Tag Archives: estrogen

Let’s Talk About Menstrual Cramps

I apologize to all the fellas out there, but this post will be about menstrual cramps. Why in the world do I want to talk about cramps? Because I had the worst cramps ever just this morning, that’s why! This post might be a little TMI and I do feel some embarrassment and shame in sharing this with you, but it was a learning experience for me that I wanted to share.

Before changing my diet, I would have a bad day here and there with my period. After the change in my diet, I didn’t have anything beyond minor discomfort and annoyance. Oh, nature, you scamp! Today, though, I thought I was going to die. I was brushing my teeth when all of a sudden, I broke out in a cold sweat, my legs started to ache, my hands got numb, and let’s not even talk about my uterus. Now, I suppose it’s possible that something else was going on with my body, but I’m 99% sure that this was a total menstrual issue.

I managed to get into bed and thought weird things like, “Ugh, this is punishment for eating non-vegan holiday desserts!” and “Maybe I need a steak!” and “Am I hungover? But I’m never hungover…” and “I wish I would just pass out.” and “I’m glad I’m at Mom’s house and I hope she gets home soon because I need my mommy!” Mostly, I was moaning in pain and whispering, “Help me!” but only the dog was home so I was out of luck for awhile. Mom finally did come to the rescue. She put a hot water bottle on my abdomen and I was relieved and resting almost instantly.

After more snooze time and some buttered toast, I hopped on the computer and quickly googled “vegan menstrual cramps” thinking that there might be some sort of vegan explanation for my sudden issue. I should have know that a vegan diet has actually been found to reduce pain and menstrual cramps. It is related to the amount of estrogen in our bodies: more estrogen in the body will likely result in more painful cramping and PMS symptoms. Vegan diets, because they are low in fat and high in fiber, help reduce estrogen levels and also helps promote estrogen elimination. Not only can this help reduce menstrual cramps and pain, it may also reduce cancer risk: estrogen helps promote the growth of cancer cells.

Next, I googled “vegan iron deficiency” just for some peace of mind even though I’m aware that one does not need to eat steak for iron. Spinach is an outstanding iron source and far better for you in every way than beef. You would need 1700 calories of a sirloin steak to get the same amount of iron that’s in one cup of spinach. I’m usually really good about eating spinach regularly, but I’ve been bad about it lately. In general, I’ve been eating a lot of carbs, so I won’t surprised if I’m running low on iron at the moment.

On a somewhat related note, I’d like to talk about multivitamins. A month or two ago, I switched to a vitamin that is marketed as being vegan. It was kind of expensive, though, so I bought a bottle of the generic drug store vitamins that I used to take which I believe to be vegan even though it doesn’t specifically say so on the bottle. Anyway, I was surprised this morning to see that the vegan vitamin only had only a 10% daily value of iron while the other vitamin had 100%. The vegan vitamin was also comparatively low in calcium and a handful of other minerals. Hmmm.

Thanks for reading and tell me, vegans: what has been your experience with menstrual pain and cramps since changing your diet? And what are your thoughts on iron deficiency and multivitamins? What do you think caused my episode this morning? Lemme know in the comments! –Melissa

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Isoflavones vs. Steroids. Vegetables vs. Animals.

“Doesn’t soy contain estrogen?” People ask me this question a lot, especially when I mention that I don’t eat dairy. I call this “the milk talk”.
I’ll apologize in advance – I’m a biochemist so that will color my explanation… or maybe make it so colorless that you fall asleep. Anyways, what people are talking about when they say soy has estrogen in it is that soy contains compounds called isoflavones and flavones. All plants have them. These compounds are ‘estrogen-like’. This is what isoflavones and flavones look like in a simple chemist’s line drawing (think: stick figures for molecules, they don’t actually look like that). You don’t need to know what any of this means, just note the similarities and differences between all 4 drawings in this post.

Isoflavones and flavones aren’t one specific compound: they’re a group of compounds with similar structures, not unlike the group called steroid hormones. Estrogen and testosterone are both steroids.
I hope you’ll notice that estrogen and testosterone are much more similar to one another than to the flavone or it’s isomer (OMG you just learned some organic chemistry!). You might also know that estrogen and testosterone have very different effects on the human body: one makes you grow muscles and chest hair and the other makes you grow breasts and smooth skin. If you surmise that flavones and isoflavones have different effects too, then you’re correct: there is interest from the scientific community in flavones and isoflavones as treatments for cancer (and heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis). Research suggests that various compounds in the group of known isoflavones and flavones are effective for treating and preventing the very cancers that estrogen and testosterone are known to promote.
Additional fun fact: withdrawal from estrogen causes PMS. Withdrawal from testosterone causes ‘roid rage. Withdrawal from isoflavones and flavones has no documented symptom.
So you might be asking yourself, “Why is she going on about estrogen?” or maybe even. “well, dairy milk doesn’t have any hormones in it. I buy organic.” Really? Are you sure about that?
Where do you think dairy comes from? Cows.
All cows: male, female, young, old? Female cows.
How do you get a lady cow to make milk: motivational posters? Nope, you impregnate them.Then their levels of estrogen skyrocket, but not just estrogen. Progesterone and eventually prolactin will also show up in a pregnant cow’s secretions: from urine to (you guessed it) milk.
But there isn’t very much hormone in dairy milk, right? The concentration doesn’t matter, you don’t need a lot.
Why? Steroids (and all hormones) operate in something scientists call “signal cascade”. I would describe it as chemical chain letters: each cell that gets the signal (1 hormone molecule), sends copies to all of it’s closest friends and a few not-so-close friends.
If you’re really thinking, you might ask yourself, “Doesn’t pasteurization destroy it?” Well, pasteurization occurs a no more than 72C/160F (Wikipedia). Dessicated estrol begins to break down at 245C/473F (according to my Merck manual). Just throwing that out there.
This is what I’m really getting at: if you’re worried about the estrogen-LIKE compounds in soy, why haven’t you considered the actual estrogen (and progesterone) secreted by the [recently] pregnant cow whose milk you’re drinking? Anyways, I prefer almond milk – fewer calories.
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