Eating habits can greatly impact one's health and have specific effects on the body. While some dietary trends come and go, others have stood the test of time. Some individuals opt to limit or eliminate certain foods from their diet, such as animal meats or all animal products. A well-planned vegetarian or vegan diet can be healthy for all ages, including during pregnancy, and can lead to decreased risks of diabetes, high cholesterol, cancer, and weight-related issues. There is limited research on how a meat-free diet may affect one's menstrual cycle, but it is possible that a vegetarian or vegan diet may have some relevance to it.
Individuals who do not consume meat are at a higher risk for developing iron deficiencies, which is a common nutritional deficiency and a leading cause of anemia worldwide, particularly among women. This is because meat contains higher levels of iron, particularly a more absorbable form called heme-iron, which is not found in plant-based foods. Additionally, those who menstruate lose iron-containing blood each month, which can further increase the risk of iron deficiency when combined with a low intake of iron from meat.
To prevent iron deficiencies, individuals who do not eat meat should make sure to consume other iron-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, beans, lentils, tofu, grains, dried fruit, and nuts and if they are ovo-pescatarian, they should consider eating eggs, fish, and shellfish. To increase iron absorption, they should avoid drinking tea, coffee, or milk with or directly after meals, and consume vitamin C-rich foods with iron-containing foods. If you are concerned about your iron levels, it is best to consult with a healthcare provider, who may suggest taking an iron supplement.
Premenstrual and menstrual symptoms may amplify with vegetarianism
A population study in Australia found that vegetarians tend to have more premenstrual and menstrual symptoms, as well as irregular cycles and heavier periods than those who eat meat. The reason for this difference is not clear and could be due to differences in iron levels or the way symptoms are reported. Vegetarians in the study were also more likely to have mental health issues such as depression, panic attacks, self-harm, and difficulty sleeping. It's not clear if these factors affect menstrual or premenstrual health, but it's important to be aware of them and discuss any symptoms with a medical professional.