Breaking the bloody taboo: A practical guide to female health for vegans

Read Time:   |  17th October 2018

Charlotte Willis takes a frank and practical look at health matters vegan women have to deal with and explores how to deal with periods in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way. 

vegan female health

From period pains to birth control, as women we have a lot to contend with on a daily basis. Looking after our female health is just as important as the food that we put into our bodies, and the clarity of our minds. Our reproductive health supports the functioning of our entire body, so it’s only right that we treat it with care and respect. Leave your taboos behind, and let’s get ready to take care of our bodies with our guide to female health.

I hate taboos

Let’s just go ahead and say it together, get it all out into the open shall we? Ready? Repeat aloud: Periods. Sex. Hormones. Birth control. Feels good doesn’t it?

You’ll often hear women talking about how veganism cleared their skin from hormonal acne, and miracle stories of achieving total vitality simply by following a plant-based diet. While this is true, you’ll rarely hear many women stand up and talk about how their periods have altered since using organic cotton tampons. How women have made a positive, mindful change to a hormone-free form of birth control. How women look for vegan condom brands that allow them to really feel their partners.

Taboos are not something that I, nor many fellow females of my generation, can tolerate. As women, we must talk to each other about our menstrual and reproductive healthcare regimes. There’s so much to say and plenty we can learn from each other’s experiences. By conversing openly we can help other ladies have a happier, more satisfying and caring relationship with their bodies. Let’s begin, shall we?

vegan female health

Sustainable and vegan menstrual options

Traditional menstrual products are far from sustainable and safe. It might surprise you to learn that the average menstrual pad can contain as much plastic as four single-use plastic carrier bags. What’s more, conventional menstrual pads and liners contain materials which have been proven to restrict air flow around your vagina, encouraging the growth of yeast and fungi, which is far from ideal. Throw into the mix bleaching agents, perfumes and deodorizing chemicals, and you have a potentially toxic concoction of hazardous components, coming into contact with your skin each and every month.

Conventional brands of tampons also contain a multitude of chemicals, including chemical pesticide residues sprayed onto the non-organic cotton plants that form the bulk of the tampon’s absorbent head. The bleached white colour of the tampon is often created using chlorine, which can create toxic chemicals known as dioxins. Dioxins can pass into the bloodstream through the vaginal walls, and accumulate in fatty tissues. The result? Hormone interruption, abnormal tissue growth, immune suppression and increased risk of certain reproductive conditions.

The fantastic news for the concerned and ethical consumer is that there has recently been a huge increase in availability of sustainable and safe sanitary products, driven by consumer trends towards achieving optimum menstrual health. Below are some of my favourite ecologically sound options, with no compromise on quality of product.

vegan female health

TOM Organic range

These certified organic cotton pads, liners, tampons and maternity pads are as good for your body as they are for the environment. They are 100% biodegradable, breathable, cruelty-free and completely free from all chemicals and harsh colourants. What’s more, TOM also reinvest some of their profits into helping the next generation of women, empowering future thinkers and doers.

Natracare range

Natracare has ditched artificial plastics in favour of plant-based bioplastics, creating an organic and biodegradable range of pads and tampons.

Menstrual Cups

Menstrual cups are adored by women across the planet. These silicone-based, flexible cups are inserted into the vagina, ensuring a leak-proof and convenient alternative to traditional methods of absorption. The menstrual cup offers a completely waste-free method of sanitary protection, which will save you money in the long run, after the initial investment. Dependent upon the brand you choose, the price of a menstrual cup is approximately £21-30, which will last for 3-6 years with proper care.

Reusable Cotton Pads

These are a great alternative option for newly menstruating teens, and for women who prefer using pads to tampons or internally-based vaginal options. Brands such as the Hannahpad and Earthwise Girls provide differing levels of absorption, and after a little bit of getting used to, these organic wonders will easily become a perfect and waste-free alternative to traditional single-use pads.

Hormonal contraceptives – are they vegan?

This is a hotly contested topic amongst the vegan community. Like most medications manufactured in the UK, almost all contraceptives are developed using methods of animal testing. It is therefore up to you as a consumer to decide whether or not to use these methods.

Oral contraceptives all contain animal-derived hormones and/or traces of lactose, and therefore are not considered vegan. However, it is important to remember that you are not obliged to change your contraception. If you are happy and healthy using these methods, by all means continue to do so.

Not all hormonal contraceptives are off the cards. The Evra contraceptive patch, and the contraceptive injections Depo-Provera and Noristerat are free from animal ingredients. These methods may be beneficial for some women, and are typically 99% effective.

vegan female health

Your natural remedies for seamless cycles

From irregular cycles to PMS, some women go through the ringer every month, a slave to pain medication and hot water bottles. If you are in search of a remedy, or in desperate need of some non-medicated relief from your pains, I’m pleased to inform you that there are many different natural remedies to help support your period.

For irregular cycles

The answer to your prayers of regularity might just come in the form of extremely small packages; seeds. Seed cycling is a popular alternative dietary way to help induce a regular hormone balance throughout the body. This involves eating a variety of seeds at differing points of the cycle, helping encourage certain hormones to be produced and circulated. Find out more about seed cycling here: www.cycleseeds.com.

Irregular cycles are often as a result of poor hormonal balance, foods such as ashwaganda powder, maca powder, probiotic foods such as yoghurts and kimchi and healthy fats, including avocados and nuts, can help support hormone synthesis. You may also benefit from reducing the amount of sugar in your diet.

For intense cramping

Raspberry leaf tea, and when taken as an oral herbal supplement, can alleviate the intense cramping pains during your period. A magnesium supplement may also help ease muscle cramping, while bathing with Epsom salts and using lavender aromatherapy oils can ease your pains away.

For heavy bleeds

A diet rich in green vegetables, such as kale and cabbage, can provide a great source of calcium and vitamin K, to help ease pain and reduce heavy flows. Try consuming pineapple, papaya and kiwi fruits too, as these contain enzymes which can reduce excessive bleeding. You’ll also want to up your intake of iron, zinc and B vitamins during your flow, so opt for plenty of green salads, vegetables of all colours and some nutritional yeast flakes.

vegan female health

For PMS/PMT

These conditions can be an absolute nightmare for us women, turning our lives into emotional rollercoasters. Solutions to PMT and PMS vary from person to person, so a trial and error approach is best recommended. Evening primrose oil, starflour oil and flax oil can be useful to help restore a hormonal balance, while agnus castus tablets are beneficial for mood swings. Taking time to ensure you look after yourself during these days of your cycle is also essential. Try practising deep belly breathing techniques at your desk, use essential oils such as lavender and rose to calm you, and even listening to peaceful music can help stabilise your emotions and moods.

Contraception

Pros

Cons

Vegan brands/tips

Male condoms

Simple, inexpensive, widely available and can be bought without prescription. Protects against STIs and are 98% effective.

Some commonly available brands use casein (a milk product) to produce the latex material used in the condom. What’s more, some condoms use harmful ingredients in their lubrication that can irritate you and your partner. Occasionally, condoms can split or come off, however this is rare if the condom is used correctly with the proper fit.

Glyde (Vegan Society approved), Sir. Richard’s (Vegan Society approved),
Sustain and Condomi (Vegan
Society approved).

Female barriers
(Cap and Diaphragm)

92% effective, these methods are controlled by the woman and places us in power of our own contraception. Simple to use once practiced, these methods are hormone free and act as a barrier over the cervix to prevent passage of sperm.

Can take some getting used to, needs to
be inserted prior to sex and must stay in place for several hours afterwards. Does not protect against STIs.

Femcap is a vegan cervical cap that does not require fitting by a healthcare professional, whereas the diaphragm
will typically require a professional fitting
at a sexual health clinic.

The Copper IUD

The copper IUD is a small, T-shaped device that is professionally inserted into the uterus. It contains no hormones, and once fitted does not require any maintenance.
It is around 99% effective.

These devices are not usually recommended for females who have not given birth. The insertion process can be uncomfortable and sometimes even
painful, and does not protect against STDs.

Most of the copper IUD brands offered
in the UK will be suitable for vegans as there are no hormones involved in
these devices. Talk to your
healthcare professional.

Natural planning

When used correctly, users claim natural family planning is typically up to 93% effective. You’ll also develop a closer relationship with your body, and be able to detect symptoms of ovulation, PMS and PMT as you learn more about your cycle.

This method usually relies upon rigorous bodily analysis, often involving daily temperature recording and analysis of vaginal discharge, thus it could be more of a headache than helpful tool for the busy working woman. This method also requires you to use protection or practice abstinence on fertile days, and will not protect against STDs.

Using natural family planning may be
useful for those who are very in tune
with their bodies and have a regular menstrual cycle for most months of the year. Practice safe sex with other methods prior to making a complete switch to natural planning methods.

 

Written by

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis

Charlotte Willis is an author, editor and content creator, whose interests and work promote sustainable living, in every sense of the word. Charlotte is a marketer for ethical brands, author of Vegan: Do It! A young person’s guide to living a vegan lifestyle, a regular contributor to sustainability and plant-based publications, and is studying clinical psychology with the view to revolutionising women's holistic, natural and mental healthcare.

www.instagram.com/charlottesophiewrites/

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