Photo: Yuris Alhumaydy

I Went Vegan And My Crippling Period Pain Stopped

Could a change in your diet be key?


As a teenager, every fourth week, like clockwork, I had gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, fist-clenching period pain. Not the type you see on ads for aspirin where the women look slightly uncomfortable, but can still complete a 10k bike ride. It was the type that had me writhing around in bed, that clouded my rational thoughts, made me faint. It was the type of pain that eliminated embarrassment and made me sit on the floor of supermarket aisles weeping. It wasn’t your average dull ache, but a blinding, delirious pain that I came to seriously dread every month. My pleas to doctors were often ignored and dismissed as something that was totally normal, (and it was my fault for having a uterus anyway). Plenty of my friends spoke of their light, three day and fairly painless periods, so I knew what I was experiencing wasn’t normal. It improved slightly after introducing a contraceptive, but was still horrific and meant that going to work was a real struggle.

Female pain is often dismissed as more psychological than physical, despite the fact that women with chronic pain may suffer more and longer than men. When actor and creator of the hit series, Girls, Lena Dunham, made the decision to get a hysterectomy to end her debilitating battle with endometriosis, her story was met with confusion and hostility as people deemed the decision too “extreme.” While my story is nowhere near as serious, the narrative of people assuming a reaction to female pain is extreme or “over the top” is all too familiar. Thankfully, female pain is starting to creep into the dialogue of the mainstream media, but we’ve still a long way to go before people start listening and taking it seriously.

In my personal life, I’ve had friends share their experiences with period pain, one colleague once told me that her pain was so severe that she begged her dad to kill her to make the pain go away. I’ve always encouraged these conversations and been an advocate for candid discussion on the topic, so as you can imagine, when one month as I anxiously awaited the pain and it didn’t come, I wanted to tell the fucking world. In fact, I didn’t feel it coming at all, it took me by total surprise and a perfectly good pair of pants ended up in the trash. The only difference between last month and the pain free month, was that I had cut the dairy and gone vegan. Surely it was a fluke? A coincidence. Next month, it happened again. Barely any pain. Pleasant would be a generous explanation, but I felt what would be considered a normal level of pain, a small ache that could be suppressed by a single Nurofen and a hot water bottle. So, like most people who experience something out of the ordinary, I turned to the internet, where I found plenty of anecdotal evidence of women who were saying exactly the same thing.

So, what’s the link between dairy and period pain? I spoke to medical herbalist, Rosemary Umolu, who specialises in period pain; she explained how dairy contains a protein called A1 Caesin, (sounds pretty sci-fi) that essentially causes inflammation. This inflammation can play havoc with some women during their period and can strip their bodies of essential nutrients. This, coupled with the excess hormones in dairy, of which there are about sixty, creates the perfect storm for a nightmare period. Rosemary says, “when we consume excess hormones like oestrogen, the inner lining that sheds every month gets thicker, meaning your uterus is working harder to contract and break down the lining, which leads to more severe cramping.” So what I experienced wasn’t a fluke or a lucky month but was dairy that was hurting my hormones and causing increased pain.

This is definitely a topic that deserves more attention and exploration and it’s important to highlight the more unusual trajectories to pain-free periods that don’t involve endless doctors visits. I’m not saying that cutting out dairy is a one stop cure for conditions like endometriosis, nor do I think binning the painkillers and mozzarella and embarking upon a crash course in veganism is the answer. Perhaps start small and try cutting out dairy the week before you’re due, especially if you have bad cramps. It worked for me and it might for you.