Ask Dr. Christiane Northrup

Is there a Viagra® for women?
First up is Shirley from Illinois. "They have Viagra for men," she says. "Don't they have anything for women?"

The answer is no. "The reason they don't have Viagra for women is because for women, sex is multi-modal and it involves your emotions and your feelings and all of that stuff," she says. "This is Viagra for women—turn yourself on to life. I want you to think of the things that bring you the most joy, that give you the most turn on. It might be funny movies. It might be romance novels."

Dr. Northrup also says all women should practice "self-cultivation", an alternative word for masturbation. "You can learn how to rewire yourself for maximum pleasure by connecting all the erogenous zones in your body down to your clitoris and you practice," she says. "I'd prescribe three 30-minute sessions a week minimum, and once you're good at it, you can invite someone else in."

If you're still having trouble getting turned on, Dr. Northrup says to talk to your doctor and look into getting your testosterone and estrogen levels checked. If you have dryness, Dr. Northrup says a lubrication gel or estrogen cream can help. "Sunlight will often turn a woman on, by the way, because it increases testosterone levels," she says. "Not a lot, just a little bit, and it increases serotonin in your brain."

Do long winters make you feel SAD—literally?
One woman wants to know how to keep seasonal affective disorder from getting the best of her. "I'm from Utah ... the winters last way too long," Carol says. "And the older I've gotten—I'm 45—it's become harder for me. I need the sunshine. And I am such a different person in the summer. I'm happier. My kids can see it. My husband can see it. And I'm just wondering, is there anything women can do?"

SAD affects people in climates that are gray for a good part of the year. "Seasonal affective disorder is the PMS of the annual calendar," Dr. Northrup says. "What it is, is you're not getting enough serotonin. So the reason you're getting depressed is absolutely real. It's not enough serotonin. Natural light is a nutrient and it hits our retinas and it increases our serotonin in our blood so everybody in Chicago, everyone in the whole northern areas needs some natural light."

If you can't get enough natural light outside, there are other things you can do, the doctor says. "You need to get a good light box that has enough of the regular bright sunlight wavelengths. And those are widely available," she says. "Even, believe it or not, a lightbulb that's full spectrum lighting. Those fluorescent bulbs, and you just keep it out of the corner of your eye, where you can see it, reading at night, that will turn you right around."

Should women in their 20s and 30s get the HPV vaccine?
The HPV vaccine has been making headlines. "It's been targeted toward younger females, 13 and 14, and I was wondering its effects and if it was worthwhile for females already sexually active in their 20s and 30s," Colleen asks.

So what is HPV? The human papillomavirus. "This vaccine came out to protect women against certain strains of HPV that are associated with cervical cancer," Dr. Northrup says. "That vaccine is of great interest to me because there are over 100 different HPV types and this vaccine only targets four of them."

Dr. Northrup says only 3,500 women a year die of cervical cancer. "And the number decreases every year, so we're doing very well with Pap smears and other screening tests. So you should keep having those," she says.

But Dr. Northrup has some apprehension about the vaccine itself. "I'm very concerned about vaccinating girls 9 and over, every single one of them, with two vaccines," she says. "And I'm a little against my own profession. My own profession feels that everyone should be vaccinated."

Dr. Northrup would rather see the attention HPV is receiving directed elsewhere. "Where I'd put my money is getting everybody on a dietary program that would enhance their immunity," she says.

When is it too late to prevent osteoporosis?
If you don't have enough calcium by the time you hit 30, are you more susceptible to osteoporosis? "It runs in my family and I'm a little confused about whether increased calcium intake, especially in milk, really is of value once you're past your 20s. I've heard the consumption you have as a woman by that age maxes out and beyond that it's kind of moot," Erin from Canada says. "So what should we do?"

First of all, don't give up! "Don't let anyone tell you that it's all over by 20. That's just silly," Dr. Northrup says. "We know that women build bone mass throughout their entire lives."

Every woman needs 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day, but the real reason osteoporosis is so prevalent is an "epidemic" of vitamin D deficiency. "It's because we have vilified the sun because of fear of skin cancer," she says.

Dr. Northrup says every woman's vitamin D level should be at least 30, but 50 is better. "Those with the highest vitamin D levels have the lowest risk not only of osteoporosis but also of breast cancer, colon cancer and multiple sclerosis," she says.

An easy way to get vitamin D is to spend time in the sun. Dr. Northrup says that people with lighter skin need 10–15 minutes of sun, and people with darker skin need much longer. "Don't ever burn," she says. "That's what's associated with skin cancer. And if you have enough antioxidants in your system from eating lots of fruits and vegetables, there is much less risk of skin cancer."

Exercise also helps prevent osteoporosis. "Vertical vectors of force on your bone from exercising, that builds bone," Dr. Northrup says. "So you need vitamin D. You need magnesium. You need trace elements. You need exercise."

How much sleep should a woman get?
Is stress keeping you up at night? Here's a fact that might help you stop counting sheep in no time—you should actually sleep more when you're stressed. "Sleep is one of the absolute best ways to decrease stress hormones. In fact, it is the best way to get your cortisol down and your epinephrine down," Dr. Northrup says.

"Have you noticed when you don't get enough sleep, you gain weight every time?" Dr. Northrup says. High levels of cortisol in your bloodstream can make you gain more abdominal fat, which can contribute to heart attacks, strokes and high cholesterol.

The key to getting more sleep is embracing bedtime, Dr. Northrup says. "I want women to get enough sleep, but I bet you feel guilty if you sleep more than eight hours. ... When I can, I'll get 15," she says. "When I can, I'll sleep that long and it does me a world of good. So I want to give you permission, all of you, when you have the chance, do that. Okay? It's a beauty treatment."

When will night sweats end?
Every woman over a certain age knows about night sweats, including audience member Jeanine. "I'm 76 and I'm still having night sweats. When does it end? When you get in the casket?"

Dr. Northrup says not to worry—she still has them, too! "Have you ever done like a juice fast or any kind of detox or whatever? Because I think your body is detoxing something to get that wet like that," she says. "People do that after they've had a baby. Any of you had a baby and noticed you had night sweats for a long time? It's like how you detox after a baby. Your body's throwing off old toxins and trying to have you stay really healthy."

Jeanine tells Dr. Northrup she was recently diagnosed with diabetes. "Well, that's interesting. It could be related to your blood sugar," she says. "Blood sugar will cause all kinds of problems like that. All kinds of things that don't seem to be related to it. I'll be very interested to see what happens when you get your blood sugar under control."

How can I revive my sex life after a hysterectomy?
Jeanine's daughter, Jill, also has a question for Dr. Northrup. "I had a hysterectomy several years ago and it changed my sex life forever," she says. "I wouldn't have done it if I'd known the change it was gonna make in me. ... [Dr. Northrup] talked earlier about a lot of it's in our head."

It's not all in your head, Dr. Northrup tells Jill. "You're going along and you've got some nice estrogen and testosterone, which is the hormone of desire," she says. "And then you have your surgery. Boom. It's all gone. And you think that's in your head? No. It's not."

Jill can work on getting some of her sex drive back by practicing self-cultivation, Dr. Northrup says. Another exercise that can help her get it back is called chi kung. "Chi kung is where you use your mind to increase energy flow to the body," she says.

Watch Dr. Northrup demonstrate chi kung and try it at home!Watch

"Here's the thing. You feel like something's missing there. Right?" Dr. Northrup says. "So I want you to know that you can use your mind and your breath to energize. Send a big ball of energy down here. Because you know what? They didn't take away your clitoris."

Laughing makes me run to the bathroom—help!
Does a good, hard laugh make you pee just a little? Does a sneeze push your bladder over the edge? Dr. Northrup says that you can decrease the urinary stress incontinence causing these embarrassing slips by strengthening your pelvic floor muscles with Kegel exercises. "Kegel exercises are the exercises developed to strengthen the pubococcygeus muscle and to pull up the bladder—the bladder falls sometimes after you have a baby," Dr. Northrup says. "You can actually strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, the levator ani, the pubococcygeus, so strong that the bladder doesn't push down anymore and you don't lose urine."

If you don't think Kegel exercises work, Dr. Northrup stresses that it is important to make sure you are doing the exercises correctly. "I'd go to a physical therapist who specializes on the pelvic floor because a lot of women do not know how to do them properly—and if you do them properly—they're very, very effective," she says.

"The other thing that works, before aerobics or anything where you're going to be jumping up and down, you can put a tampon in your vagina and that will hold the bladder up at the right angle so you won't leak," Dr. Northrup says.

How can Kegel exercises help improve my sex life?
Not only can Kegel exercises help with bladder problems, but Dr. Northrup says that practicing these moves can actually improve other areas of your life.

"I believe everyone should do [Kegel exercises] because it enhances pelvic power," she says. "And it also increases your sex life and it also turns you on—because it brings blood into this area of the body. Remember, the clitoris isn't just that little eraser-sized thing that you can see out there, it goes through deep into the tissues along your pubic bone. And when you do Kegels—when you strengthen those muscles and you think sexy thoughts at the same time—you're engorging the area, you're bringing fresh blood in there, and you're strengthening the muscle. So it can be a very fun exercise that increases the joy we were talking about earlier and is good for your overall health."

How can I prevent hair loss?
Thinning hair isn't just a problem for men—like many women, Kristin is experiencing hair loss. "I want to know how to slow it down, how to prevent it, and what are my options to try to get the thickness back," she says.

Dr. Northrup says that Kristin's thinning hair may be a result of a hormonal imbalance. "You can get it back by eating a low-glycemic diet, making sure that you are on supplements," she says.

According to Dr. Northrup, glycemic foods can cause dramatic changes in the body. "One of the things that often happens in mid-life to people is if they have a lot of stress hormones in their system and they're eating a high-glycemic diet, and the high insulin is in their blood from the high sugar ... that actually changes the way hormones are metabolized. So you actually begin to shoot your estrogen and progesterone into androgen-like substances that produce male pattern baldness in women. Have you seen this—where [women] start to get a beard and they get thinning of the hair at the temples and so on?"

Other than a low-glycemic diet, Dr. Northrup has one other recommendation for thinning hair. "Acupuncture can be very, very helpful for it," she says.

Why do some women have a stronger smell "down there"?
Jacquelyn wants to know why some women have vaginal odor so strong that in a public restroom, she says, "you get that smell and you say 'oh, I don't want to go in that stall.'"

"It's anaerobic bacteria," Dr. Northrup says. "Remember that the vagina and the bowel, they're all very close to each other." Dr. Northrup explains that the vulva sweats more than any other area of the body, so not bathing and wearing clothing that is too tight can cause odor.

"And also, women don't get enough probiotic bacteria in their food through yogurt and so on," Dr. Northrup says. "So you can actually buy [probiotics] as a supplement, or eat good yogurt, and that sort of really cuts down on the odor, too."

Could I be going through menopause?
Devonne from Pennsylvania asks, "[When] I was 19, I had a hysterectomy and now I'm 35 and recently I've been going through hot flashes, mood swings. Is this a sign of menopause?"

Dr. Northrup says it sounds like Devonne is in the beginning of perimenopause. "When you have a hysterectomy it changes the blood supply to the ovaries so your ovaries were obviously left in. But the blood supply was decreased a little bit," she says. "So what you can do to increase your estrogen and your testosterone and your progesterone—because the ovaries make all three of those things—you've got to make sure your stress hormone levels are low."

Following a low-glycemic diet, eating omega-3 fats and exercising can help tremendously, she says. "And it might not be such a bad thing what you're going through now, but I would do flaxseed, maybe some soy, that kind of thing and see what happens," Dr. Northrup says.

Dr. Northrup also says acupuncture can make a big difference. "Traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture can work wonders because it works with the chi of your body—the energy flow—and we have good scientific evidence that shows that acupuncture meridians are absolutely real and there," she says.

Why do I suddenly have more gas...and burp?
Patty is in her 50s and says she has an embarrassing problem—she burps and passes gas more than usual. "But it's only been within the past year and I'm not eating any differently," she says. She also said she tried taking milk out of her diet thinking she was lactose intolerant, but she didn't notice much of a change.

Dr. Northrup explains that although Patty is not eating differently, her body is changing. "As we age, we have more trouble producing the gastric acid in our stomach to fully digest the food. So you need some enzymes, digestive enzymes, to help you digest your food. You can get those as a supplement. Just take them 30 minutes before a meal and they can make a huge difference," Dr. Northrup says.

"The other thing you want to do is cut way back on grains. The body has a difficult time digesting grains much after the age of 50," she says. Although grains are important for fiber, Dr. Northrup says, "people tend to eat too much wheat in general ... and that leads to gas and burping and that kind of thing."

Dr. Northrup suggests Patti should cut out all grains for one week and then add a little back in and see what happens. "Many women notice right away the bloating and all of it just goes away."

Should I have my ovarian cyst removed?
Thomasina says about six months ago her doctor found a fluid-filled, golf-ball sized cyst on her left ovary. She says she has normal periods, the cyst hasn't changed sizes and she is not in pain. Should she be worried?

"What the ovaries do is they form cysts. That's their job. And sometimes, you know, you'll ovulate and then the cyst where you ovulated won't just resorb, and it sits there for a while, and then it will go away over time," Dr. Northrup says.

Thomasina says her doctor has been monitoring the cyst for almost seven months and has suggested removing the cyst with a laparoscope. "You know what, sometimes that's just easier than worrying about it," Dr. Northrup says. "You're in and you're out the same day."

What should I do if I have fibroids?
Kimberly, who is one of the cast members in The Color Purple, has a question for Dr. Northrup about fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors that form on the uterus. "I have a lot of fibroids in varying sizes—they're not painful. I have heavy periods. And I'm wondering, do I need to do anything about them? And does it any way inhibit weight loss at any point?"

Dr. Northrup says that she once had a fibroid and had it removed. "I got so tired of dressing around it that I finally got it removed just for vanity, because I wasn't having any problems either," she says. "It wouldn't inhibit weight loss. It depends on how big it is, though. Do you feel like it's big enough so that you can see it when you're lying down? Like you look pregnant a little bit?"

"Yes, and there's several of them," Kimberly says. Dr. Northrup says that Kimberley needs to decide whether or not she wants to have them removed. "In the vast of majority of women, they do nothing. And they go away after menopause. They really, really shrink. In the average age of menopause, the final menstrual period is 52. Okay? So if you can hold off, you know, nothing needs to happen. But there's some kind of cool new treatments. There are treatments with uterine artery embolization. They just thread a little thing up into your femoral artery and put little spheres in there to cut off the circulation to the fibroid and it will shrink that way. They're doing some things with ultrasound. Surgery is actually quite easy—you're in, you're out. So it just depends on how far they're bugging you."

Dr. Northrup says that although no one knows what causes fibroids, she has her own mind-body interpretation. "It's creativity that hasn't been birthed yet because [the uterus] is our creative center, the low heart. Or it is shoving your creative energy into a dead end job or relationship."

Are symptoms always related to a mind-body-spirit connection?
Dr. Northrup explains that it is important to look at the mind, body and spirit connection of an illness. "There's always meaning because every symptom has physical, mental, emotional meaning. But usually you won't know the meaning until after the thing is over. So I don't want anyone to drive themselves nuts thinking, 'Oh my God, what does this mean?' Usually you don't know until afterwards. Your point of power, though, is always to know it's about something. That's your point of power so you won't be a victim of your body," Dr. Northrup says.

By understanding that there is a greater meaning, Dr. Northrup says you will be able to look at your symptoms differently. "What an awful thing to think that your breasts are two premalignant lesions sitting on your chest or you're a heart attack waiting to happen or your uterus is going to drop at any moment. I mean, who would ever want to live that way? But when you know it's related to your life in some way and it's guiding you home, it's guiding you to something fuller, to more optimal health, then life becomes such an adventure and your body is your ally in this," Dr. Northrup says.

"And your body is always talking to you. Just as your life is talking to you," Oprah says.

Take control of your health.