What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a natural way to gently support your hormones throughout your menstrual cycle. Certain seeds are high in particular nutrients and fatty acids that help to promote hormonal balance. The aim is to boost estrogen during the first phase of your cycle, then boost progesterone in the second phase. It is believed that seed cycling can assist conditions such as PMS, promote fertility, and even help alleviate pain from medical conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis.
Our menstrual cycles are comprised to two main phases: The follicular phase (day one to ovulation) and the luteal phase (after ovulation to menstruation).
Check out my previous post on how to live in accordance to your cycle! Seed cycling is just one of the many methods!
Follicular Phase (day 1 to ovulation)
The follicular phase begins on the first day of your menstrual cycle (when you start bleeding). The follicular phase is named so because it is the time of the cycle where the follicles in the ovary develop and mature. During menstruation, our estrogen levels build up gradually, reaching a peak around ovulation. Estrogen is primarily made by the developing follicles in the ovaries. Sometimes, our estrogen levels can be too high. Symptoms of high estrogen levels include irregular periods, bloating, breast swelling and tenderness, pre-menstrual headaches, fatigue, sluggish metabolism, PMS and much more. To boost estrogen in this part of the cycle, we eat 1 tablespoon (freshly ground) flax seeds and pumpkin seeds per day.
+ Flax seeds (linseeds)
To support our estrogen levels, we use flax seeds (which are high in plant-based estrogens: phytoestrogens). These adapt to what your body’s needs by modulating the activity of estrogen. This means that it can help to either increase or decrease estrogen activity, depending on deficiencies or excesses of estrogen in the body (4). If estrogen levels get too high, the lignans in flax seeds are able to bind to excesses to help eliminate them from the body.
+ Pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Zinc is an essential mineral needed in our diet, yet many people do not eat enough of it. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc, which supports progesterone production and regulates our androgen levels (male hormones) (3). Pumpkin seeds (as well as flax) are also rich in essential nutrients and fatty acids such as zinc and selenium, which are considered as the building blocks needed to produce healthy, happy hormones (1).
Luteal phase (day 15 to day 1)
The luteal phase begins right after ovulation. If you are unsure when you ovulate, you can start the luteal phase on Day 15 (as Day 14 is the average day of ovulation amongst women).
Estrogen drops right after ovulation and progesterone begins to rise to build up your endometrium (the lining of your uterus). Estrogen also begins to increase here to prepare for menstruation and those with high estrogen levels may experience period pain and/or PMS symptoms at this time. Progesterone is the Yin to estrogen’s Yang, meaning that they are like opposites which depend on and balance-out one another. At this time in the cycle, we need to boost progesterone to keep estrogen in check. We do this by eating 1 tablespoon each of sunflower and sesame seeds daily from the day after ovulation to day 1 of the period.
+ Sesame seeds
Sesame seeds are high in zinc, calcium, magnesium and selenium, which (with fibre) assist the Liver in detoxification and excretion of excessive hormonal build-up (5). These seeds also contain lignans, and have been found to be beneficial for balancing women’s hormones, even through menopause (6).
+ Sunflower seeds
Sunflower seeds contain a range of great minerals, including vitamin E, iron, magnesium, zinc, copper and selenium. They also contain essential fatty acids which can be converted in to gamma-linoleic acid, or GLA. It has been found that GLA’s provide effective relief from pre-menstrual breast tenderness (2), whilst also boosting progesterone and reducing inflammation.
Quality is key!
When buying your seeds to start cycling them, make sure you opt for organic, whole seeds. The best way to ensure the seeds keep all of their benefits is to grind them yourself, then keep any excess in the fridge, which preserves the essential fatty acids within them. Flax seeds in particular can be a little picky, and are sensitive to light and heat. Try to find whole flax seeds that aren’t in a clear bag or container, then store them in the fridge to keep them happy.
How can I eat these?
You’ll get bored quickly if you just eat these seeds by themselves, so get creative! Try including seeds in your diet with ideas such as:
- Making some healthy, homemade granola (with seeds mixed in at the end- do not roast them!)
- Blending them in to your morning smoothie or protein shake!
- Whipping up a fresh (un-toasted) tahini (I love having this with roasted veg, salads, or carrot sticks).
- Mixing them into your yoghurt, cereal or porridge.
- Adding them in to some (protein and/or date) bliss balls for an easy work snack.
- Sprinkling seeds over your salads for a bit of texture and crunch!
- Making a fresh seed butter for spreading on toast and fruits.
Some extra things to note
Seed cycling is a natural way of helping your body’s hormonal balance through supplying it with the essential fatty acids, minerals and phytoestrogens it needs. However, because of it’s gentler nature in comparison to other methods, such as medications, seed cycling will take some time to show it’s effects. You may even need to trial a few cycles to really see some changes. In the meantime, you are still treating your body well by nourishing it with a great source of good fats, fibre and minerals!
Some of you may be sick and tired of period pain, acne, hormonal changes after coming off the pill, PMS and more, so while seed cycling might help to start balancing things out for you, you may need something a little stronger and faster. Hormonal imbalances require a holistic approach in treatment to address the multiple factors that they may arise from, such as stress, diet, inflammation and more. I’ve found that acupuncture and herbs are amazing for addressing hormonal health, and seed cycling is only one of the many techniques that I send my clients home with to work on in-between sessions.
To find out how acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help you out, send me an email at email@example.com.
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(1) Bedwal RS, Bahuguna A. (1994). Zinc, copper and selenium in reproduction. Experientia, 1994 Jul 15; 50(7):626-40. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7386123
(2) Horrobin, D. F. (1993). The Effects of Gamma-linolenic Acid on Breast Pain and Diabetic Neuropathy: Possible Non-eicosanoid Mechanisms. Prostaglandins Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids, 48, 101–104.
(3) Jahan, N. A., Dourandish, N., Askary, V. R., Kamachali, A. R. K., Sabbagh, A., & Jahani, F. S. (2011). A potential medicinal importance of zinc in human health and chronic diseases. Clinical Biochemistry, 44(13), S323–S324. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.clinbiochem.2011.08.795
(4) Lephart, E. D. (2015). Modulation of Aromatase by Phytoestrogens. Enzyme Research, 2015(c), 1–11. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/594656
(5) S, L. L. et al. (2011). NIH Public Access, 62(2), 208–219. https://doi.org/10.1080/01635580903305375.Dietary
(6) Wang, T.-A., Wang, N.-H., Kang, Y.-P., Jou, H.-J., & Wu, W.-H. (2018). Sesame Ingestion Affects Sex Hormones, Antioxidant Status, and Blood Lipids in Postmenopausal Women. The Journal of Nutrition, 136(5), 1270–1275. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.5.1270