A Thumbs Down Book Review
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
By Christiane Northrup, MD
Review by Sally Fallon
Published in 1994, this book was among the first of many that proposed complementary or alternative therapies for women’s diseases. In particular, Dr. Northrup promotes a body-mind connection to gynecological dysfunction and claims that many female problems can be linked to sexual abuse and trauma. Sympathy for the female sex—misunderstood and manipulated by male physicians and subtly coerced into stressful dieting patterns in order to conform to unrealistic standards of female beauty—oozes from every page. Naturally the reader will want to follow the dietary advice of a doctor who professes so much understanding of women’s problems.
Unfortunately, Dr. Northrup’s dietary advice is dangerous in the extreme—namely a macrobiotic diet based on vegetables, grains and soyfoods. Such a diet “promotes inward spiritual attunement while eating red meat produces more aggressive tendencies.” Meat and milk are too high in protein “and the process of protein metabolism creates a slightly acidic condition in the blood. . . since the average American diet is too high in protein, all of us, not just menopausal women, are in danger of developing osteoporosis.”
Dairy fats are especially taboo. They contribute to everything that ails us—cancer, heart disease, varicose veins, gallstones, constipation, osteoporosis, heavy menstrual bleeding, fibroids, weight gain, depression and PMS—she warns.
And while acknowledging that sugar may be harmful in large amounts, Dr. Northrup says it’s fine to indulge in the sugary foods we crave. Plant foods will supply all the nutrients we need, she assures her readers, but a number of supplements are recommended, just in case.
Dr. Northrup had the great good luck to grow up in a family that lived on a farm. Her father raised organic beef and knew about the work of Weston Price. But the lessons of Price seem to be lost on Dr. Northrup, who seems to know nothing about the fat-soluble vitamins. In interviews, Dr. Northrup mentions the fact that she consumed high amounts of dairy products during her growing years, including ice cream (rich in butterfat) every night, a diet that allowed her to grow into a healthy, high-functioning individual still in possession of her uterus. But her readers are told that dairy foods are bad news, bad for growing children and bad for adult women.
In the second edition of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, published in 1998, Dr. Northrup makes no mention of macrobiotics. Although she still pegs dairy foods as the villain in the American diet, she admits that women actually do need some animal protein and fat in their diets.
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom swept Dr. Northrup into nationwide acclaim. She appeared twice on the Oprah Winfrey show and was the subject of a special report on National Public Radio. Her influence has been enormous—and baleful. Many copycat books on women’s diseases repeat her dietary advice, sometimes verbatim. The consensus diet that has emerged is anything but wise—low in fat, stingy on animal foods and high in mineral-blocking whole grains and thyroid-depressing soy foods. This unnatural diet has probably ushered thousands of women onto the operating table for the hysterectomies they were trying to avoid.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Winter 2000.