Vegetarianism and menstrual cycle disturbances: is there an association?

Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Sep;70(3 Suppl):549S-54S. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.3.549S.


The question of whether menstrual disturbances are more common in vegetarian than in nonvegetarian women is complex. Disturbances of the cycle may be clinical (ie, amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea) or subclinical (i.e., normal-length cycles with anovulation or a short or defective luteal phase). Detection of the latter requires that the menstrual cycle be monitored, but may help prevent recruitment bias in studies comparing vegetarians with nonvegetarians because vegetarians with menstrual disturbances may be more likely to volunteer for a study on menstrual disturbances and vegetarianism. Three general mechanisms that could contribute to menstrual disturbances that may differ between vegetarians and nonvegetarians include energy imbalances associated with body-weight disturbances or exercise, psychosocial and cognitive factors, and dietary components. Evidence for each of these mechanisms is reviewed and studies comparing menstrual function between vegetarians and nonvegetarians are described in this article. Although results from several cross-sectional studies suggest that clinical menstrual disturbances may be more common in vegetarians, a prospective study that controlled for many potential confounders found that subclinical disturbances were less common in weight-stable, healthy vegetarian women. Because the sample studied may not be representative of all vegetarian women, however, these results cannot be generalized. Population studies are needed to draw definitive conclusions.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Body Weight
  • Diet*
  • Diet, Vegetarian / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Menstruation Disturbances / etiology*
  • Menstruation Disturbances / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological