Ever wondered if being a veggie affects your periods? Whether you’ve been vegetarian for a while, or you are thinking about trying it out for the first time, it’s good to know the different ways in which this lifestyle change could affect your monthly cycle, and vice versa.
You may not experience any changes at all, but research suggests that a vegetarian diet could influence the menstrual cycle for some women, affecting everything from your energy levels to your PMS symptoms. Here’s what you need to know...
The iron struggle is real
Let’s start by clearing one thing up; although one of the main concerns with a vegetarian diet is a lack of nutrients, if you plan correctly and understand the benefits of certain foods, there are many alternative ways to enjoy a diet that is just as healthy as any carnivore. The problem is, often vegetarians will miss out on key nutrients simply due to lack of proper planning and diversity in their diet. Iron is one of those nutrients.
Don’t worry, we don’t need to be gulping down cans of spinach like Popeye to replace T-bone steaks - although if that’s your thing, go for it! Frustratingly though, meat is thought to be more easily absorbed as a source of iron, meaning vegetarians and vegans need to put in a lot more effort than your average meat-eater to get what their body needs.
But how does this affect your period? Well, low blood iron levels can lead to anaemia, which can be a problem for many vegetarians. It can become even more problematic for women who tend to lose a lot of blood during their heavy menstrual cycles. If you eat a vegetarian diet and also suffer from heavy bleeding, you can discuss with your doctor the best way to tackle this, but one of the first things you may want to look into is how to diversify your diet and include more sources of iron to replace that which you are not getting from meat. Try incorporating more dark green leafy vegetables like kale and spinach (although you don’t need to eat cans and cans of it!), and pulses like beans, peas and lentils.
Goodbye energy, hello fatigue
Many research bodies have tried to study the effects of a vegetarian diet on periods. While some have suggested this lifestyle could disturb the heaviness of flow, length of cycle, and more, it has become apparent that definitive proof of a correlation between periods and a veggie diet is very hard to find. There are just too many other factors affecting the results, such as weight, exercise, and diversity of one’s plant-based diet.
What is evident though, is that certain dietary factors could lead to low energy, and this is particularly prevalent at certain points in a woman’s menstrual cycle. A connection has been made between amenorrhea (the absence of one’s period) and emaciation (being overly thin or weak), so it’s possible that a connection can also be made between lack of nutrients in one’s diet and lack of energy. This is evident from studies that have suggested non-meat eaters could experience more energy imbalances throughout their cycle than those who do eat meat.
In addition to potentially irregular cycles and energy dips, studies have suggested that vegetarians could see an increase in PMS symptoms, with one Australian study discovering that vegetarians could be more likely to struggle with depression, panic attacks and insomnia at certain points in their cycle.
PMS symptoms are sometimes difficult to quantify in order to be attributed to a vegetarian diet, because every woman experiences wildly different symptoms. That said, this correlation makes sense when we think about how our diet can lead to a lack of energy, as this is also one of the symptoms associated with PMS.
Overall, it’s safe to say that a vegetarian diet is probably not to blame for every period-related problem you might experience, but correlations can be drawn. To counteract this, ensure you are filling your diet with alternative sources of iron and a variety of other nutrients to help keep your body in shipshape, during your period and throughout the month.
Do you eat a vegetarian diet? We’d love to know of any links you have found between your diet and your menstrual cycle! Let us know over on Instagram @itsyoppie.