Dr. Christiane Northrup
By Genevieve Morgan
Photograph by Ben Hoffman
Too often we unconsciously deny ourselves the joy of experiencing love. Dr. Christiane Northrup of Yarmouth, the well-known author of Women’s Bodies,
Women’s Wisdom, tells us how to bring love out of hiding.
It’s that time of year when thoughts and fancies turn to love and I, being no exception, have been preoccupied by love and how to make it last long after the spring tulips have come and gone. Why? Because it turns out that love is really, really good for you. In his book Ultralongevity, Dr. Mark Liponis cites several epidemiological studies that establish a strong link between a loving relationship and a longer, happier life, including a 2004 study that found married people are less likely than unmarried people to smoke, drink, or live a largely sedentary existence. While marriage doesn’t automatically translate into love (sorry married couples!), it turns out that the vows and companionship are only one piece of the puzzle—sexual arousal boosts the number of white blood cells in the body and improves immunity.
Other studies suggest that simply engaging in positive, reciprocal partnership (married or not) lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, protects the heart, and enhances longevity—and those are just the physical benefits. Emotionally, the act of loving and being loved makes us calmer, more confident, and more joyful. It turns out that love, when freely given and returned, is one of the best stress-busters around. And since reducing stress should be your number-one health goal, finding and, importantly, keeping love cannot be underestimated when it comes to our long-term health. As any stroll down the self-help aisle of your local bookstore will tell you, this quest for stress reduction is the Holy Grail of human well-being. Yet for something so important, we tend to be stunningly inept at it.
Lucky for us, Maine has one of the world’s leading experts on the topic: internationally acclaimed Dr. Christiane Northrup. For those who haven’t heard of her (and that is sure to be only a handful), Northrup is a renowned medical expert, speaker, and author who has built up a following that might just rival Justin Bieber’s in number. Her myriad projects include several best-selling books, a monthly newsletter, a hugely successful website, a weekly radio show called Flourish!, and her own public-television special. Northrup, who has been living and practicing in Yarmouth since 1980, makes regular television appearances on programs such as The Oprah Winfrey Show, Today, Rachael Ray Show, The View, and 20/20, among others. Her groundbreaking book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom was first published in 1994, has sold more than 1.4 million copies, and has been translated into sixteen languages. It is now considered a classic in the field of women’s health. Northrup’s other books include The Wisdom of Menopause, Mother-Daughter Wisdom, and most recently, The Secret Pleasures of Menopause.
Northrup’s latest book brought me to the renovated red schoolhouse in Yarmouth that was once her medical office but is now the headquarters of her thriving brand. In person, Northrup glows—her radiant energy warms everyone around her. Over the course of our conversation, I begin to suspect that I am quite possibly in the presence of someone who has drunk deeply from that elusive Holy Grail.
“I believe that consciousness comes through the body,” Northrup says with conviction. She has a deep, resonating chuckle and a quick smile that makes chatting with her about metaphysics as easy as gossiping with an old friend. “At the beginning of the latest edition of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, I quote a great hero, Norman Cousins. He wrote, ‘Belief becomes biology.’ In over thirty years of practicing medicine, I’ve seen it born out again and again,” she says. Northrup grins when I ask, “OK, but what’s love got to do with it?”
“Ecstasy, pleasure, hope—many of the things we associate with love [and not just interpersonal love, she later adds, but also an appreciation of nature, art, spirituality, and sensuality] support optimal endothelial function (the endothelium is the inner lining of our blood vessels). Conversely, chronic grief, fear, and pain lead to inflammation and tissue damage. It’s actually pretty easy to chart the power of love and joy on our physical state, yet so often we unconsciously choose a path that divides us from love. Love is not a mystery; it’s the manifestation of our life force. It’s the creative principle in action in our bodies. To cultivate love, we have to cultivate that life force, which begins with choosing to focus on what’s going right in our lives and in our bodies instead of on what’s going wrong and causing us pain.”
Northrup knows firsthand the impact of personal pain. In 1999, she and her husband divorced after a long marriage, and she was left in precarious financial straits with two daughters to put through college. “I was laid low. Here I had spent my life doing what everyone had told me was ‘right’ and I’m thinking to myself: This is my reward? I couldn’t believe it. But guess what? It was a reward. A departure. It was the beginning of a twelve-year journey into a deep understanding of partnership,” she says with a megawatt smile. I lean forward, sensing I am on the brink of learning the secret of pleasure from Aphrodite herself. She leans forward, too.
“The greatest love affair you will ever have in your life is the one you have with yourself.”
That’s it? Be true to thyself? I try not to show my disappointment.
“It’s easier said than done,” she continues. “Just ask the women in my book. It’s work to let go of all the obstacles to your life force, all those inherited belief systems, and take responsibility for your own pleasure. We’re taught from childhood that love is a game we either win or lose—it’s not. We believe that other people are the source of our happiness or unhappiness—they’re not. I promise: if you can form a lasting, forgiving, passionate relationship with yourself, for better and worse, there is nothing—and I mean nothing—to keep you from having one with somebody else.”
I let her words drift between us for a minute, thinking about how often I have blamed someone else for my unhappiness. I think about tissue damage and blood vessels collapsing inward. Northrup nods, as if she’s been reading my mind. “You want to know the secret to enduring love? The kind that lights you up inside and attracts a partner? Figure out what fuels your inner fire and stoke it every day. There is nothing sexier, healthier, or more potent than a vital life force.”
From where I sit, basking in her glow, I have no doubt.