Dr. Christiane Northrup can be described as a rebel with menopause. Or to put it a different way, the best-selling American author of The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing During the Change (Bantam, 2001) has some revolutionary thoughts about the transition through midlife.
She also thinks that many women suffer serious health problems as a result of feminine energy being “squelched” in western culture for more than 5,000 years. Moreover, Northrup argues that there is a double standard in how breast cancer is treated in women in comparison to prostate cancer in men—sometimes to the detriment of women’s emotional and sexual well-being.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight from Yarmouth, Maine, Northrup said that women have traditionally been taught that the worst attribute is to be selfish. As a result, they will often put their needs last on the priority list.
“In my family, we call it the burned-toast syndrome,” she said with a laugh. “You know, ”˜My mother will take the burned toast. The chicken wing. Everyone else gets the breast.’ It’s that type of thing.”
In part, she traces this back to the tale of the Garden of Eden, which created the “brainwashing that women will bring forth their babies in pain and suffering because Eve ate an apple”. Northrup claimed that this has contributed to the subjugation of women and to how they see themselves today.
So how does that manifest itself in cancer treatment? Northrup, a former surgeon, said that breast and prostate cancers are very similar but the response may differ dramatically. For example, physicians practise “active surveillance” in the case of prostate cancer, where they observe what’s happening in the man’s body but don’t perform surgery unless necessary.
“It’s the way to go, because 90 percent of prostate cancers are never going to grow,” Northrup said. “A man remains—sexually and urinarily speaking—intact and gets healthier while the cancer just stays contained.”
However, she stated that a woman will undergo radical surgery after a diagnosis of ductal carcinoma in situ—a tumour confined to the milk duct in the breast—even though 99 percent of these cancers don’t lead to death. “She has been taught that self-sacrifice is the way to go,” Northrup said. “She will go in and have a bilateral mastectomy because she can’t live with the idea that, ”˜What if this becomes cancer?’ ”
She noted that when men are told that surgery may lead to sexual, urinary, or bowel problems, they are apt to consider the consequences. Men will never voluntarily submit to an orchectomy—surgical removal of the testicles—even though, she said, it is a very effective treatment for prostate cancer. Northrup suggested that women, on the other hand, can be far too eager to have their breasts removed, even though they are sexual organs.
She pointed out that cellular inflammation—which is measured as heat in a breast-thermography examination—“in the vast majority of breast cancers”¦is a precursor”. However, she said that this inflammation doesn’t necessarily indicate the existence of precancerous cells. And even when these cells are detected early, she said, they are usually slow-growing.
“People are under the erroneous belief that the moment you have a breast-cancer cell, the cells divide and grow over time in a linear fashion,” Northrup said. “Therefore, if you get it early, you’re going to prevent a death from breast cancer. There is some serious problems with that belief system, which is held by almost every doctor, by the way.”
To support this point, Northrup cited a book called Should I Be Tested for Cancer? Maybe Not and Here’s Why (University of California Press, 2004), which was written by Dartmouth medical school professor Dr. H. Gilbert Welch. “He goes through the biology of cancer,” Northrup said. “The fact is we have some studies—one big one out of Norway—showing that women who had the fewest number of mammograms had the fewest amounts of breast cancer. The end result of that study was that early breast cancers actually go away. Isn’t that amazing? It happens more than you would think.”
And she believes that women can take action to increase the likelihood of this occurring. Northrup said that breast-cancer surgeons tell her that most of their patients with invasive breast cancer have vitamin D levels in the lower 25th percentile of the population. She also pointed out that women who exercise four to five hours a week have a 70-percent lower risk of developing breast cancer.
In addition, Northrup maintained that women can prevent chronic, degenerative diseases through their thoughts, emotions, and lifestyles. As an example, she said, grief, sadness, and resentment can impair the flow of blood to breast tissue. She emphasized that stress hormones—such as cortisol—have a corrosive effect, breaking down skin over time and depleting the immune system.
She also suggested that if a woman believes that midlife is linked to decline and decay, it can have an impact on every cell in the body. This occurs because if there’s an absence of happy thoughts, there can be a failure to “elaborate” nitric oxide, which is a gas produced by the endothelial (inner) lining of every blood vessel.
Northrup described nitric oxide as the “í¼ber neurotransmitter”, because it regulates levels of other neurotransmitters—such as serotonin, dopamine, and beta-endorphin—that enhance moods. She said that if women think of their bodies as an “organic garden”, they will ensure it receives all the right nutrients, including omega-3 fats and vitamin D, to continue giving birth throughout their lives.
“What I find is women at midlife and beyond become very fertile in another way: with businesses, with relationships, with book ideas, with art, with creativity of all kinds,” Northrup concluded. “I like women to think about themselves as constantly gestating and giving birth with physical fertility—the ability to have a baby being only one aspect of fertility.”
Dr. Christiane Northrup will speak at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on November 3.