This one is for the ladies! Do you suffer from mood swings, breakouts, breast tenderness or cramping related to your menstrual cycle? How about irregular cycles, missed menses or heavy periods? Are you curious if there are foods that could help? If so, read on!
What is Seed Cycling
Seed cycling is the rotation of different seeds in your diet, depending on the phase of your menstrual cycle, to support optimal hormone production and metabolism/detoxification. Flax and pumpkin seeds are included in the follicular phase to support healthy estrogen levels and sesame and sunflower seeds are included in the luteal phase to boost progesterone production.
The seeds used in seed cycling contain essential fatty acids to support hormone production, as well as chemicals called lignans, which are converted by bacteria in our guts to compounds that can have estrogenic or anti-estrogenic activity, depending on whether you are high or low in estrogen.
FOLLICULAR PHASE: Day 1 of menses to ovulation (about day 14)
During this part of the cycle pumpkin and flax seeds are included to help your body maintain healthy estrogen levels. Lignans have a weakly estrogenic activity in the body, and by binding to estrogen receptors, they take the place of your body's estrogen, therefore can actual reduce the overall effect of estrogen in your body if you are high in estrogen. Conversely, if you are low in estrogen, the lignans can have the effect of supplementing estrogen, moving you towards better hormone balance. Additionally, flax seeds can increase SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), which reduces the amount of free circulating estrogen, and the fiber from flax seeds bind up extra excess estrogen to be eliminated from your body via your GI tract. Flax seeds also contain alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), an omega 3 fatty acid, which helps to maintain healthy cell membranes and hormone levels. Also, pumpkin seeds contain zinc which supports the rising progesterone levels, as your body moves towards the luteal phase.
LUTEAL PHASE: Ovulation to the first day of menses
In this phase of the menstrual cycle, progesterone peaks. Sunflower and sesame seeds also contain lignans, although much lower levels than flax seeds. The zinc in sesame seeds is necessary for progesterone production. Selenium, which is found in both sesame and sunflower seeds is super important for optimal liver detoxification, which plays a huge role in maintaining healthy hormone levels. Also, both sesame and sunflower seeds contain linoleic acid, and omega 6 fatty acid, which your body converts to GLA (gamma linolenic acid), which helps to support increasing progesterone levels.
How to Incorporate Seed Cycling into your Life
If you are currently having fairly regular menstrual cycles, you can start seed cycling with the first day of your next menstrual cycle. However, if your cycle is pretty irregular or unpredictable, you can cycle with the phases of the moon, which is 28 days. If cycling with the moon, you should start the follicular phase protocol from new moon to full moon, and the luteal phase protocol from full moon to new moon.
Follicular phase: take 1 tablespoon each of ground flax seed and pumpkin seed.
Luteal phase: take 1 tablespoon each of ground sesame seed and sunflower seed.
The seeds should be organic and raw. Although it is ideal to grind all of the seeds (they are hard to break down!), the only one that it is essential to grind is flax seed (if you don't grind the flax seeds, they just pass through your digestive tract intact, which doesn't do anyone any good). A cheap coffee or spice grinder usually gets the job done. It's ideal to grind the seeds fresh each day, but if you grind a few day's worth at a time, make sure to store them in a tightly sealed container in the fridge, as the oils in the seeds break down very fast once the seeds are ground. Once you have your ground seeds, simply add them to your oatmeal, smoothies, salads, soups, or however you can get most easily fit them into your diet!
What the research says
Although seed cycling as a therapy has not been researched, the health effects of each type of seed in seed cycling have been studied (especially the health benefits of flax seeds), showing that they exert an influence over hormonal health. For example, one study showed that taking one tablespoon of flax seed powder a day resulted in fewer anovulatory cycles, another study showed that increased consumption of sunflower and pumpkin seeds resulted in lowered post-menopausal breast cancer risk, and another study showed that ingestion of sesame seed powder by post-menopausal women improved hormone levels. Overall, the lignans and fiber, found in each of the 4 seeds, play an important role in estrogen metabolism.
I consider seed cycling to be "food as medicine." And using food as medicine as a foundation for health is always preferable before reaching for supplements and medications, which is why I frequently recommend it in my practice, for many women. Don't expect a quick fix; it usually takes 3-4 cycles to really see benefits, but for some people this simple therapy can have profound effects. That said, although this can provide a solid foundation for healthy hormones, there is a time and place for higher level interventions, and seed cycling by itself will not benefit everyone. Therefore, as with everything, it is always best to work a qualified health care provider in determining the root cause of your symptoms and addressing your any hormone imbalances in the best way possible.
More of a visual/video learner? Check out the video below!