Dr Christiane Northrup
Around age 40, women’s bodies begin to transition toward menopause, a transition called perimenopause. The hallmark of this transition is a change in the levels of the estrogen, progesterone, and androgen hormones. But menopause isn’t solely a physical event, like many traditional doctors treat it as.
Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a boardcertified OB/GYN physician and has served as a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness for decades. Her work has been featured on Super Soul Sunday on OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Show, the Today Show, and 20/20, among other outlets. In 2013, Reader’s Digest named her one of “The 100 Most Trusted People in America,” and in 2016 she was named one of Oprah’s Super Soul 100, a group of leaders using their voices and talent to awaken humanity. And in 2018, Dr. Northrup received the first Mind/Body Healing award, a special category within the New Thought Walden Awards, honoring those who use empowering spiritual ideas and philosophies to change lives and make the planet a better place. Not to mention her various books that have gone on to become New York Times Best Sellers.
Women clearly trust Dr. Northrup’s approach to wellness and health.
We spoke with Dr. Northrup about her approach to wellness and ageing, and why you shouldn’t always trust what your traditional doctors have to say about menopause and ageing.
How do traditional doctors treat menopause in terms of a major life event?
Dr. Northrup: Conventional doctors treat it as a hormone imbalance or estrogen deficiency. Or maybe even as a psychiatric disorder. Therefore, the treatments range from hormone therapy (mostly estrogen), to antidepressants (either for a so-called mood disorder or for hot flashes). It is also a time when more “disease screening” is pushed e.g. time to get your mammograms, start thinking about lowering your cholesterol (with a statin drug), and prepare for decrepitude.
That said, midlife is a fantastic time to get a complete health assessment including hemoglobin A1C, fasting blood sugar, vitamin D level, and lipid profile to name a couple crucial things that, if abnormal, are very amenable to lifestyle changes. If there are any abnormalities, these have likely been brewing for years. But at perimenopause they become obvious because the body says “Okay—you haven’t taken care of me properly for the past few decades. Now it’s time—otherwise I can’t keep trying to keep you healthy when you keep drinking too much wine, eating too much sugar, not exercising, and not knowing how to handle stress. Time’s up.”
What happens to the body/mind during menopause?
Dr. Northup: Your body and mind are going through adolescence in reverse—so—all the fiery emotions that arose at age 12-13 when you were asserting your independence come roaring back. Back then, your task was to define yourself as separate from your parents and teachers and trying to define who you were on your own terms. Then, of course, the reproductive and career building years arose—and you found yourself doing whatever it took to survive as an adult. But now—during perimenopause, you have skills and some familiarity with what it takes to pay rent and support yourself. During perimenopause (particularly the astrologic Uranus opposition at age 42) your soul cries out for recognition. You must begin to live from the inside out—not just keep doing what society rewards you for. If you don’t you often get a wake-up call in the form of some disease. So—it is not menopause, perse, that makes us more vulnerable to ill health—it is the fact that our bodies (and souls) will no longer let us get away with ignoring them.
Something else happens too —the rising estrogen levels, in the face of stress hormones cortisol and adrenalin, actually converts the estrogen into catecholestrogens—which act as additional stress hormones. These actually “wake up” the amygdala and the basal forebrain—the centers for old memories in our brains. They kind of knock on the door of our past, bringing up uncomfortable memories and forcing us to re-evaluate our relationships, our jobs, and our families. This is a biologically potent time designed to force us to change what’s not working for optimal health.
Are there any major misconceptions about the body/mind and menopause?
Dr. Northrup: Yes—there are many misconceptions. One of the biggest is that your sex drive and sexual attractiveness plummet. In fact, the opposite can be true. The research of the late Harvard Sex Researcher Gina Ogden, PhD, showed that it was women in their 60’s and 70’s having the best sex of their lives. The other misconception is that after a certain age, disease is inevitable. But studies of healthy centenarians all over the world certainly dispel this myth. As my colleague Dr. Mario Martinez, founder of the Biocognitive Institute and the book The Mind Body Code puts it, “Geriatrics is the study of the pathology of aging.” And most doctors approach health from this pathological stance—looking for what can go wrong instead of supporting what can go right.
How do you suggest transforming your mindset about menopause and ageing so it becomes a positive, uplifting, joyous experience instead of a negative one?
Dr. Northrup: The first thing I’d do is substitute the word “growing older” for the word “aging.” Aging begins at birth. Martinez has a wonderful phrase that addresses this: “Getting older is inevitable. Aging is optional.” The word aging has decrepitude in it. Growing older doesn’t. And there is a huge difference between chronologic and biological age. Chronological age is the age on your driver’s license. Biological age is the age of your cells. And this can be addressed. So—there are 85-year-olds going on 50. And many 50-year-olds going on 85.
But in our culture, we don’t even think about “aging” and until we reach certain agree upon “cultural portals” that tell us how we’re supposed to be and act “at a certain age.” So—my hair dresser was told the following on her 29th birthday, “What are you going to do when you turn 30?” As though 30 were a big looming black hole. Women turning 35 who haven’t yet had a baby and want one are often told to freeze their eggs “just in case”. But the fact is that the vast majority of healthy 35-year-olds (and 36 and 37-year-olds for that matter) will have no problem getting pregnant. And 65 as the retirement age and the age when you go on Medicare is fraught with meaning about being “over the hill”, useless, out to pasture, etc. The fact is that the so-called reproductive years—let’s say 21-45—are a relatively short period of life. After menopause the brain gets rewired for wisdom. And if you do what it takes to keep your body healthy, you find that the vast creative energy that went into creating a job, a family, or a home is now available to pursue your soul’s passions. It’s important for women to remember that there is a LOT of life after menopause. And studies show that women in their 50’s and 60’s are, in fact, far happier and more fulfilled than they were in their 20’s and 30’s.
You’ve said during and after menopause our goals and behaviors become motivated by our souls, not society. What do you mean by that?
Dr. Northrup: Think back on what you loved when you were 9-11. This is a time when girls haven’t yet learned how to “fit in” and “keep their voices down.” It’s a time when they will tell you what’s on their minds. They knew what they like. They are in touch with what lights them up. The puberty hits—and we become interested in relationships, academic or career success, creating home, joining a church, mosque, or synagogue—and becoming a contributing member of our society. But during and after perimenopause we often find ourselves sick and tired of putting off our own hopes and dreams in order to contribute to the bake sale, fundraise for the day care, volunteer at the church fair (even when these activities have been enormously fulfilling.) We dream of learning to dance, joining the peace corp, learning a language, traveling to India. We are at the threshold of what the late Joseph Campbell called The Call to Adventure. The beginning of the hero’s (or heroine’s) journey. We long to live life on our own terms and not simply out of obligation to others. We return, as it were, to who we were at age 11 or so—And in so doing, we must deconstruct a lot of our beliefs and behaviors about what is expected of us.
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