If you follow my blog, then you know how much I care about women and women’s health. I want women to be fully nourished and to eat in a way that supports ovulation and hormones.
I am, therefore, concerned by any diet that seems to impair ovulation. That includes a low-carb diet, which I explored in a previous post. That also potentially includes an exclusively plant-based or vegan diet.
If you are vegan, I encourage you to keep reading and join me in a conversation.
I genuinely want to know what is happening with your periods. Are you managing to ovulate on a long-term exclusively plant-based diet? And, if so, which supplements do you use to keep your periods going? (For example, is zinc enough or do you also take iodine and vitamin D?) Please share your experience to help me and my other readers.
To get the conversation started, here are a few of my insights on the topic of plant-based periods.
Going off dairy can be good for periods
If you tell me that a vegan diet makes your periods lighter and less painful, then we are on the same page. I have seen that with my own patients and I attribute the benefit to coming off cow’s dairy. As I explain in my post What Dairy Does to Periods, cow’s dairy can be a problem for periods—in part, because it causes a histamine response. (Please also read The Curious Link Between Estrogen and Histamine Intolerance.)
The fact that cow’s dairy 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.
⚠️ Tip: Eggs are another common food sensitivity that can cause period pain or worsen endometriosis.
Phytoestrogens make periods lighter (in a good way)
Grains, seeds, and legumes (especially soy) have a lot of what are called phytoestrogens or plant estrogens. That sounds scary, but actually, phytoestrogens are beneficial in that they shelter us from our own stronger estradiol (our main estrogen). Rather than plant “estrogen,” phytoestrogens would be better characterized as “anti-estrogen.”
In moderation, phytoestrogens are good for women’s health and make periods lighter.
In excess, phytoestrogens suppress ovulation.
It takes at least six months for phytoestrogens to suppress ovulation. That’s why you may be fine with your periods for the first year but then notice that they start to change.
Nutrient deficiency impairs ovulation and progesterone
An exclusively plant-based diet causes long-term nutrient deficiency that can be a big problem for ovulation.
The nutrient deficiencies that I see (actually measure) with my vegan patients include: zinc, iron, iodine, vitamin B12, and vitamin D. (All key nutrients for ovulation.) The nutrient deficiencies that I suspect (and try to correct) include choline, taurine, protein, omega 3, vitamin K2, vitamin A, and vitamin B6.
⚠️ Tip: Zinc is the single most important nutrient for healthy ovulation and periods. So, if you are vegan, please take zinc. Read 7 Ways Zinc Rescues Hormones.
⚠️ Tip: I frequently prescribe what I call an “ovulation cocktail for vegans,” which is zinc plus iodine to support ovarian function.
It takes at least six months for nutrient deficiency to suppress ovulation. Again, that’s why you may be fine with your periods for the first year but then notice that they start to change.
⚠️ Tip: I do not see the same impaired ovulation from vegetarian or mostly plant-based diets. Even a moderate amount of nutrient-dense animal foods can make a big difference to periods.
A word about ethical and sustainability concerns
This is a post about human health, and in particular, about how diet affects ovulation in human women.
I realize that is 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 a healthy brain.
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 just about domestic animals but also about the wild animals who are rapidly losing their habitat to deforestation and climate change and industrial farming. I see merit in any method of food production that increases habitat for wildlife, and that includes permaculture and the eco-grazing of animals.
Please comment and tell me about your periods.