Home All About Your Body What a Healthy Diet Can and Cannot Do to Your Menstrual Cycle

What a Healthy Diet Can and Cannot Do to Your Menstrual Cycle

by Erika Nicole Kendall
This face is me right now, because wtf.

As I currently type, there is a series of posts flying across Facebook, of a man trying to explain to women that the reason they experience a menstrual cycle each month is because their bodies are “sick.”

“My beautiful sisters,” the nonsense starts, “Having a menstrual cycle is not natural. Do not allow these people to tell you that it is. Your ancestors where[sic] not running around bleeding all over the place. The reason you have a menstrual cycle is because of all the unnatural foods you put into your body. Please do not just believe me!!! Change your diet and you will know what I speak is a fact…”

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a wave of second-hand embarrassment as strong as I did when I first read this. But it only got worse as I realized… there was more.


Yes, sis. More. There’s a video. And it involves a kufi with an ankh on it, a beauty supply store Gucci belt, a smedium t-shirt, and shoes that come perilously close to getting hit with a swift “what are thooooooooooooooose?!” I’m not even sure I’ve ever seen someone attempt to style an ankh like that, and I’m kind of sad about it… but this is only tangentially related. The ostentatious outfit is supposed to showcase his success, because the point of his constantly hitting at this idea that having a menstrual cycle is somehow “unnatural” is because he’s selling a product that’s supposed to purify your body in the waters of Lake Minnetonka or something. Most importantly, it’s supposed to rid you of your unnatural bleeding thing that’s really icky and gross but clearly has existed since the female body existed on Earth.

Now, I had my fair share of jokes at this guy’s expense, but in scrolling through the comments to his content, I saw people trying to explain to him why he was wrong—or right, for that matter—and doing so with bad or inaccurate information. This, of course, left me concerned; not only because it’s something everyone should know and understand, but because when you don’t have the exact truth, the bits of truth you’re missing leaves space for someone to fill those holes with information that manipulates you into being separated from your hard earned money.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m an advocate for infusing your diet with as many fresh fruits and vegetables and quality sources of protein as possible, and I’m more than aware of the benefits of this. What’s more, but I’m also happy to see so many people realizing the perils of the traditional American diet. But to explain what a plant-centered diet can and cannot do for you with regards to your menstrual cycle and, by extension, why this guy’s claim is so ludicrous, I have to—unfortunately—explain how the female reproductive system works.

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The menstrual cycle is an actual cycle. It is a system that lasts from 21-35 days on average and, even though the particulars will vary from body to body, it typically functions in the same way in each female body.

The female reproductive system involves the production of egg cells from the ovaries, which travels along through the Fallopian tubes where they wait to meet with sperm cells and create a fertilized egg. The fertilized egg then implants itself in the lining of the uterus, which is what the growing fertilized egg then uses as protection while it grows.

If the egg cells do not become fertilized and eventually implanted in the lining of the uterus, then the uterine lining is shed from inside the vagina in the form of tissue and blood. This is the most recognizable part of your menstrual cycle, and is recognized as the “start” of your cycle.

The shedding portion of the cycle takes days, but then continues with the regeneration of new uterine lining, the creation of new egg cells (something we can track with a calendar, also known as “ovulation”), the opportunity for those cells to meet with sperm, and either pregnancy or the shedding of the lining beginning a new cycle.

This is how the menstrual cycle works. It is not “dirty,” nor is its existence a sign of some flaw in your diet. In fact, let’s talk about its absence.

If someone tells you they can sell you a protocol that will “prove” that having a menstrual cycle is a sign of a flaw-riddled diet, and they can help you get rid of your menstrual cycle by using their product, put it like this:

You in danger, girl.

If your menstrual cycle is not present, and you haven’t begun menopause, one of four things is happening: 1) you’re pregnant (in which case, congratulations?); 2) you’re on birth control (in which case, congratulations!); 3) there is another form of hormonal imbalance that is impacting your menses (like, for instance, breastfeeding or hormone therapy); or 4) you are suffering from a form of amenorrhea that arises when the amount of food you are consuming is woefully insufficient to fuel your activity level.

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Pay special attention to that fourth option, because that’s the one that’s really key, here. People who claim that a “plant-based diet can cure you of your wretched period” will basically sell you a diet or “detoxification” system that will, basically, put you on a very low-calorie diet with nothing but fruits and vegetables. Will it be full of nutrients and possibly have you flying high on the fresh energy? Absolutely. But, because it’s not enough calories, it will bring about amenorrhea, defined as the abnormal absence of your period.

If you do not have a menstrual cycle, you cannot get pregnant. If you try to stop your body from being able to have a menstrual cycle through what amounts to an extended starvation diet, the consequences are many but, most of all, you will permanently impact your ability to become pregnant and carry a pregnancy to full term.

And, as an aside, the argument was made that “if you need a period to get pregnant, why do women get pregnant when they’re on birth control?” The answer is because most forms of birth control trick your body into not having a cycle by providing the hormones that would otherwise be plentiful if you were pregnant. In other words, your body behaves like it is already pregnant, thereby removing the need to shed any lining and, by extension, ends the need for the scheduled expelling of waste. That being said, if the hormone levels are not kept elevated consistently, as in missing a pill or not getting your shot in time (or a shot with an insufficient dosage for the size of the person it’s given to), the protections fade and you are actually even more capable of becoming pregnant.

Can a diet higher on fresh produce and quality sources of protein erase your period? No. There’s some idea that the “waste” that your body is ridding itself of is waste from your diet, that the dairy or animal flesh or whatever else is what’s coming out. Anyone who knows basic anatomy, however, can tell you that the digestive system and the reproductive system never cross in such a way that what you eat could leave actual fleshy tissue inside the vagina. Most importantly, the human body has evolved to be remarkably efficient in waste treatment, management, and removal. These processes do not involve anything related to the reproductive system.

Can a plant-centered diet impact your hormone levels and, by extension, impact side effects of menstruation like cramps or migraines? Here, the broken clock might be telling the right time. Though there’s little to no peer-reviewed research on the subject, I can speak for myself: I used to have keel-over-and-die-cramps for 48 hours straight, and could clear a bottle of Aleve in as much time. Now, after drastically improving my diet and losing a considerable amount of weight (which impacts the way the body handles hormones), I no longer have such agonizing pain. Whether or not that can be attributed to a decrease in hormones due to a decrease in consuming dairy or animal flesh—I’m not vegan or vegetarian because I love ice cream and cheese and chicken like just about everyone else, but I don’t consume anywhere near as much meat or dairy as I used to—will hopefully be borne out in proper research someday.

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The bottom line is, despite the myriad wonders of a healthier diet, there are some things it cannot do, nor should it. More than anything, when it comes to matters of your vagina, your best bet is to leave those kinds of conversations to your gynecologist (and, for those of you who may not have one because of matters of health care, check your local Planned Parenthood for free or low-cost examinations and access to a gynecological professional.) Your body—specifically, your best friend down there—will thank you for it!

Nah, I’m kidding—the real bottom line here is to remember to never let a man wearing a sparkly beauty supply store belt tell you anything other than which aisle to find the kanekalon. Real talk.

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Dominique White March 10, 2016 - 1:07 PM

Oh em eff gee. The firs thing that came to order once I started getting healthy and losing weight was my cycle. I have PCOS, so I would have MAYBE 4 a year. Then I started losing weight and wouldn’t you know, that………..blessed event….. occurs every 28 days now, like a regular girl.

It’s scary the misinformation that’s put out about women’s bodies– from a man no less, and the people who will blindly follow.

If you are HEALTHY with no imbalances, that visit should come to you like clockwork!

Lisa March 13, 2016 - 9:40 PM

Another reason for no menstrual cycle is ovarian cancer… Remember ladies ignorance is not bliss… Thanks for all you do Erika

Dee March 14, 2016 - 4:45 AM

I loved this article. I will say I do/have noticed changes in my cycle as my food has changed. I used to have a heavy and very painful flow when I was eating “everything” (all meats, processed food, lots of cow’s milk and sweets, etc. ). My cycle went down to two, very light and painless days when I was last vegan. When I picked up eggs, cow’s cheese and seafood, my cycle remained painless /no PMS, but was longer and heavier. It is true that this is a normal cycle for women, but the levels of pain, PMS and duration and amount of flow can be changed based on our diets alone. I feel that is wonderful news for women that have to miss work or school because they get downright SICK when their cycle starts. I think sometimes we forget or don’t know that the hormones used on animals affect our hormones when we ingest flesh or animal products. As for a man erroneously telling women about their bodies, well….

Lt March 14, 2016 - 7:16 AM

I saw this same video and couldn’t make it past anything he said once he said African women were never running around bleeding everywhere. I was over him great article.

BAnjeeB March 14, 2016 - 10:22 AM

I’m so glad you addressed this! I saw that man’s post, but not the video (thankfully), but the number of women who were cosigning his message was very concerning. I thought it was a joke at first, and then, sadly realized he was dead serious.

Ayesha March 21, 2016 - 10:46 AM

El oh El! Chile, they keep coming back on the TL with their stupidity and I’m over it! So glad to see this article but sad that so many folks failed middle school health class or that their parents didn’t guide them to the encyclopedia (like my mama did lol) so they could read up and ask questions.

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