Seed Cycling to Improve hormones
You may have heard of a particular nutritional “fad” at present called seed cycling to promote healthy hormones. This is certainly something I get asked about often in my practice.
So I thought I would share with you exactly what seed cycling is, what the research says, how to implement seed cycling and what to expect when you do.
What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a gentle way to balance your reproductive hormones through each phase of your menstrual cycle using the nutrients contained in certain seeds. Now if your on the pill or using another form of contraceptive, i’m sorry to say this will not be of much benefit to you because your hormone replacement is suppressing your own hormones. But that's another discussion for another day.
Seed cycling works by promoting healthy oestrogen production and metabolism in the first phase and progesterone production in the second phase, seed cycling can help relieve premenstrual symptoms like breast tenderness, menstrual pain and cramping, regulate irregular cycles, improve fertility and support certain reproductive conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Before we get into how to implement seed cycling into your routine, let's delve into the phases of the menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is comprised of two main phases:
The follicular phase:
Days 1-14 of a 28 day cycle, beginning on the first day of your period. If your cycle is shorter or longer in length then you would add or deduct the number of days. For example, if you have a 32 day cycle you would add an additional 4 days to the length of this phase. This is where tracking your cycle comes in very handy. In the follicular phase, oestrogen is the dominant hormone. Oestrogen is like goldilocks, you want the perfect amount, not too little, not too much…..it needs to be just right!
The luteal phase:
Day 15-28 of a 28 day cycle, beginning right after ovulation. Again taking into consideration the length of your specific cycle, you will need to add or subtract days. If we take the above example of a 32 day cycle, this would be day 19 to 32. Progesterone should be the dominant hormone in this phase providing ovulation occured.
What Seeds Do You Consume?
In the follicular phase (day 1-14 of a 28 day cycle): Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are used to promote oestrogen levels.
Flax seeds - also known as linseeds, contain lignans that act as phytoestrogens modulating oestrogen levels. Flax seeds are also high in omega 3 fatty acids that aid in reducing inflammatory cytokines responsible for pain associated with menstruation.
Pumpkin seeds - also known as pepitas, are high in zinc needed for healthy production of progesterone in the next phase and for regulating androgens.
In the luteal phase (days 15-28 of a 28 day cycle): Sesame & sunflower seeds are used to promote progesterone levels.
Sesame seeds - are high in minerals such as zinc, magnesium and selenium and like flax seeds contain lignans that have a modulatory effect on sex hormones.
Sunflower seeds - contain high amounts of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant thats been shown to improve progesterone production and blood flow to the corpus luteum. Sunflower seeds also contain Gamma linoleic acid or GLA for short. GLA is a precursor essential fatty acid that may reduce premenstrual symptoms such as breast tenderness in the luteal phase.
It's important to use the correct type of seeds in this process which have been sourced organically. This minimises your exposure to pesticides which can be further detrimental to your hormone health. Seeds should be consumed fresh, not cooked as the cooking process can reduce the nutrient content. It’s also important to also grind the seeds fresh when consuming to prevent the oxidation of healthy fats.
Consume 1-2 tablespoon of each seed freshly ground every day depending on where you are in your cycle. This process must be continued throughout the cycle.
You can add seeds to smoothies, as a topping in oats, mix into yoghurt, added to salads or make into protein balls or raw slices. Get creative!
While I love the idea of seed cycling reflecting food as medicine, I cannot stress enough that seed cycling MUST be undertaken ALONG with a healthy balanced diet and lifestyle. You cannot expect to continue with a poor diet and add in some seeds and start seeing results. It’s also important to understand what the drivers are that may have lead to changes in your hormones and seek the advice of a health professional.
In addition, like anything, seed cycling takes time. Your hormones are cyclical and therefore you need to be thinking in terms of cycles to see results. Often it takes 2-3 cycles before a pronounced change is seen with any nutritional change.
Need a bit more guidance? Book a naturopathic consultation to discuss your specific needs.
Knudtson, J , 2019, ‘Biology of the Female Reproductive System - Menstrual cycle’, Merck Manuals, https://www.merckmanuals.com/home/women-s-health-issues/biology-of-the-female-reproductive-system/menstrual-cycle
Phipps et al, 1993, ‘Effects of Flax Seed Ingestion on the Menstrual Cycle,’ The journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 5, 1215-1219, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8077314
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, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8380930
Lephart, E. D, 2015, ‘Modulation of Aromatase by Phytoestrogens,’ Enzyme Research, 1–11, https://www.hindawi.com/journals/er/2015/594656/
Tatasaki et al, 2009, ‘Luteal Blood Flow & luteal Function,’ The Journal of Ovarian Research,2, 1-9, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2633338/
Wu et al, 2006, ‘Sesame Ingestion Affects Sex Hormones, Antioxidant Status & Blood Lipids In Post menopausal Women,’ The Journal of Nutrition, 136, 1270-1275, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/136.5.1270
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, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/095232789390016P