Northrup’s first experiences with nontraditional medicine came early in life. Her father, a dentist in Ellicottville, New York, was “very holistically oriented, even by today’s standards.” When he was admitted to the hospital with a heart problem that the doctors there failed to properly diagnose, her mother took him home, where he quickly improved. “At the hospital, he might have died,” Northrup reflects. Still, she attended Dartmouth Medical School (where she met her now ex-husband, an orthopedic surgeon) and did her residency at Boston’s Tufts Medical Center. It was in Boston that she met Michio Kushi, a pioneer of the macrobiotic diet. “I began to sit in with him on consultations,” she says, “and I saw the results of dietary change on a person’s health. Within three to six months, his patients looked like different people.”
In 1981 Northrup and her husband settled in Maine, and she joined a conventional ob-gyn practice while simultaneously getting involved in the American Holistic Medical Association (of which she later became president). In 1985 she opened Women to Women, a practice combining Western and holistic care, with four other female practitioners and eventually began to believe that she was meant to bring her message to the wider world. “One day I did a sort of proclamation, like, ‘Infinite spirit, show me the next best use of my gifts and talents!’” Northrup says. “And literally two hours later a literary agent called and said, ‘I think you should write a book.’”
She left Women to Women in 1997, when her writing and lecturing career took off, but as her fame was growing, her marriage was imploding. “If I had stayed in that marriage,” she says, “I would have gotten breast cancer. I know it. Breast cancer is often about being addicted to the back walking away from you, and the resentment behind your desperate attempts to nurture the relationship.” Northrup also believes that a large uterine fibroid she developed during the final years of her marriage—which she ultimately had surgically removed after alternative therapies failed to shrink it—had much to do with the nature of her relationship with her husband.
Now, though, almost a decade after her divorce, Northrup professes to feel great, and she certainly looks it. The pictures hanging in her office reveal the striking evolution of a dowdy librarian type in shapeless clothing into a platinum-blond pixie in hip-hugging jeans. “I’m in a reverse aging process!” she says. And if success is feeding her good looks, Northrup is headed for pinup status. Her trajectory is decidedly skyward, even if some of her ideas are viewed skeptically by the medical establishment. Northrup doesn’t let such things dampen her fervor; along with her devotion to the spirit-body connection, she rhapsodizes about the usefulness of feng shui and astrology. (“Our menstrual cycles are completely affected by the moon, so of course the planets would affect us as well.”) She also believes in angels and reincarnation and, of course, Einstellen.