The vegan lifestyle has grown more mainstream in recent years — and for good reason. You can’t spend more than a few minutes on the internet without seeing a new study touting the benefits of abstaining from animal-based products. Veganism is said to help prevent various cancers, including breast and colon cancer, reduce congestion issues, and promote healthy skin and nails. Vegans even live longer than their meat-eating peers, according to some studies. And according to some women, what happens to your period when you go vegan is enough of perk to make you not miss night cheese.
While scientific studies are inconclusive, some people attribute their lighter, less painful periods to a vegan lifestyle. Up to a quarter of all menstruating people struggle with menorrhagia, or heavy, uncomfortable periods. “When I transitioned to a vegan diet, my menstrual cycle became shorter, less painful and more regular,” Chelsea Williams, a plant-based health and wellness lifestyle media personality and blogger, tells Bustle. “Although I do attribute a plant-based lifestyle to these improvements, this may not be true for all. Many things can affect women’s menstrual cycle such as prescription drugs/hormonal contraception, stress, exercise, age, weight, or lack of sleep.”
Williams is right. Even though some vegans provide powerful testimonials about how veganism has eased their period pains, what you eat may not be the only culprit contributing to your heavy flow. A medical doctor will be able to help you identify other factors that may be causing a painful cycle.
Though research concerning veganism’s effect on periods does not definitively say it's good for periods, women's health expert Jennifer Wider, MD, told POPSUGAR that anecdotal evidence has shown some positive effects. “Many women who adopt a plant-based diet have touted the benefits when it comes to their monthly cycles. They describe lighter periods, less PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptoms including, mood swings, cramps, and even bloating.” This is, again, not a substitute for an official study, but just information that can help you and your doctor figure out a treatment plan for heavy periods.
Catherine Gill, author of The Dirty Vegan Cookbook, also experienced positive period side effects after becoming vegan. “For me, personally, my periods, which used to be heavy with painful cramps, have regulated and are lighter and more normal since going vegan. Besides seeing my menstrual period improve and normalize, I’ve also noticed significant positive changes to my health in addition to experiencing other chronic issues improve or disappear,” Gill tells Bustle.
I used to curse my period, fantasizing about a future where I could a text message once a month that simply read, “Not pregnant” instead of bleeding for days on end. There are different contraceptives that can make periods go away entirely for a lot of women, but if you miss a period, it’s best to talk to your doctor ASAP. It may be stress or exercise or pregnancy-induced, but it may also be an indicator of a more serious health issue — one that changing your diet may not affect.
Not only is the evidence that going vegan can make your period lighter inconclusive, but there are some studies that show that it might even make your period worse. Dr. Prudence Hall, founder of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, CA, points to evidence that a vegan diet can actually increase PMS symptoms. “If we consume a diet that's primarily plant-based and mostly grain-based, that will negatively affect our menstrual cycle (by causing hormone dysregulation with symptoms like moodiness, cramps, irritability, feeling emotional, and bloating). Oftentimes, a plant-based diet turns out to be a simple carbohydrate diet, and that's not good for our hormones. It can cause inflammation, increase PMS symptoms, cause bloating, etc.,” she told Elite Daily.
Basically, the nutrients you put into your body can have an effect on your period flow and pain scale — and it's not necessarily good or bad one way or the other. If you’re eating Cheez-its for every meal, your period is likely to be heavier and more painful. Similarly, if you are vegan but don’t get all the vitamins and nutrients your body needs, you period probably will be just as painful and heavy, if not more so. It’s all about eating the right foods for your body, folks, whether they’re exclusively plant-based or not.