What the heck is seed cycling? If you’ve studied nutrition or if you’re passionate about women’s health, you’ve probably heard about the concept of seed cycling for balancing women’s hormones.
Balancing our hormones is key to optimal health
Women are often told that symptoms of hormonal imbalance are relatively normal. PMS symptoms are normal, moodiness is normal (hey – we’re just ‘emotional’, right?), weight gain isn’t a result of imbalanced hormones, but a “poor diet”… I’m here to assure you that hormonal imbalance is not normal. In fact, hormonal imbalance is one of the most common struggles for women today.
The Standard American Diet is filled with preservatives, processed foods, junky ingredients, sugars and is low in nutritional value. Many people rely on this diet to sustain them, but unfortunately many people also experience issues of hormonal imbalance. Diets like this can lead to higher than normal levels of estrogen in the body. In fact, your fat cells can produce estrogen! Imbalanced hormones can result in symptoms such as low libido, slow metabolism, anxiety and depression, moodiness, weight gain, and more serious illness like endometriosis or estrogenic cancers.
So can we really balance our hormones by alternating what seeds we consume? Let’s find out how seed cycling works.
How does Seed Cycling work?
The idea behind seed cycling is that different seeds have properties and nutrients that affect our hormones. If we consume specific seeds at different times of our menstrual cycle, we can help to balance hormone production through the nutrients and phytochemicals in these seeds.
The specific seeds we see used for seed cycling are flax seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.
Women’s hormones and our menstrual cycle
But before we dive into these seeds, we need to understand the basics about our periods. During our menstrual cycle, we experience hormonal fluctuations depending on our body’s role.
Follicular phase (Day 1 to 14*)
In the follicular phase, our body prepares our egg follicle and our uterus for ovulation. From the first day of your period, until the date of your ovulation (on average 14 days), your body experiences a surge in follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones trigger an increase in estrogen production.
Luteal phase (Day 15 to 28*)
In the luteal phase, we enter the 2nd half of our menstrual cycle where the egg is released and makes its way through our reproductive system. Once the egg has been released from its follicle, the follicle turns into the “corpus luteum”, which secretes progesterone. Progesterone prepares the uterus for the potential of a fertilized egg. Assuming there is no pregnancy in this cycle, your body will eventually shed the uterine lining resulting in your period. This begins the follicular phase again.
*Note that women’s cycles can vary. While the “average” menstrual cycle is 28 days with ovulation at day 14, many women don’t experience this. Some cycles can still be normal and be 35 days long. What matters is hormone levels and what happens in your body during the cycle. If you don’t ovulate, or you find your periods excessively long or particularly short, be sure to seek help from your healthcare provider. Be weary if they recommend the birth control pill, because this is not the answer and simply masks your symptoms with artificial hormones… This is for another post!
How to seed cycle: Which seeds to take and when
Now that we have a better understanding of the menstrual cycle and the dominant hormones in each phase, we can match these with seeds that are known for supporting these hormones.
Follicular phase (Day 1-14): Flax seeds & Pumpkin seeds
During the follicular phase, consume 1 tablespoon each of flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. At this point in your menstrual cycle, estrogen is the dominant hormone.
- Flax seeds contain something called lignans which can help to balance your estrogen levels if they’re out of whack. They bind to the estrogen receptors and help to remove excess estrogen from the body.
- Pumpkin seeds are high in omega-6 and zinc which supports progesterone and hormone production.
Luteal phase (Day 14-28): Sesame seeds & Sunflower seeds
During the luteal phase, consume 1 tablespoon each of sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. At this point in your menstrual cycle, progesterone is the dominant hormone.
- Sesame seeds contain zinc which helps to support progesterone production.
- Sunflower seeds contain vitamin E and omega-6 which can help to support progesterone production.
What is the most effective way to seed cycle?
Each day, we should consume the particular seed combination that is intended to support us at that point in our menstrual cycle. There are a few ways we can get these seeds into our diet:
- Sprinkle the seeds on salads, oatmeal, or other foods;
- Add them to your daily smoothie;
- Roll them into energy bites like these ones
It is HIGHLY recommended to grind your seeds. Sesame seeds and flax seeds are not well digested and grinding them helps us break through those outer shells and access the nutrients. I personally use a coffee grinder to grind them up, or simply put them into my morning smoothie.
Continue seed cycling for a period of at least 3 months / cycles to see if you notice a difference in your menstrual cycle, hormonal levels or recurring symptoms.
Scientific evidence behind seed cycling
While there are no scientific studies behind seed cycling specifically, nutritional compounds in these seeds can have an effect on our hormones. The anecdotal evidence for seed cycling is plentiful in the holistic community, and some women have even regained their period after experiencing amenorrhea. Even though we don’t have a proven study to back it, personal experiences cannot be ignored.
As a practitioner, I may not rely on seed cycling alone; however, I would integrate seed cycling into a client’s protocol if I felt it might help their particular situation. In fact, I have been using seed cycling myself – although I’ve also been using other methods for hormone balancing such as herbs and supplements.
Other hormone balancing tips:
Hormone balancing takes some time to overcome because hormones are particularly sensitive to many things we do. Lifestyle and dietary factors can play a big role in imbalanced hormones. Here are some of the tips I often give clients when they’re looking to balance their hormones:
- Seed cycling, of course!
- Be sure you’re consuming enough omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet or via supplementation (fish oils, evening primrose oil)
- Keep active – exercise is important!
- Avoid exposure to xenoestrogens in the environment. For example, avoid plastics, change up your healthcare products to natural ingredients, and take a good hard look at your makeup bag.
- Support your body with a healthful diet high in plant-based foods, vegetables, leafy greens, healthy proteins and fibre.
- Consider working with a health care practitioner who can help you evaluate your particular imbalances and support you with a great protocol.
Looking for guidance on balancing your hormones? Let’s chat!