The Pandemic's Worst Woman: Dr. Christiane Northrup
How Oprah and PBS helped her become a pseudoscience superstar and why she needs to lose her board certification
It seems as if every day I hear about an unvaccinated pregnant person who has died from COVID-19 or is near death. I might read about it in the news, such as this story of Davy Macias, who died shortly after being delivered. She was a labor and delivery nurse who left her newborn and four other children without a mother. Or Paige Ruiz, who died shortly after delivery, also never holding her newborn and leaving her two-year-old without a mother. I also hear from numerous colleagues about intensive care units filled with unvaccinated pregnant people with a surgical crash cart at the bedside for an emergency cesarean section, which is often done in a last ditch effort to save the life of the pregnant person. And of course, I get direct messages from those desperate for any insight I might have to help convince their pregnant best friend, spouse, or child to get vaccinated. Fear that vaccination against COVID-19 could harm a pregnancy is sadly all too common.
And it’s not just pregnant people who are afraid of being vaccinated, people are avoiding vaccination for fear it could affect future fertility or negatively affect a future theoretical pregnancy. There are even people who are afraid if they are around someone who has been vaccinated, it could affect their fertility or pregnancy.
These lies about the vaccine didn’t go mainstream because people did their own research. What has happened was the exact opposite. They were exposed to disinformation by what they thought were credible sources, and it stuck, effectively blocking accurate content that happened to show up second. That is what propaganda does. It is important to note that it can take just being exposed to incorrect information once to believe in it.
Where does this anti vaccine propaganda related to fertility and pregnancy come from? Much of it has been touched in some way, either created or amplified, by Dr. Christiane Northrup.
Northrup isn’t some minor league player recently called up from selling butterbur infusions to play in the disinformation big leagues. She is the original women’s health Doyenne of Disinformation. She is a board-certified OB/GYN, which she is sure to mention at the start of almost every video, with a massive reach on Facebook. For a long time she was active on Instagram, but she was recently banned from for spreading disinformation.
How did Northrup get such a national, and even international, voice? She has written several best selling books, including Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. But her rise to the stratosphere came via Oprah, at least 12 appearances, and eight PBS specials. The dual authority of Oprah and PBS is something to behold. Oprah makes you a household name and PBS makes people believe you have been vetted by academia.
Since the early days of the pandemic, instead of using her platform to support evidence-based care, Northrup has been waging a war against science. She has called for maskless freedom rallies, promoted anti vaccine propaganda, and used phrases to signal her allegiance with QAnon, the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory group that believes, among other things, that some democrats eat babies.
Yes, a woman who did a surgical residency and claims in her books that she has performed surgeries is now claiming that wearing a surgical mask for four minutes causes brain damage. How did she complete a single surgery? More importantly, why didn’t she alert the world about the dangers of masks then? Why wait until now? Inquiring minds want to know?
Okay, not really.
Northrup was one of the major forces spreading the word about Plandemic, a fever-dream movie of disinformation about SARS-CoV-2 and vaccines masquerading as a documentary. Plandemic was foisted onto the world May 4, 2020. The very next morning, Dr. Christiane Northrup shared it with her more than 500,000 followers on Facebook. Getting an early endorsement from a doctor with a massive following helped propel Plandemic to eight million views in the first week alone. You can read the New York Time’s forensic analysis of how Plandemic became a juggernaut and Northrup’s role here.
And Northrup’s campaign of disinformation certainly didn’t stop there. On Instagram, Facebook, her newsletter, webinars, and multiple interviews with right wing and evangelical groups she continued with wildly inaccurate sound bites that are often akin to medical mad-libs. Her abuse of scientific terminology is so stunning that at times she is like the Mrs. Malaprop of medicine. Here are some recent Northrupisms (none of which have any credible scientific evidence backing them at all… in other words, they are made up):
“MIT developed a dye called luciferase which is in the vaccine so under a light people can scan you.” This is apparently to identify if you are vaccinated or not.
You “can be controlled from outside of yourself by the vaccine,” meaning some substance is shed by vaccinated people damaging or controlling the unvaccinated.
“The delta variant is imaginary.”
“Women who have had the shots will never develop embryos.”
“The vaccine cross reacts with syncytin-1, causing miscarriages.”
“Standing barefoot on the earth for 20 minutes will reduce blood viscosity.”
“This is a war between good and evil…so we need the highest nitric oxide levels to maintain the stamina to remain in our sovereignty as made in the image of God and trust in our divine source.”
“All the animals in the animal trials died!”
Pick any one of the streams of vomitus she spews about COVID-19 and subject it to a basic fact check. For example, “All the animals in the animal trials died!” Less than one minute on Google finds multiple sources to disprove this claim. When people say they are “doing their own research”, what they are doing is repeating disinformation they falsely assumed is good research, because it comes from someone they believe to be a trusted source, a board certified physician with eight PBS specials on women’s health and at least a dozen appearances on Oprah.
Because of her far reaching negative and infamous impact, Northrup was named by the Center for Countering Digital Hate as a super spreader of disinformation about the vaccines. They analyzed a large sample of anti vaccine content shared on Facebook and Instagram and almost two-thirds of the content came from 12 people, and Northrup is one of them. You can read the full report here.
Many people wonder, “Really! That Christiane Northrup? She must have changed” How did she go from advocating for women’s bodies to making false claims such as the spike proteins from the COVID-19 vaccine damages blood vessels?
I get it, she was one of the first people speaking publicly about women’s health. She appeared to be filling gaps created by medicine and society. And while she has historically promoted the worthy idea that women should have more agency over their bodies, she has simultaneously been promoting medical gibberish as a route to that agency since her first book was published in 1994. In the 1990s and 2000s Northrup was approximately 50% facts and 50% disinformation and they were interwoven, so sorting fact from fiction might be challenging for people who aren’t trained in human biology or medicine. But Northrup no longer offers anything factual as counterbalance, so her claims only now seem outrageous. But the falsehoods and misinformation have been there all along. That is the insidious problem of mixing science with pseudoscience, it elevates the pseudoscience. And of course, if it comes from a Board Certified OB/GYN, why would you disbelieve it?
Surely I exaggerate about Northrup always being awful? Let’s take a closer look at her first book, Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, the book that propelled her onto Oprah and PBS. This is the book that should have instead caused Oprah and PBS to do investigative specials on why the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology isn’t investigating an OB/GYN who claims that breast cancer and breast cysts are caused by an “energy imbalance.”
It is no wonder Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom was a bestseller. Not only was she the only gynecologist speaking out publicly and railing against the patriarchy, but she has a folksy writing style that makes the reader believe she is advocating for you against medical misogyny. Most chapters start with some accurate information of how medicine has failed women and then some basic biology, but it is not always accurate. For example she writes that “ovulation is ruled by the moon” and “disease is not created until a woman is frustrated in effecting changes that she needs to make in her life.” In Northrup’s world many illnesses appear to be manifestations of being out of touch with the Divine, meaning a personal weakness.
After the reader is introduced to a medical condition, standard medical care is discussed, but this is presented at best neutrally, in a you could do this...kind of way. In fact, standard medical care often makes Northrup nervous, but she can’t exactly tell you why. She often implies there are issues and then let’s you, the reader, fill in the blanks. So instead of coming out against mammograms, she can listen to her patient’s concerns about radiation and then state that she “can’t guarantee the absolute safety of a mammogram.” You can feel her sigh through the pages as she admits that yes, she does offer mammograms, but only because of her malpractice carrier. When Northrup wants to say something that is clearly against medical recommendations it is often presented as something “a friend” or “a patient” told her, using the 3rd person narrative to absolve herself of the responsibility. For example, she quotes a “patient” thusly, “I’ve seen far too many women have a mammogram that was positive who then became frozen with fear. I can’t help but think that’s a threat to their health. I’ve watched them go downhill very rapidly.”
Yes, you read that right. Cancer doesn’t kill, the fear of having an abnormal mammogram does.
Throughout the book Northrup presents many cases of patients she has supposedly met through the years. Often these women are failed by standard medical care or are just doing okay, but when they try the alternative path recommended by Northrup, and especially if they get in touch with their Inner Goddess, then they are healed.
In Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, Northrup writes that AIDS is “a consequence of a large-scale breakdown in human immunity, resulting from such factors as the pollution in the air and water, soil depletion, poor nutrition, and generations of sexual repression.” And Northrup claims that there were people who “reversed their HIV status to negative” with the “healing power of nature and love.” Her reference here is not a scientific article or research, or even people in the plural. Rather, she highlights a single person narrative written by Niro Markoff, a person who claims she cured herself of AIDS, and yet her miraculous case history has yet to be published in a medical journal. Northrup also claims that many people who are unaware of their HIV status don’t actually get sick until they find out they are HIV positive. So it’s the information about HIV that depresses the immune system, not the virus.
While Northrup positions herself as pro choice, the framing is such that it feels like she is only making that claim because it’s required for feminist credentials. She states she stopped doing abortions because she was “tired of mucking around in women’s ambivalence about their fertility.” She was also “tired of performing repeat abortions on women who came back year after year for the procedure” and preferred instead to help “women understand their sexuality and their need for self respect and self esteem.” That's a stunner of a statement on its own, and not in a good way. And the idea that repeat abortions year after year are common and problematic is actually a forced birth talking point.
Northrup also believes that communication with the “unborn” is possible.
I mean, of course she does.
According to Northrup, women with cervical cancer are more likely to have “poor sexual adjustment, low incidence of orgasm during sexual intercourse, and a dislike of sexual intercourse amounting to an actual aversion.” And if a woman continues “to have sex with someone who she doesn’t respect or love, she is participating in an energy pattern that is associated with chronic vaginal, cervical or vulvar problems, that are documented “prostitute diseases.””
When Northrup was worried about a woman’s ovarian cyst she consulted a medical intuitive instead of consulting a cancer surgeon or another colleague. The medical intuitive informed Northrup that the woman’s cyst was “waking up” and had the “capacity to undergo rapid growth.” No really. Page 209.
Recommending a consultation with a medical intuitive to decide on surgery is not empowering, it’s malpractice.
And then there is the anti-Semitism. Northrup felt it worthy to include the following in her book, one of her friend’s ideas of course, perhaps again using the 3rd person narrative to have deniability. This friend wondered if “rape is less common in countries in which the men are not circumcised. His experience is that having intercourse with a woman who isn’t aroused and well lubricated is painful for him as it is for her because of the delicacy of the foreskin.”
Yes, rape is apparently about pleasure (gross enough), but the idea that circumcised men are more likely to rape adds anti-Semitism into the picture. If her friend’s words were worthy of inclusion in her book, they are Northrup’s words now.
This is but a glimpse of Northrup from Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom. Did anyone at Harpo and PBS or anyone who had her on as a guest or who reviewed the book actually read it?
And Oprah and PBS kept having her back on, long after she was openly anti-vaccine.
While Oprah never has spoken publicly in a negative way about Northrup, at least that I can find and I have looked, her people did think it was a good and worthy idea during the pandemic to reissue one of Northrup’s episodes with Oprah as a podcast!
The episode was later removed. If you look on Apple podcasts the August 24, 2020 episode is simply missing. Not sure when Oprah’s team decided Northrup was an oopsie. Was it before or after she was outed for her QAnon dog whistles?
Sometime in the past few months the people at Oprah.com seem to have scrubbed a lot of Northrup from the site. It took some digging to figure out she had been on Oprah at least 12 times (10 are mentioned in this article from 2008 and since then there are at least two more appearances that I can find, with Suzanne Sommers in 2009 and Super Soul Sunday in 2015).
Wouldn’t it be great if Oprah owned the connection and tried to undo some of the damage? She could probably call up Mark Zuckerberg and ask him if being one of the 12 most prolific spreaders of disinformation about vaccines makes Northrup bad enough for a Facebook ban? I’m guessing that billionaires take each other’s calls, but I could also be totally wrong.
Let’s be clear, Facebook needs to ban Northrup. I’ve been reading her posts for awhile. This is her primary cesspool where many who haven’t encountered her before meet her propaganda through repostings and shares. This is where her fetid thoughts gain traction. True believers will find her on whatever fringe platform she ends up at, but Facebook needs to shut her down now. Why is it that she is so awful she is banned on Instagram, but still allowed on Facebook which owns Instagram?
And then there is PBS. They are still lending their credibility to Northrup even now. Her videos are still on their YouTube channel. And in a great fact checking tragedy or a stunning display of sticking one's head in the sand PBS acknowledges Northrup as a “high profile physician” and source of disinformation in this article and yet never mentions the eight PBS specials that helped her become this high profile physician. In fact, a Google search of “Northrup PBS” shows her PBS videos right above the article explaining her danger.
Mixed messages much?
PBS needs to remove her videos and then explain how they thought it was worthwhile to give Northrup such a platform. I have some questions for them. Hey, let’s start with, “Do you at PBS really think that the negative mental pathways of abortion cause uterine fibroids?” Because page 192 of my copy of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom from 1994 says they do.
And let's look closer to home. The American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ABOG), you should revoke her board certification. Northrup often starts her interviews and webinars by reminding the audience that she is a board certified OB/GYN, just before she spews her bizarre mix of religion and pseudoscience that contradicts the training she had to obtain that ABOG certification. Often that is how she is introduced by the fringe groups who interview her. This carries weight. Why should people believe what I have to say when another board certified OB/GYN is saying the opposite?
So why doesn’t ABOG revoke her certification? It’s not as if they haven’t been asked. In response to her stream of lies about COVID-19 and the vaccine, Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB/GYN, gathered signatures from 239 OB/GYNs who wanted to see Northrup lose her board certification because she was harming people and the profession. This was back in May, 2021. What did she hear? Crickets. When she sent a follow up email recently she was told they can’t share any details regarding certification status. Although you can check to see if someone is certified on their site and as of September 8 Northrup is still certified.
Imagine Instagram thinking you are awful enough to be deplatformed, but ABOG not so much?
Dr. Christiane Northrup has always been awful. She has long promoted medically nonsensical ideas about health and her views on illness often amount to patient blaming. Her first book contains medical gibberish, conspiracy theories, misogynistic tropes and she has been openly anti-vaccine for decades. Her book The Wisdom of Menopause is just as bad and you can’t pay me enough to read any of her other crimes against women (and the trees it takes to print them) that she has published. Her leap to QAnon, a conspiracy theory, anti-Semitic group not a shocker. It’s not even an evolution. This is what Northrup has been all along; it's just easier to see now that she no longer tries to hide behind even the thinnest veneer of facts. Disinformation is her full time job.
Northrup falsely positions standard medical care as harmful while elevating incorrect information and the magical healing powers of herbs and supplements (which she sells). Choosing this latter path is then presented as an informed decision. Voila! Agency. But you can’t make informed decisions with incorrect information.
With her newfound position as an “expert” on COVID-19 vaccines and fertility and pregnancy Northrup has found a new platform. Her lies and medical gibberish are reaching far further than they could have in the 1990s and 2000s thanks to social media, and she is in this position as a super spreader of disinformation because of her OB/GYN credentials and her ascent into the public eye courtesy of Oprah and PBS.
And people are believing her. Some are dying and many more will be harmed.
Dr. Gunter, two questions: any theories as to why men who appear to dislike women go into gynecological medicine? And are there any serious studies in progress tracking how many women turn to 'alternative' therapies after feeling humiliated or shamed by their GYN doctors?
Asking because I read Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom when I was in my 20s. I was impressionable and although some of what she said made me go, Huh?? I was so grateful for a book like hers that I didn't perceive it as misinformation. I'm so glad I didn't go down the 'alternative medicine' path any further than I did. (Thank you for outing her and continuing to call out pseudoscience profiteers.)
I recently had my first appointment at a well regarded Menopause Clinic in a major teaching hospital in NYC and the experience was so awful (young, male MD treating the encounter with barely veiled mortification and hostility) that I told my husband it's no wonder so many middle-aged women turn away from conventional medicine. Someone that unskilled and/or uncaring - regardless of their medical expertise - can instill lasting humiliation and fear, especially when the medical issues are of such intimate and potentially embarrassing variety. (This was actually my second visit to the GYN wing of this hospital and my second bad experience. My first visit resulted in a minor but very painful injury from a pelvic exam.)
I think this is a major problem and I seriously wonder if there should be a whole new class of medical staff trained to support patients, either in the exam/consult room or in the days following, say, over the phone.
I'm supposed to have a follow-up visit in a month and I find myself dreading it so much. I'm still so angry about my first visit (not to mention terrified at the thought of ever having another pelvic exam) that I'm trying to work up the courage to inquire with the attending physician there whether it's within my patient's rights to only have only her treat me - no students - because I'm actually afraid I'll never go back otherwise.
Sorry for the long post. This one touched a nerve.
I read her first book at a time in my life when when I was frustrated with my job (O.R. Nurse) and had just gotten out of my second marriage. I started of interested in what she had to say and finished it thinking WTF did I just read. I started her second book and just couldn’t go on after the first 2 chapters. At that time I owned her first three books; I threw them away instead of donating them to the library which is what I normally do with books I no longer want. I just couldn’t leave them someplace they would still be in circulation. If I had had a place to burn them I would have done so.