Summary And Conclusions
The purpose of this chapter was to assess the adequacy of vegetarian diets in maintaining normal reproductive function in women throughout their life-span. Taken together, the available data suggest few, if any, differences in reproductive function between vegetarians and omnivores, although several questions remain unanswered.
Based on the literature available, the following conclusions can be reached:
- Provided that adequate energy is available to support normal growth, vegetarian diets do not appear to affect the pubertal transition, particularly as reflected by the age at menarche.
- Whether vegetarian women experience a higher frequency of menstrual disturbances during adult life requires additional study:
- Early studies suggesting that menstrual disturbances were more common among vegetarians, were generally not designed to assess this question, and were not adequately controlled.
- Available data on the impact of dietary components such as phytoestrogens, fiber, and fat, intakes of which may differ between vegetarians and non-vegetarians, are not consistent.
- The motivation for adopting a vegetarian diet may be important, as some women may become vegetarian in the process of developing an eating disorder, with attendant menstrual disturbances. Furthermore, high levels of cognitive dietary restraint are associated with subclinical menstrual disturbances. Accordingly, the subpopulation of women who become vegetarian for reasons related to body weight issues may be at increased risk.
- Nevertheless, in a sample of carefully screened vegetarian and non-vegetarian women, subclinical menstrual disturbances were not more common among vegetarians.
- Almost no data are available to determine whether age at menopause differs between vegetarians and omnivores. This area requires additional study.
- Soy phytoestrogens may reduce the frequency of menopausal hot flushes slightly in comparison to placebo, but do not appear to affect the severity of other menopausal symptoms.
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