One of Oprah’s favorite resources for women’s health is Dr. Christiane Northrup, a gynecologist with bizarre ideas about health and disease. On the air, she has disputed the connection between HPV and cervical cancer, an uncontroversial scientific fact. Her un-belief in an important scientific fact is disturbing, but if you dig around her published writing a bit, it’s even scarier. This doctor is to women’s health what Dick Cheney is to human rights.
Northrup on fibroids
Uterine leiomyomas, better known as fibroid tumors, are common, non-cancerous tumors of the uterus. They can be completely asymptomatic, or can cause significant pain, bleeding, and fertility problems. These tumors are fed by hormones such as estrogen and progesterone, and manipulation of these hormones can sometimes help with symptoms. That’s the facts. In Northrup’s world, things are a bit different. If her writing makes you feel a bit like Alice, you’re not alone. It starts with some normal ideas, such as the anatomy of fibroids, etc., but as soon as she starts to talk about cause, we are well down the rabbit hole.
…fibroid tumors represent our creativity that has never been birthed. Fibroids may also result when we are flowing life energy into dead end jobs or relationships we have outgrown. Fibroids are often associated with conﬂicts about creativity, reproduction, and relationships.
Fibroid tumors are abnormal growths arising from uterine smooth muscle and fed by hormones. The are most assuredly not representative of creativity in utero or any other non-physical idea. To represent them this way is not only wrong but also dangerous, as it may lead women to improper care:
If you have fibroids, ask yourself the following questions: What are the creations within me that I want to put out in the world before I’m no longer here? If anything at all were possible, what would my life look like? If I had six months to live, what relationships would I release from my life immediately? What relationships would I give more of my time and attention to? What relationships truly feed and nourish me? Which ones drain my energy? Write your answers in a journal. Discuss them with supportive friends. Deep within you, you have all the answers you need. You just need to be open to hearing them.
If you’re sitting at the cafe drinking your favorite tea, or maybe wine, such maudlin reflections my be a fun narcissistic exercise, but it is unrelated to your uterine anatomy. But as long as you remember that, the advice isn’t dangerous. Right?
Well, she goes on to talk about some of the standard treatments for fibroids, and mixes in a dose of “bioidentical hormones”, a trendy idea with no scientific merit. But then she really brings the crazy. Her “spiritual and holistic options” are a gamisch of completely unproven modalities that have no basis in fact, much less science. Recommending them to women would be not only unethical, but potentially dangerous.
Better boobs through breathing and balance
Breast cancer, which touches a terribly large percentage of women, is the most feared breast disease, but other less frightening conditions, such as mastitis, also occur. Still, if you ask most women what they fear most, breast cancer is likely to be high on the list. What are Dr. Northrup’s “10 Steps for Creating Breast Health”? Yearly exams? Mammograms? Well…
Step 1: Imagine that your breasts, chest, ribs, lungs, heart, and shoulders are now bathed in the golden white light of healing.
Step 9: Use the wisdom of mind/body unity.
The body and mind are a seamless unity. And each part of our bodies has its own meaning. The heart, breasts, lungs, and shoulder areas are in the fourth emotional center. The health of this area of the body is affected by our ability to express all emotions fully.
There are still some things about breast cancer screening and prevention we don’t know. The precise effect of current screening tests on survival is still being studied. When to use self-exams, mammography, MRI, or other techniques is an active area of research, but current recommendations are quite good; there is a lot we do know. None of it has to do with “releasing your negative feelings.”
There is something fundamentally misogynist about Northrup’s approach. In addition to being complete fantasy, it is part of the punitive culture of so-called alternative medicine. According to people like her, if a woman is just happy enough, satisfied enough, spiritual enough, then she won’t be unhealthy. So what happens if you get sick? Well, you must not have been good enough. It’s not like that’s a new message for women.
Women don’t get fibroids or breast cancer because of repressed needs, a wandering uterus, or lack of self-esteem. They get these diseases because of a combination of genetic and environmental factors. While we have control over some of the environmental factors (smoking, drinking, etc.) the rest is out of bounds. All the navel-gazing in the world won’t change your genes. Disease isn’t a failure of introspection—it’s biology, and the study of human biology has taken us far in the prevention and treatment of disease.