Hormones are complex chemical messengers that affect our health in many ways, from the quality of our skin, sleep cycles, and mood to our fertility, libido, and weight. (18) When our hormone levels are normal and healthy, our bodies function optimally and our minds thrive. When these chemical messengers are unbalanced, we may experience symptoms such as acne, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), mood disorders, infertility, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). (2)(3)(19)
In a world where so many external and internal factors can disrupt this delicate balance, hormonal health is being discussed more than ever. What if we told you there was an effective (and inexpensive) way to support your hormones right in your kitchen? Seed cycling, which has recently become popular in the wellness community, has been proposed as a way to support optimal female hormone balance through the consumption of nutrient-dense seeds at specific times during the menstrual cycle. (14)(15) But, does it really work? Keep reading to find out how to balance hormones using seed cycling.
What is seed cycling?
So what is seed cycling, anyway? Once again, it turns out that functional foods can play a significant role in optimizing health. While there is currently no accepted definition of seed cycling in scientific literature, the concept involves consuming specific seeds at intentional times to impact the female menstrual cycle and promote optimal natural hormonal balance.
“Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds to support the key hormones of each phase in the menstrual cycle. It is something I recommend for hormone balance in both my clinic and book, Beyond the Pill, as part of Cycle Self Care,” says Dr. Jolene Brighten, ND. “It is an effective and gentle way to shift hormones into balance. It can help with symptoms of PMS, acne, and headaches, as well as support a healthy menstrual cycle.”
The evidence supporting the use of different seeds at various stages of a woman’s cycle is outlined below. But before we dive in, let’s define the menstrual cycle phases and the primary hormones that come into play.
What are the menstrual cycle phases?
For the sake of seed cycling, we will describe the menstrual cycle as two important phases – the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase starts on the first day of the cycle, when menstruation starts, and lasts until ovulation, which usually occurs around day 14 to 16. During this phase, estrogen is rising. (23) Irregular levels of estrogen can manifest as symptoms such as gastrointestinal distress, low libido, decreased fertility, and depression. (6)(13)(17) Heavy menstruation, irritability, headaches, and breast cysts can all be a result of excess levels of estrogen in the body. (1)
Next comes the luteal phase. The luteal phase starts right after ovulation until the end of the menstrual cycle, lasting anywhere from 23 to 35 days on average. (11) At this stage, progesterone is rising and becomes the dominant hormone. Irregular levels of progesterone have been associated with infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, and endometriosis. (21)
How does seed cycling work?
Interesting concept, but how does seed cycling actually work?
As we already know, estrogen is one of the primary hormones involved in the follicular phase, and we can help support our bodies by including seeds such as pumpkin seeds and flax seeds for the duration of this phase. Both of these seeds contain phytoestrogens that can help balance estrogen levels. (16) As the name suggests, phytoestrogens are plant-based sources of estrogen that modulate estrogen receptors, helping to regulate estrogen levels and supporting their antiestrogenic and estrogenic effects. (8)
The phytoestrogens in pumpkin seeds have been shown to support women with symptoms related to low estrogen, such as hot flashes, joint pain, and headaches related to menopause. (5) Flax seeds are considered a functional food as they contain hormone balancing omega-3 fatty acids, soluble fiber, and protein. (7) These little seeds contain lignans, a type of phytochemical that has been studied for its effects on the menstrual cycle, such as supporting longer luteal phases and higher progesterone to estradiol ratios. (14) Both seeds are also a great source of zinc, which helps support the production, metabolism, and removal of estrogen. (4)
During the luteal phase, when progesterone is at its peak, we can focus on consuming sesame seeds and sunflower seeds to support optimal progesterone production. Both seeds are high in selenium, an essential mineral that has been shown to support sex hormone production, specifically in the luteal phase. (22) Sesame seeds are not only anti-inflammatory (10) but have been shown to support hormonal health by improving antioxidant status and blood lipid levels in women in their postmenopausal years. (20) Sunflower seeds are also a great dietary source of vitamin E, (12) a beneficial lipid-soluble antioxidant that has been shown to support female reproductive health via its anti-inflammatory properties. (9)
How do you incorporate seed cycling into your routine?
This super-simple and cost-effective practice is effortless to add into your routine.
Dr. Brighten recommends consuming specific seeds during the follicular and luteal phases of your cycle. “During the follicular phase to ovulation (days 1 to 14), eat 1-2 tablespoons each of raw, fresh ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. During the ovulation-luteal phase (days 15 to 28), eat 1-2 tablespoons each of raw, freshly ground sunflower and sesame seeds. Note: you want to use seeds that are raw and grind them fresh.”
Best practices when seed cycling
Ready to start incorporating seed cycling into your routine? Here are some simple guidelines to follow to ensure effective seed cycling.
- Purchase raw organic seeds when possible for optimal nutritional value.
- Store seeds in the refrigerator or freezer to avoid the oxidation that can occur from sunlight or heat exposure.
- Freshly grind your seeds before consuming. (7)
According to Dr. Brighten, “the practice works best when the seeds are fresh ground and raw. If you’re struggling with grinding fresh daily, then I recommend grinding a week’s worth and storing in the freezer.”
Including seed cycling in your everyday
“For someone that wanted to try seed cycling, my best advice would be to dive in, starting wherever you’re at in your menstrual cycle with the corresponding seeds. Recognize that seed cycling is a habit, and habits can take time to implement. Be patient and gentle with yourself,” says Dr. Brighten.
Some easy ways to incorporate seeds everyday are in smoothies, sprinkled on top of yogurt and berries, stirred into overnight oats, and as a salad topper.
Dr. Brighten recommends to “get creative so it doesn’t become mundane! Don’t just stick to smoothies, but also try things like making a fresh seed butter, a homemade pumpkin seed pesto, Estrogen Boosting Crackers, or a raw seed-based granola, and sprinkling them on salads or oatmeal or including them in a no-bake energy bar or cookie recipe. You’ll find delicious seed cycling recipes in Beyond the Pill.”
The bottom line
Today, more than ever, our bodies are bombarded with substances and factors that disrupt the delicate balance of our cyclical hormones. By incorporating flax seeds and pumpkin seeds during the follicular phase and sesame seeds and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase, we can better support our bodies and optimal hormone levels through these important transitions. Seed cycling may also be an effective tool for reducing symptoms related to hormone imbalance.
When incorporating seed cycling into your routine, Dr. Brighten provides the following advice: “Keep in mind that seed cycling doesn’t work like a pharmaceutical. We can’t expect to start seeds one day and see immediate results. You’re working with your body naturally, which can take time to correct underlying imbalances. Don’t feel like you’re doing anything wrong or get discouraged if it takes time to shift your symptoms.
Personally, I’ve been seed cycling for the last ten years. I encourage my patients to make it a lifelong practice. You don’t have to be dogmatic about it, but it is a simple tool to support your hormone health and leverage food to create better hormones.”
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