According to a research study presented in the February 2000 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, a low-fat, vegan diet "significantly reduced pain and PMS for many women." Painful menstrual cramping and heavy periods can be largely attributed to chemicals called prostaglandins. The fat stored in our cell membranes produce these chemicals which promote inflammation. Prostaglandins are also associated with the constriction of blood vessels, blood clotting, muscle contractions, and pain. Therefore, reducing the levels of prostaglandins also reduces the intensity and flow of a woman's menstrual cycle.
Although the use of oral contraceptives has been found to reduce the production of prostaglandins by inhibiting the growth of the endometrial lining of the uterus, dietary changes can produce the same results by lowering a woman's estrogen levels.
Are Hormones and Diet Related?
Dr. John McDougall states: "Blood levels of hormones, that influence the female reproductive tissues (breasts, ovaries, and uterus) including estrogens, progesterones, and prolactin, are dependent upon your diet. A high-fat diet will increase the levels of these hormones in a woman's body through a variety of mechanisms. Certain kinds of bacteria living normally in the colon of people who eat fatty foods, are able to convert bile acids into other substances that have hormone activity. Vegetarian women, compared with those who eat meats, excrete 2 to 3 times more estrogen in their feces. Furthermore, the blood levels of certain powerful estrogens are 50% lower than are those in meat-eaters."
The Physician's Committee of Responsible Medicine (PCRM) explains that, "The amount of estrogen in a woman's blood is constantly being readjusted. A low-fat, high-fiber diet can significantly reduce estrogen levels. If a woman eating a Western diet cuts her fat intake in half, her estrogen level will be about 20 percent lower. If the amount of fat is cut even more, the estrogen level will drop further, which is a good change because a lower hormone level will have less effect on the uterine cells. In addition to lowering estrogen, a low-fat diet may also be beneficial because high-fiber vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains help the body eliminate estrogens."
Estrogen Disposal System Explained
PCRM expands this in more detail, stating: "Estrogen is normally pulled from the bloodstream by the liver, which sends it through a small tube, called the bile duct, into the intestinal tract. There, fiber soaks it up like a sponge and carries it out with other waste. The more fiber there is in the diet, the better the natural "estrogen disposal system" works. Animal products do not contain fiber. When an individual's diet consists predominantly of animal products such as chicken, fish, or yogurt, daily fiber needs may not be met. The result can be disastrous. The waste estrogens, which should bind to fiber and leave the body, pass back into the bloodstream. This hormone "recycling" increases the amount of estrogen in the blood. However, the reabsorption of estrogens can be blocked with the fiber found in grains, vegetables, beans, and other plant foods. So, by avoiding animal products and added oils, estrogen production is reduced. And by replacing chicken, skim milk, and other non-fiber foods with grains, beans, and vegetables, estrogen elimination is increased."
See also: Reducing Menopause Symptoms