Veganism, influencers and “hormone health”

17 May 2023

Written by: Sophie Neave

Hormones help control the body's normal function, but does a vegan diet have any impact on this?

While veganism has typically been adopted for ethical reasons, in Australia it has become increasingly popular to take up a vegan diet simply to optimise health and nutrition. Now a recent social media trend has opened debates over the relationship between hormone “health” and veganism.

Balanced hormones are essential for our bodies to work harmoniously. Being out of whack can affect your mood, cause inflammation, acne, tiredness, digestive issues. The list goes on

Now, many TikTok influencers are suggesting that a vegan diet is detrimental to men’s testosterone levels, as well as women’s oestrogen levels.

While some research points towards small but significant changes in the male sex hormone, these studies haven’t demonstrated any long-term important effects.

Yet content creators who are suggesting foods that can help you “glow” from the inside out are also advising against modified soy products and meat alternatives such as GMO tofu, with some commenters criticising for its high concentration of plant oestrogen. This, some claim, can send hormones into disarray. However, there is weak evidence to support this.

So, is there really any correlation between hormone health and vegan diets?

Carla Johnson, a dietician that specialises in women’s health and hormones, addresses the concerns people have with consuming soy products. She says that like any product, soy is only bad for hormones if consumed in excess. Research also shows that eating too much soy can negatively affect oestrogen levels in the body.

Johnson added that spending extra time or money to find a plant-based alternative in its most original form, or making the food yourself to avoid overly processed food, is a good tip to help maintain healthy hormones on a vegan diet.

“If you’re looking at a product, and possibly there are ingredients there that make you question why it would be in this particular food, then that’s the best question you can ask yourself, is this probably highly processed?” she tells upstart.

She also says that when switching to a plant-based diet, you should make sure you still meet essential energy requirements.

“A lot of the time what we see is a little bit of fluctuation with hormone systems, particularly with reproductive hormones in females, oestrogen production, and progesterone. When those go out of whack it’s sometimes because we’re undernourished,” Johnson says.

TikTok influencers are sharing their recommendations on eliminating foods for optimal hormone health, but without proper knowledge of nutrition, cutting out certain food groups can be unhealthy. For example, Vitamin B12 is only found naturally in animal products, and it helps to promote normal functioning of the brain, blood cells and nervous system.

Additionally, maintaining a diet rich in protein and healthy fats is essential for optimal hormones, and high-quality animal proteins come recommended by nutritionists. Johnson says to look carefully at labels for grass-fed, organic food with no added hormones, steroids, or antibiotics. And if you are to choose a vegan diet, she adds that it might be wise to take B12 supplements or consume fortified foods such as cereal to support any imbalances.

Judy Coles, a public relations professional living in London, has been on a journey to balance her hormones, swapping out a vegan diet after 13 years.

“I actually became vegan because of health benefits, but as a woman that’s 26 years old, I’ve learned a ton about my body and why it’s more optimal with beef and fish,” she tells upstart.

Coles had gone to the doctors to get a professional opinion on why her skin was breaking out, which can be a sign of hormonal imbalance.

“I didn’t have a very in-depth appointment, they just looked at me and said, ‘that’s hormonal acne, here’s Spironolactone,’” Coles says.

Spironolactone is a common treatment for hormonal acne, fluid retention, and patients with a high production of the aldosterone hormone. However, it was a treatment that Coles wasn’t prepared to take.  She couldn’t understand the reason for her hormonal breakouts because she’d been consistent with a healthy diet, had good sleeping patterns, and wasn’t taking birth control, which can be factors in hormonal imbalances.

After years of maintaining veganism, Coles reintroduced meat and dairy products into her diet, which she says cleared her hormonal acne.

“I wanted to just try and fix my hormones on my own, and I’m so happy that I did, because once I did this, my skin completely cleared up.”

While some publications suggest that vegan diets can improve skin conditions such as acne, others argue there’s no clear evidence. In Johnson’s experience, she says she hasn’t noticed any particular correlations among her patients between hormonal imbalances and vegan diets. Ultimately, there’s not enough research to support claims that veganism can negatively impact hormones.

This is why Johnson says that testing is important if you aren’t feeling right within your body.


Article | Sophie Neave is a second-year magazine journalism student. You can follow her on Twitter @sophieneave

Photo | Flatlay of Assorted Nutritious Food By Vanessa Loring available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Licence. The image has not been modified.