Having a period is a normal and natural part of being a woman, but certain vegan bloggers would like you to think otherwise.
Miliany Bonet, who runs the blog RawVeganLiving, recently advised women how they can forcibly stop their periods through dramatic diet changes.
“If a woman or young girl decided she wanted to stop menstruating or lighten up her heavy periods, then I would recommend a raw foods diet to help them with that,” she told Broadly.
“The industry has done a great job of brainwashing too many women into thinking that if they do not get their periods on a monthly basis, that something is wrong with their body and hormones.”
Her comments follow a controversial video posted in 2014 by vegan blogger Freelee the Banana Girl, titled: ‘How I lost my period on a raw vegan diet.’
The blogger’s suggestion that “menstruation is toxicity leaving the body” was heavily criticised at the time, but her belief is clearly still held by some.
Of course this isn’t a viewpoint taken by the majority of vegans. Heather Russell, dietitian at The Vegan Society, told HuffPost UK: “Well-planned vegan diets can provide all the calories and nutrients that our bodies need to maintain a healthy weight and support normal menstruation.”
But if your period stops because of extreme diet changes or weight loss, it can have a dangerous impact on your long term health and fertility.
Why has my period stopped?
According to Dr Virginia Beckett, a spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), if a woman’s period stops it can be a sign of unhealthy weight loss.
“Excessive or sudden weight loss can cause a woman’s periods to stop, as severely restricting the amount of calories stops the production of hormones needed for ovulation,” she told HuffPost UK.
“There is also evidence that a low protein diet can disturb the hypothalamus which regulates menstruation and balances hormones.”
She said when a woman stops menstruating it can affect her long-term health.
“If a woman’s periods stop due to weight loss or diet, this can have an impact on bone density which may affect health in the long term,” she said.
“In some cases, this may cause a permanent hormonal imbalance which can have implications for fertility.”
Dr Beckett said if a woman is underweight (classified by a body mass index of less than 18.5), her doctor may refer her to a dietitian who will be able to advise her about how to regain weight safely.
“If the weight loss is caused by an eating disorder, such as anorexia, women will be referred to a psychiatrist,” she said.
She pointed out that being overweight or obese can also affect the menstrual cycle.
“If women are overweight, their body may produce an excess amount of oestrogen, one of the hormones that regulate the reproductive system in women. The excess oestrogen can affect how often women have periods and can also cause periods to stop,” she said.
“A doctor may refer women who are overweight or obese (a body mass index of 30 or more) to a dietitian, who will be able to advise them about losing weight safely.”
Other common reasons for missing or stopping your period include: pregnancy, stress, extreme over exercising, taking the contraceptive pill, reaching the menopause and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
“Periods may also sometimes stop as a result of a long-term medical condition, such as heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, an overactive thyroid, or premature ovarian failure,” Dr Beckett said.
You should talk to a medical expert if you’re worried about any of these conditions.
Is it normal to have heavy periods?
Despite what some bloggers would lead you to believe, having a heavy period is not a sign of being unhealthy.
Periods last for about five days on average and the bleeding tends to be heaviest in the first two days.
“Some women lose an excessive amount of blood during their period. Heavy periods (called menorrhagia) don’t necessarily mean there’s anything seriously wrong, but it can affect a woman physically and emotionally and disrupt everyday life,” said Dr Beckett.
“It’s difficult to define exactly what a heavy period is because this varies from woman to woman. What’s heavy for one woman may be normal for another. The average amount of blood lost during a period is 30-40 millilitres. Heavy menstrual bleeding is considered to be 60ml or more in each cycle.”
She added that if women are worried about heavy bleeding during or between periods, they should see a healthcare professional.
“Women may not need treatment for heavy periods if there isn’t a serious cause or if the bleeding doesn’t bother them. Bleeding can vary over time for some women, so it may simply be that their bleeding is currently heavier than usual,” she said.
“If women do require treatment, their doctor may consider medication to make their periods lighter or stop completely. If medication isn’t effective in treatment of heavy periods, surgery may be discussed.
Why do women want to stop their periods?
Nadya Okamoto, founder and executive director of PERIOD. The Menstrual Movement - an organisation dedicated to celebrating periods and providing sanitary products to those in need - said it’s not surprising some women may want to reduce or stop their periods.
“It is understandable that for some people with periods, having your period can be a really painful process where it is in fact hindering their capabilities ― especially when they might have endometriosis or terrible cramps in the first place,” she told HuffPost UK.
“I believe that it is totally understandable for people with periods to not want to have their period for convenience, however I think that it is important to be wary of encouraging people to avoid menstruation by painting the natural need in a negative light (either with being disgusting or a hassle) because a big part of the movement to de-stigmatise periods means normalising and even celebrating it as a natural human process.”
She also warned those seeking solutions to reduce or stop their periods to chose methods recommended by doctors (such as medication).
“We must be careful about encouraging methods that are unhealthy to one’s body. For example, for many people, a raw foods diet may not be accessible at a healthy level because it is quite expensive (to afford fruits, vegetables and raw protein amongst other nutritional needs),” she said.
“The menstrual movement is important because it is a human right to discover and reach your full potential regardless of a natural need and if you period is truly standing in the way of maximising potential because of a lack of access to menstrual health or period products in general, then it is fine to consider stopping your period - but do so for the right reasons [...] and do so in a healthy way that is good for your body.”