Hormones are complex, delicately balanced chemical messengers that circulate throughout the body and cause target organs to behave in a specific way. They govern many functions including your metabolism, weight, menstrual cycle, menopause, fertility, libido, digestion, and brain function.
When balanced, hormones help to support the mind and body to function optimally, which translates to feeling (and looking) good. On the contrary, when your hormones are imbalanced, they can be the cause of physical and mental-emotional dysfunction.
While there are many reasons why hormones may fall out of balance and many different ways to balance hormones, seed cycling can be a simple, gentle way to help optimize sex hormones (ie. estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone) using medicinal foods. Seed cycling is a naturopathic method that involves consuming specific seeds at varying times throughout one’s menstrual cycle. It is a safe, cost-effective, long-term protocol that can be done on its own or added onto another hormone balancing protocol.
Before diving into the specifics on what seeds to consume, and when, it is helpful to have a general understanding of the phases of the menstrual cycle.
A woman’s menstrual cycle is divided into two phases: the follicular and luteal phases. The follicular phase is from the first day of a woman’s period (ie. day one of menstruation) to approximately day 14 (ie. ovulation). Estrogen should rise during the follicular phase of a menstrual cycle. When one’s estrogen levels are imbalanced, they may experience symptoms such as low libido, digestive disturbances, low mood, and/or fertility issues.
The luteal phase is from day 14 (or when one exactly ovulates), up until menstruation (ie. approximately days 25-32). This phase is marked by an elevation in progesterone. Although estrogen drops during ovulation and then begins to increase again during the luteal phase, progesterone will dominate. In general, irregularly high estrogen levels can lead to fibrocystic breasts (ie. breast swelling, discomfort, and changes to texture), headaches, irritable mood, and heavy periods. Irregular progesterone levels are associated with fertility concerns, endometriosis, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Seed cycling uses sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, and pumpkin seeds during specific phases of one’s cycle. The protocol is as follows:
Raw, whole flax seed*
Raw pumpkin seeds*
Raw, whole sesame seeds*
Raw sunflower seeds*
Phase 1 (Follicular Phase)*:
*If you have an irregular cycle, start on the new moon.
1 tablespoon raw and ground flaxseeds
1 tablespoon raw and ground pumpkin seeds
Phase 2 (Luteal Phase)*
*If you have an irregular cycle, start on the full moon
1 tablespoon organic, raw and ground sesame seeds
1 tablespoon organic, raw and ground sunflower seeds
Why consume these specific seeds?
Why consume these specific seeds?
Both flax and pumpkin seeds contain phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are molecules from plants whose structure resembles estrogen. These plant-based estrogen-like compounds help raise estrogen when estrogen is low, and lower estrogen when it is high. They are rich in zinc, which is a mineral that can help to produce, metabolize, and detoxify estrogen.
Flaxseeds in particular are one of the top medicinal foods I prescribe in my practice for their deeply balancing effect on hormones and bowel function. They are rich in fibre which helps to bind excess estrogen and remove it from the body via bowel movements. They contain omega-3 fatty acids and are high in lignans, which are phytochemicals that support a healthy length and hormonally balanced luteal phase.
Sesame and sunflower seeds are helpful in supporting optimal progesterone levels, which are meant to peak during the luteal phase of the cycle. These seeds are rich in the mineral selenium, which helps with the production of hormones at this time. They are both anti-inflammatory and support overall reproductive health through the antioxidant potential of sesame, and the vitamin E content in sunflower seeds.
Tips and tricks:
You do not need to wait until a particular phase of your cycle to start - you can start right away and take the seeds that correspond with where you are currently at in your cycle.
Organic, raw seeds are best as they are more nutrient dense. Store the seeds in the refrigerator or freezer as they can oxidize quickly.
For optimal freshness, grind the seeds fresh daily. Or, grind enough for one week and store them in the freezer. A coffee grinder should work.
Although you can consume the seeds on their own, you can also add them to your smoothie, coconut yogurt, chia pudding, salads, or in apple sauce. Ensure that you are not cooking the seeds but rather, consuming them raw.
Note: seed cycling will not provide immediate results. Because this protocol harnesses your body’s natural ability to rebalance with the assistance of functional foods, it will likely take at least three menstrual cycles to see any noticeable changes. Depending on the imbalance or symptoms you are working with, how deep the patterns are, and how long you have had the concerns, it may take longer or require additional treatment.
While it is important to be patient, always speak to your naturopathic doctor or trusted healthcare provider if symptoms persist. The right practitioner can assist you in creating an individualized plan that is best suited for you and your hormonal needs.