Let’s talk about veganism and periods
Zara Huxley discusses the link between consuming dairy and having a more uncomfortable period
Calling all menstruators out there – I hope I have found the key to improving your menstrual
I am not a doctor, I’m just a 21-year-old vegan woman obsessed with pasta and watching baby goat videos. However, I have had my fair share of bad periods, so I thought I could talk to you about my experience with my menstrual cycle and the vegan diet.
I’ve also spoken to some wonderful vegan women, who have shared their insights on a plant-based diet and the positive effects it has had on their periods.
When I was growing up, periods could be a bit of a ‘taboo’ subject. However, within the vegan community, it is something that is talked about quite often. That is another reason why I love being vegan – it doesn’t matter if it’s your vegan friend or someone you’ve only ever met on a vegan Facebook page, they will always offer help and advice.
The vegan community is a supportive and friendly group to be a part of.
So, I knew when I posed the question, ‘Would anyone like to talk about their periods with me?’, that I would receive a great response. This led to lots of women commenting on my post and speaking to me about their experiences.
Before I became vegan, I would suffer a great deal with my ‘time of the month’. I would feel
extremely bloated, I would crave unhealthy foods, I would have extreme mood swings and
suffer with stomach cramps.
When I made the decision to go vegan in my second year of university, I wasn’t doing it for health reasons. It was purely for ethical and environmental reasons.
However, I reaped the health benefits when after the first couple of months, my PMS symptoms and my period had significantly improved.
Of course, there is still the odd time where I may feel tired, grumpy and crave chocolate cupcakes… But this does not happen as frequently since I changed my diet.
Even my boyfriend, who has had to deal with my periods as well over the years, said that I seemed happier and healthier.
I have been vegan for over two years now and my periods are lighter, regular and less painful. It’s nice that I can still go out dancing until whatever time in the morning when I’m menstruating (pre-corona), instead of lying in bed for days clutching a hot water bottle.
I hadn’t dramatically changed other aspects of my lifestyle; I hadn’t changed my exercise routine; I wasn’t eating very healthy and my sleeping schedule was all to pot because I was a student having fun.
The only aspect that I had changed about my everyday life was the fact that I had cut out all animal products.
So, you are probably thinking, ‘What is it about a vegan diet that helps your period?’. Well, there hasn’t been a great amount of research into the direct effect veganism has on periods. However, there has been research into the effects of dairy and meat on people’s health in general.
Dairy and hormones
Although meat has been linked to an increase in health conditions such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes, today I will be focusing specifically on the effects of dairy on women’s health.
Dr Ganmaa, an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School,
wrote a paper about the female sex hormone, oestrogen and its presence in milk produced by pregnant cows.
Dr Ganmaa stated that the consumption of cow’s milk is having a negative impact on women’s health, in regards to ovarian cancer, breast cancer and corpus uteri cancer.
There are many hormones present in cow’s milk, mainly due to the fact that it is baby food for calves to help them grow. However, oestrogen and progesterone are the main ones that have been stated to affect women and their physical health. This is due to the high demand for milk in recent years, particularly in the West.
To meet the demands for milk, dairy farming has become increasingly more intensive over the past 50 years. CIWF (Compassion in World Farming) Charity states that ‘Milk production per cow has more than doubled in the past 40 years. An average of 22 litres per day is typical in the UK, with some cows producing up to 60 litres in a day during peak lactation.’
Due to the high demand for milk, dairy cows are forcibly impregnated through the process of artificial insemination. Cows will only produce milk when they are pregnant and after they have given birth to their calf. This means that ‘two thirds of milk in the UK is taken from pregnant cows, when the hormone content, such as oestrogen and progesterone is sky-high.’ (Viva! – The Vegan Charity, 2021).
The presence of female sex hormones in cow’s milk has not just been linked to cancer in
women, it has also been linked to mood swings. As dairy can cause excess of these
hormones within our bodies, this causes our hormones to lack stability and can lead to an
imbalance in mood.
The high levels of hormones found in cow’s milk could show a correlation between some PMS symptoms. I truly do believe that this is the case because I struggled badly with my moods before I was vegan, particularly around my period.
It’s not only oestrogen and progesterone in dairy that could be causing you to suffer on your time of the month, but it’s also been highlighted that dairy contains IG1, which is known as the insulin-growth factor.
Consuming this has been proven to lead to acne, overeating and sugar cravings. Doesn’t this sound familiar to what many of us experience each month?
All of the vegan women I spoke to discussed the presence of hormones in cow’s milk – they believe that this is the main contributor towards their unpleasant time of the month
before they transitioned to a vegan diet.
Real-life period stories
Saskia has been a vegan for five and a half years. She told me that the main changes she has experienced in regards to her period is that it’s lighter and her period lasts for a few days now, instead of nearly a week.
Saskia said that this “feels like a big change” to her. She also told me, “I never used to eat much meat before becoming vegan, so I think it was cutting out dairy which made the difference. This makes sense to me based on what I’ve read about the hormones in cow’s milk and how they can ‘mess with your own hormones’.
Another woman I interviewed, called Melissa, has been vegan for four years. She noticed that her period improved after only two months of following a vegan diet. Her period had become lighter and her stomach cramps went from what she rated an 8/10 to a 3/10.
Melissa further mentioned that she doesn’t get as agitated towards people as much anymore, in particular, her husband. She also believes that the benefits she has experienced after becoming vegan are due to her not consuming the excess oestrogen, which is found in cow’s milk.
Another woman I spoke to (who’d rather not be named) has been vegan for four years, and like myself and Melissa, she noticed a change in her period soon after starting the diet.
When asking her about her experience, she opened up about her long-term struggle with her menstrual cycle and the wonderful impact veganism has had on her health, saying: “Since I was 14 years old, I suffered very badly.”
“By the time I was 16, they put me on the pill, which did sod all. I would have a very heavy and painful 12-day day period, with only a couple of weeks in between.”
“They drove me crazy, as did the PMT. I felt like I was losing my mind with it.”
She stated that becoming vegan “was the best decision” she could have made for her health and believes that “dairy is the main culprit with periods, hormones and hormone related health issues.”
The interviewee ended that becoming vegan and eating super clean foods has made a huge difference.
Give vegan a go
Although healthy eating, regular exercise, mindfulness practices and a good sleeping pattern
are helpful in improving your period, ditching animal products could also be another thing to
add to the list.
We have all had those days, where you feel like you struggle to get up in the morning because of how bad the pain is.
I remember sitting in my Sociology class at college and feeling like I was going to be sick, there and then, because of how heavy my period was.
If you have those moments where you are going about your daily life, maybe you are taking an exam or going to a job interview, and you’ve leaked through your trousers or you’re feeling lightheaded, then this article is for you.
Maybe, just maybe, adopting a vegan lifestyle could really help you or other women around you. It’s helped me and the women I have spoken to, a great deal.
Of course, I understand that everyone’s body is different and just because myself and these women have felt the benefits, it doesn’t mean you or others will.
But it could be worth a shot, right?
Words by Zara Huxley