dictates of your soul and you would not need to be hit over the head with a hammer at midlife.
Latham Thomas is a lifestyle vegan coach and author who wrote the book, Mama Glow. Latham puts a red line in her calendar on the days when her period is due and stays home and goes inward. She [said] that if President Obama himself were in town, I would not go. So she is following the cycles of the moon. She’s following her cycles of creativity. I can assure you that by the time she turns 43, 44, and maybe starts skipping periods, she’s just going to take off from there. She’s not going to need a time where she’s throwing a roast through the window in anger at how she’s put herself last, because she’s already following the wisdom of her body which all of us have—but in patriarchy, we’ve been taught to ignore.
TS: Now, can you help me understand what’s happening biologically [so] that a couple days before my menstrual cycle and then during the first three days of the cycle, I’m more in touch with my soul’s messages to me?
CN: Yes, what’s happening is the estrogen and the progesterone—which contribute to—I like to think of it as the insulation of the wires—is thinner and the right hemisphere of the brain, which has more connections to the body, is highlighted. In a dichotic listening test, the right hemisphere begins to hear more things. If there are negative things that you haven’t processed it’s more apt to hear the negative things than in the first half of your cycle, when we tend to feel good and outgoing and so on.
What happens is that you’re biologically programmed to slow down, to take an inventory, to look within. The progesterone falls, the estrogen falls, and you know that often feel more inward. You feel like weeping at something that moves you—and we’ve made this a weakness in women. We’ve made it the reason why women can’t be trusted. But it’s actually the reason that women can be trusted. But not if they’re completely out of touch with their own wisdom and their own cyclic nature. You can know all of this stuff and still fly a plane.
TS: OK, my final question, Chris. This program is called Insights at the Edge and I’m always curious to know what someone’s personal edge is. What I mean by that is—what’s sort of up for you right now—what you might be working on internally with yourself, your own soul process?
CN: I am in a state of longing to be deeply connected with the divine beloved as it comes through me—as it walks with me. My connection with God—with Source—as a practical daily reality. Not by going to church; not by meditating; not by doing yoga (all of those things are important and I’ve been meditating since I was in a baseball cage with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in my twenties—so that’s not new). But I want a living, breathing, tactile, daily relationship where I can feel God working in my life in a more tangible way. I know that I have been divinely guided my whole life and that my career in women’s health has been a passion—a compulsion—not really even a choice. Now, I want the rest of my life to be more like a close-embrace tango. A sensual, spiritual, close-embrace tango with God.
TS: Beautiful. I’ve been speaking with Dr. Chris Northrup and with Sounds True she’s created a six-session audio series called, Creating Health: Honoring Women’s Wisdom. Chris, thank you so much for being with us on Insights at the Edge.
CN: My pleasure.
TS: SoundsTrue.com. Many voices, one journey. Thanks for listening.