Plant-based diets appear to offer relief from a variety of menstrual symptoms, including cramping, bloating, and breast pain (cyclical mastalgia).
Images thanks to David Lanham
Breast pain accompanying ones period, called premenstrual mastalgia, was dismissed in the 70s as a ''merely an expression of psychoneurosis of women. They're just frustrated and unhappy because they haven't given their husbands children yet. Now we know what women always knew, breast pain is all too common, may be severe enough to interfere with usual daily activities, and its effect on quality of life is often underestimated. Though pain can be severe enough to interfere with usual daily activities, the cause and optimal treatment remain undefined. Approximately 60–70% of women experience some type of breast pain at some stage of their lives, and in 10–20% of cases, it is severe." Some breast tenderness during one's cycle is normal, but breast pain is not.
In many cases surgery was prescribed. Thankfully by 1999 we were evidently living an era of evidence-based surgery—what a concept—which behoves us all to justify the surgery we undertake, and so the profession stopped cutting of the breasts of women in pain.
The hormone prolactin is considered to be a central factor, as women with cyclical breast pain were found to have elevated levels, and a prolactin inhibitor drug was found to be an effective treatment. The side effects, though, are so bad that some women couldn't even finish the study. There had to be better way.
Well, while up to 2/3's of Western women suffer from breast pain in their lifetimes, it apparently may affect as few as 5% in Asian cultures. Maybe it has something to do with diet. Women eating traditional plant-based diets all their lives, like rural Bantu African women have lower prolactin levels. How do we know the difference isn't just genetic? Well, when you take those women and feed them a Western diet, meat, butter, milk, eggs, bread and sugar for a few weeks, they experience a significant rise in prolactin, in fact the hormonal changes were comparable to those found in women with the menstrual irregularies more common in Western women.
What part of the Western diet was responsible, though--maybe it was the bread and sugar? To see if it was the meat, researchers took some New Yorkers and put them on a vegetarian diet for two weeks, and that alone brought their prolactin levels down suggesting that the removeal of meat and meat products from the diet can reduce the release of prolactin.
So, let's give it a try for breast pain. The first pilot study involved ten women with severe cyclical mastalgia, put on a low fat diet for 3 months—either vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, and all ten women got better.
There was no control group, though, so part of their improvement may have just been the placebo effect, so a randomized controlled trial was undertaken. This Canadian research group had been carrying out a clinical trial of dietary fat reduction in patients with precancerous breast changes and they noted that that patients with cyclical breast problems frequently experienced striking relief of symptoms after reduction of dietary fat, so they randomized women into two groups; and again, a significant improvement in symptoms was found.
Since then, we learned that vegetarian women have fewer menstrual disturbances than nonvegetarian women, only about 5% of their cycles were anovulatory, meaning they failed to release an egg, compared to 15% of nonvegetarian menstrual cycles. Those eating more plant-baed low fat diets may also experience significantly less bloating and compared to placebo, women with painful menstrual cramps placed on a vegan diet, experienced significant relief.
This was a so-called crossover study where they put meat-eating women on a plant-based diet for two cycles, and then switched them back to their regular diet with some placebo supplement, so you can show changes before and after and then back to baseline. The problem, is that several participants felt so much better that they refused to go back to their regular diet, thereby screwin' up the study.
Bottomline is that a plant-based diet may offer relief from breast pain, as well as significant reductions in menstrual pain duration, pain intensity, and duration of premenstrual symptoms related to concentration, behavioral change, and water retention.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Jonathan Hodgson.
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Another reason meat consumption may interfere with ovulatory function is explained in my video Meat Hormones & Female Infertility.
The extraordinarily low rates of chronic disease among people eating traditional plant-based Bantu diets was one of the inspirations for Nathan Pritikin's work. See the series of videos that starts with Engineering a Cure.
For some more context, check out my associated blog posts: Plant-Based Diets for Psoriasis, Treating Breast Pain with Diet,Treating Breast Pain with Flax Seeds, and How Probiotics Affect Mental Health
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