The vegan diet has been taking the world by storm and is now being backed by several celebrities themselves. The diet can be simply explained as a plant-based diet or as a dairy-free vegetarian diet (without eggs of course).
The plant-based diet, however, has got its fair share of advantages and disadvantages with respect to the menstrual cycle and I will be discussing both to give you an overall view of the effects the vegan diet can have on our menstrual cycle.
Dairy is a big part of many people’s diets and it comes in the form of butter, milk, cheese, ice cream and many more products. However, consuming these products on your period can make periods very painful by worsening cramps and can even cause bloating and diarrhea.
Hence, stopping the consumption of cow’s dairy is said to be very helpful in making periods lighter and less painful, improving cramps and preventing acne. Considering that a vegan diet is dairy-free, those who take up this diet and avoid dairy products may see a considerable improvement in periods and cramps.
A look into the Nutrient consumption
Let’s talk about the nutrients that you may be missing out on in your diet that are essential for period health.
A deficiency of Zinc, Iron, vitamin A and Iodine can affect ovulation leading to anovulation or amenorrhea. An Iron deficiency can very quickly come about due to the loss of blood during menstruation and it is important to consume iron-rich foods like spinach, tofu and lentils to avoid developing iron-deficiency anaemia.
These nutrients along with several other vitamins and minerals are actually found to be unintentionally consumed less when a diet is solely plant-based. Hence, individuals on a vegan diet should be mindful of what they eat so that they do not lose out on adequate nutrient intake. Vitamin B12, omega 3 and proteins are essential to having regular periods but are not very abundant in a vegan/vegetarian diet. Hence, taking supplements of these nutrients is recommended for those who have taken up this diet.
Phytoestrogens are a special class of phytonutrients that are found in most plant foods and are known to have a beneficial anti-estrogen effect. They are predominantly found in nuts, oilseeds and cereals. In moderate doses, they help lighten period flow but in high doses which can happen when on a vegan diet, they can cause heavier periods by suppressing progesterone and causing anovulation. Hence, it is important to ensure that you are consuming phytoestrogens moderately in your diet.
Effect on Hormones
As mentioned before, the consumption of phytoestrogens has an anti-estrogenic effect that can help control estrogen levels in one’s body.
A plant-based diet is also seen as a way to balance your hormones for mental and physical health. For example, menstrual hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can be balanced and maintained based on the foods you consume in your diet. Also, PMS symptoms may see significant improvements when on a vegan diet. Also, some experts state that for menstruators above the age of 55, a vegan diet can help with the symptoms of menopause.
You could consult your dietician and come up with a health plan that can help with balancing hormones that will ensure regular and healthy periods and give a major boost to your lifestyle.
It is important to remember that everyone is different. No one diet can suit every person. The above pros and cons listed may vary from person to person depending on their pre-existing lifestyle. Some may have lighter periods when on a vegan diet and others may have heavier periods as a result of the diet change. There is still not enough research done to determine how a vegan diet could affect a person.
Here are two instances showing you the variation of the effects of a vegan diet on an individual:
Check out the link titled ‘My period completely changed when I went vegan’ to read about Ms. Gina Florio’s positive period experience on a vegan diet.
Check out the link titled ‘My vegan diet through on an early menopause’ to read about Ms. Virpi Mikkonen’s negative period experience on a vegan diet. I would also suggest reading the linked article ‘debunked’ that talks about why she might have had a bad experience.
Going vegan whether it’s for cruelty-free reasons or for health reasons can have an amazing effect on the body.
However, it is very important for vegan menstruators to keep a watch on their period cycle and plan their meals to ensure they are getting all their nutrients (especially iron). If a balanced vegan diet is not followed, it could result in sudden weight loss. This change might cause irregular period cycles for menstruators in which case it would be beneficial to track your periods or consult a dietary physician for further help.
In some cases, there may be amenorrhea due to the dietary change and it is advised that you consult your gynaecologist immediately. Although there are pros and cons to the vegan diet's effect on periods, I strongly believe that with the right research, meal planning and awareness about nutrient intake, this diet can be very beneficial for menstruators in the long run.
Written By: Sanjana Gandhi
Graphics By: Shreya Krishnamurthy
Balancing your hormones with a Plant-based Diet (Food and Living Vegan)
Does being vegan affect your period? (Natracare)
How phytoestrogens can lower estrogen and lighten periods. (Lara Briden-the period revolutionary)
Why a Vegan or Plant-Based Diet can be bad for Periods (Lara Briden-the period revolutionary)
7 supplements you need on a Vegan diet (Healthline)
“DEBUNKED” (Plant Based News)