If you follow my blog, you know how much I care about women and women’s health. I want women to be fully nourished and eat in a way that supports ovulation and hormones.
I am, therefore, concerned about any diet that seems to impair ovulation. That can include a low-carb or keto diet, which can stop ovulation and periods. That can also include an exclusively plant-based or vegan diet, which can stop ovulation, but more often seems to cause long cycles and progesterone deficiency.
If you’re vegan, I encourage you to keep reading and join the conversation in the comments. I particularly want to hear from anyone who has been vegan for at least a year. (And see below for a tally of the comments so far.)
To get us started, here are a few of my observations.
Going off dairy can be good for periods
A vegan diet can make periods dramatically lighter and less painful. I attribute the benefit to coming off cow’s dairy. Dairy can be a big problem for periods because it can cause a mast cell and histamine response. (Read The Curious Link Between Estrogen and Mast Cells and Histamine and What Dairy Does to Periods .)
Eggs are another common food sensitivity that can cause period pain, acne, or worsen endometriosis. The fact that cow’s dairy (and sometimes eggs) can be bad for periods does not mean that all animal protein is bad for periods.
👉 Tip: A2 dairy such as goat and sheep dairy does not seem to cause the same period problems as cow’s dairy.
Phytoestrogens make periods lighter
The phytoestrogens in grains, seeds, and legumes (especially soy) can make periods lighter or lengthen the follicular phase. Why? Because they are much weaker than own stronger estrogen (estradiol), so they shelter us from estrogen.
Phytoestrogens are essentially “anti-estrogen,” which in moderation, is a good thing.
In excess (as might occur with an exclusively plant-based diet), phytoestrogens can lengthen cycles, reduce progesterone, or in some cases, suppress ovulation altogether.
From the comments: A few of you mentioned heavier periods on a vegan diet, which I would I attribute to deficiency of zinc, iron, vitamin A, and/or progesterone.
Nutrients missing from a vegan diet
In the long-term, an exclusively plant-based diet can cause deficiency of the nutrients we need for ovulation and healthy periods. That includes:
- pre-formed vitamin A
- vitamin D
- vitamin K2
- coenzyme Q10
- omega 3
- vitamin B2
- vitamin B6
- vitamin B12
It can take a year to deplete reserves of nutrients such as vitamin A, a make-or-break nutrient for period health. Having the less active form of the enzyme (from the BCMO1 gene) to convert beta carotene to vitamin A could be why some women crash on a vegan diet.
👉 Tip: Bumpy skin on the back of the arms (keratosis pilaris) is a sign of vitamin A deficiency.
Zinc is another critical nutrient for period health, but it is depleted more quickly. Read Why Zinc Is My Favorite Prescription for Healthy Periods.
👉 Tip: I sometimes prescribe what I call an “ovulation cocktail for vegans,” which is zinc plus iodine to support ovarian function.
I don’t see the same deficiencies or problems from a vegetarian or partly plant-based diet. Even a moderate amount of nutrient-dense animal food such as goat cheese and eggs can make a huge difference to periods.
The comments so far
I do read every comment– thank you! And I am somewhat reassured that many of you report being well. Here is a quick tally of the first 50 comments (as a sample):
- 21 women said a vegan diet was good or neutral for periods.
- 15 women said a vegan diet was bad for periods or fertility.
- 10 women had been vegan for less than one year (so too soon to tell).
- 4 women commented without providing information about periods.
A word about ethical and sustainability concerns
I realize that healthy periods are not everyone’s top priority. For example, one patient told me:
“I would rather not get my period than that an animal should die.”
Okay. It’s hard to argue with that except to point out that regular ovulatory cycles are beneficial for general health. Ovulation is how we make the estrogen and progesterone we need for healthy bones and brain and mood.
Sacrificing periods is quite a big sacrifice.
And as for animals… I am a former farm girl and wildlife biologist. I grew up around animals, and let me assure you: I care about animals. Very much.
I care not only about livestock but also about wild animals who are rapidly losing their habitat to deforestation and climate change and industrial farming of grains. I care about biodiversity and slowing the modern extinction of species.
Please comment and tell me about your periods.