How To Use Seed Cycling For Hormonal HealthNov 03, 2022
Seed cycling is not new, however it’s recently been brought back from our ancestors and into the mainstream. The origins are a little iffy - though it seems to stem vaguely from traditional Chinese Medicine (different seeds were used to treat male infertility), and has been revamped for modern day womxn by the naturopathic community.
Regardless of the origin, this hormone-supporting practice is one of the top trending wellness practices, and for good reason as more and more women are struggling with hormone imbalances.
This simple - yet powerful - practice helps support balanced hormone levels, reduces PMS or symptoms of menopause; boosts fertility and can help stimulate menstruation if it’s absent (amenorrhea).
In modern times, this is still understudied, however it is gaining scientific backing and greater understanding as a tool to support fertility and reproductive health. We will be looking at this from more of an alternative and Eastern perspective.
While seed cycling alone isn’t a cure-all, when incorporated consistently (especially with other hormone stabling practices - more on this later) it’s a great way to draw on the healing magic of food.
What Is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds during the two main phases of your menstrual cycle (follicular and luteal) to help promote the healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone levels.
Flax and pumpkin seeds promote ovulation in the follicular phase of your cycle and sesame & sunflower seeds help to boost progesterone in the luteal phase.
The seeds involved are high in essential fatty acids (EFAs), which are necessary for regular hormone production. The seeds can also be helpful in binding and eliminating excess hormones.
Seed cycling can be used at any stage of a woman’s life (including post-menopause). However, it’s especially beneficial when coming off of hormonal birth control or struggling with post-birth control syndrome symptoms like acne, irregular periods or missing periods, or PMS.
From an Ayurvedic perspective, hormonal issues are related to imbalances of the Vata Dosha. As we know, menopause is when women enter a new stage in their lives; a stage that is more Vata-centric.
Outside of life stages, there is most likely irregularity in eating times, working times or sleep patterns present. Irregular lifestyle = irregular cycle.
This means that lifestyle habits are super important, alongside a clean diet. Seed cycling is one piece of the puzzle, and the habit of eating them daily is part of that consistency that Vatas desperately need in order to thrive and rebalance.
You already know this, though it’s worth mentioning again; stronger agni will also play a role here. Seeds can be Vata-aggravating when agni is weak, so, if you want to absorb the beneficial nutrients of the seeds (especially when raw), you will need to have strong agni.
Freshly ground seeds are ideal, however if you’re a very imbalanced Vata you may want to activate the seeds and stick with only the recommended 2 Tbsp per day.
Please know that when I'm using gendered terms like "women", I am referring to all people with uteruses including trans men, non-binary folks, and cis-women who've had a hysterectomy.
The human body is truly a miraculous structure, full of promise and complexity. Women’s hormones are especially complex, and naturally fluctuate in a delicate balance.
Additionally, your hormones are massively influenced by your diet, exercise, sleep, stress levels, hormonal contraceptives, and environmental toxins. This means that any of these factors can throw your hormones out of that delicate balance.
In turn, a slight hormone imbalance can become the underlying issue for a number of health concerns, including irregular periods, PMS, symptoms of menopause, acne, PCOS, endometriosis, infertility, thyroid disorders, weight management, amenorrhea, appetite & digestion, anxiety, bloating, water retention, libido, and chronic fatigue.
Seed cycling may help alleviate hormone-related symptoms and imbalances.
The idea behind it is that certain seeds can help to balance both estrogen and progesterone levels at different stages of your monthly cycle - no matter what age you are, or whether or not you still menstruate. I won’t get into how your menstrual cycle and hormones work, though if you’re curious and want to learn more (which I recommend every womxn does), you can do a little research starting here.
To better understand seed cycling, you need to understand the two main phases of your menstrual cycle.
- The first 14 days of your cycle makes up the follicular phase
- The following 14 days make up the luteal phase.
During a normal menstrual cycle, your estrogen and progesterone levels ebb and fall in a predictable rhythm. As you approach menopause, your hormone levels may start to fluctuate more erratically. After menopause, production of both hormones settles at a significantly lower level.
When your hormone levels are balanced, it would look a little something like this:
Follicular Phase (New Moon to Full Moon)
- This stage consists of your menses and follicular phase (days 1-14)
- Estrogen rises.
A little fun fact about estrogen is that it’s made from cholesterol. This may seem shocking, given all the flack that cholesterol is given in the media. Cholesterol - healthy fats - are necessary for hormonal health!!
Luteal Phase (Full Moon to New Moon)
- This stage consists of ovulation and luteal phase (days 15-28)
- Progesterone levels rise (while estrogen levels slowly decline)
Of course, these are approximate dates because every woman has her own unique cycle to follow. For those of you who are no longer menstruating (due to birth control, menopause or amenorrhea), you will follow the lunar cycle of 28 days. More on this in a moment.
How to know when you’re in each phase
I highly recommend you start tracking immediately - even if you don’t menstruate. It guarantees that you are syncing the correct seeds with each phase of your cycle since ovulation can occur at slightly different times each month. I use a free app called Clue to track my flow. There are other methods for a precise reading, such as basal body temperature (BBT) tracking, however this takes a bit more commitment and tools.
The nutritional component in seeds
Forewarning, this next segment of this lesson is pretty sciencey - but I know that some of you really want to know what specific nutrients these seeds have, and why they are important. If you’re not into the nutrient facts of seed cycling, feel free to skip ahead to the practical application of seed cycling.
For those of you who are geeky like me, here we go!
Flax seeds are considered phytoestrogens, which have a weak estrogen-like effect in the body.
Lignans are precursors to phytoestrogens. This naturally supports healthy estrogen production.
Flax seeds are unique in that they also contain nutritional components called lignans which can help to bind excess estrogen.
Research shows that flax seeds help in lengthening the luteal phase, improving ovulation and reducing common PMS symptoms such as breast pain and cramping.
Sesame seeds also contain lignans which help to block excess estrogen during the second phase of your menstrual cycle when progesterone rises.
Research shows that sesame seeds are beneficial for postmenopausal women by improving blood lipids, antioxidants, and sex hormones.
ZINC & SELENIUM
Pumpkin and sesame seeds both contain high levels of zinc.
This mineral helps to improve the formation of the corpus luteum in the uterus.
The corpus luteum is responsible for producing progesterone and stimulates the uterus to thicken in preparation for potential implantation.
Sunflower seeds, high in the trace mineral selenium, support estrogen detoxification in the liver. This helps reduce excess estrogen during the luteal phase when estrogen declines and progesterone rises.
OMEGA-3S, OMEGA-6S + VITAMIN E
Both flax and pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3s promote blood flow to the uterus. Increase progesterone secretion and help maintain healthy cell membranes. In addition, Vitamin E has been linked to reducing PMS symptoms.
Research also shows that Vitamin E, omega-3s and omega-6s found in pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, and flax seeds are essential for hormone production and follicle function.
How to add seed cycling to your daily routine
Alright, we’re back into the practical stuff now.
This is a lot of information. Let’s take a deep breath before moving on.
In a typical seed cycling protocol, you eat two tablespoons of raw, ground seeds every day. You can simply use a coffee/spice grinder to grind the seeds. I grind about a cup at a time and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge or freezer. I also really enjoy Bliss Balls, so if you make a plan to make some every four weeks, you’ll always have some on-hand - and there are many different scrumptious recipes out there and in your Recipe Guide.
Seed cycling when you have your period
- Start with pumpkin and flax seeds during phase one - the Follicular phase - on the first day of your period and switch to phase two on day 14.
- On day 14, you'll move into the Luteal phase and consume both sesame and sunflower seeds.
Seed cycling when you don't have a period
If, for whatever reason, you no longer menstruate (birth control, amenorrhea, hysterectomy, or menopause):
- Start phase one (pumpkin and flax) on the new moon and phase two (sesame and sunflower) on the full moon.
Howling is optional.
Incorporating seed cycling into your daily routine couldn’t be easier. Simply sprinkle that shit on anything! Purists insist that the seeds be raw and freshly ground. (Chewing well, of course, counts as grinding.) I’m all about sustainability - so if you pre-grind them a month in advance at least you’re getting it in, gurl.
Some creative ways to use your seed cycling seed mix
- I top my morning chia pudding with the ground seeds, throw them into smoothies or oatmeal, or just sprinkle them on top of any Vegetabowl.
- Add to smoothies, dairy-free yogurt, oatmeal or chia seed pudding
- Sprinkle on toast, Vegetabowls, salads, curries or soups
- Pesto with pumpkin and flax seeds
- Seed cycling bliss balls or bars
- Homemade or natural seed butter
- Make homemade granola with pumpkin and flax or sesame and sesame seeds
Seed Cycling FAQ
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SEE RESULTS?
Like all plant medicine, seed cycling takes time to work with your body. It can take at least three months of daily use to start noticing the benefits - however I’ve seen results in myself and others within a week of starting. It all depends on how clean your diet is and how stable your habits are prior to beginning.
Keeping a journal to track your symptoms throughout the month can help you identify the shifts happening over the months.
You might be wondering "do I have to stick with this for life?" The truth is, it’s entirely up to you. Seed cycling is such an easy and gentle way to naturally support your hormone balance daily, you may want to consider it. It may feel daunting to think about doing this forever, but once you get into a habit, it may become second nature. I recommend taking it month-by-month. Making a monthly goal to seed cycle makes it feel much more manageable.
Things to know before you start seed cycling
TRACK YOUR CYCLE
This is so important! While you can follow the moon phases, it’s best to rotate seeds with your unique cycle. In order to do this, you need to track your cycle. In fact, this is important to do regardless if you seed cycle, have your period, don’t have your period, or are not a woman. Everyone could do well to be more in-tune with their bodies.
GRIND YOUR SEEDS
Use a coffee or spice grinder (or blender) to grind the seeds - especially the flax and sesame. This helps your body digest them. That being said, if you aren’t able to grind them it’s okay, just make sure you chew the crap outta them! I’d much rather you incorporate them one way or another…
The only exception is flax seeds, which your body can’t break down or absorb if left whole. In fact, I prefer to buy flax meal (pre-ground flax seeds) for ease.
USE RAW SEEDS
It’s best to use raw (un-roasted, unsalted) seeds to ensure they have all of their nutrients intact and nothing was lost in the roasting process. Using organic seeds when available helps reduce pesticide exposure which can disrupt hormones.
If raw seeds cause you digestive problems, you can always activate them by soaking and or sprouting them.
STORE IN THE REFRIGERATOR OR FREEZER
The polyunsaturated fats in seeds oxidize and go rancid very quickly, especially in sunlight and warmer temperatures.
Keeping the seeds in a cool, dark place like the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh.
PRIORITIZE HORMONE BALANCE
Remember, seed cycling isn’t a cure-all.
Hormone imbalances are often a result of digestive issues, blood sugar imbalances, stress, a lack of dietary fat and protein, lack of sleep, chemicals in non-organic foods (pesticides and sprays), and environmental toxins (like your cleaning and skincare products). You can’t expect seed cycling to give you the boost you need without prioritizing good sleep, managing your stress, eating well and staying hydrated and limiting your exposure to hormone-disrupting toxins.
In truth, there is little scientific research that supports the direct relationship between seed cycling and improved hormonal balance in women. There simply have not been enough studies done on this practice. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t work! It’s important to keep an open mind with nutrition and natural healing practices since there are limitations in research and lack of studies on specific topics.
I always like to refer back to our ancestors. They were much more in tune with the rhythms of nature, and didn’t need to have scientific proof to know that it works. When we look to Nature, we can see that there is a Divine perfection She exhibits. When we allow ourselves to align with those rhythms, that “knowing” becomes intrinsic and unshakeable.
Your Next Steps:
- Now, go download a cycle tracking app and be diligent with this.
- For those of you who no longer menstruate, go mark your calendar with the Moon Phases. Google Calendar even has a function where you can add the calendar phases in there automatically.
- Finally, make this as easy as possible. Like with all of the habits in here - make it easy for yourself, not harder. Consistency is KEY. Make bliss balls, pre-grind the seeds, put sticky notes on your meal prep and bathroom mirror. Do whatcha gotta do.
Love you long time.