Seed Cycling: The Trendiest (And Weirdest) Tool For Better Hormone Balance
Have you heard of seed cycling? It's one of the best "food as medicine" tools for getting your cycle back on track, balancing your hormones, and making those period problems disappear. As a naturopathic doctor, women's health expert, and author of the upcoming book Beyond the Pill, I frequently suggest seed cycling to my patients and even do it myself.
What is seed cycling and how does it work?
One of the best things about seed cycling is that it can be beneficial at any stage in a woman's life, but I often suggest it to women who are going through the process of coming off hormonal birth control as a way to get their natural cycle back and start improving their hormonal health naturally.
I've seen women struggling with symptoms of PMS, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), post-birth control syndrome (PBCS), irregular periods, acne, and breast tenderness benefit from adding seed cycling to their routine. As I guide you in how to get started with seed cycling, I am going to reference a 28-day cycle. But please note, you may have a cycle that is longer or shorter. In fact, only a small percentage of women have 28-day cycles, so please don't stress, and simply adapt the cycle to fit your cycle.
How to start seed cycling for better hormone balance.
Day 1 of your cycle is the first day that your period begins. And says 1 through 14 of your cycle are considered the follicular phase. During the follicular phase, your estrogen is increasing and an egg is maturing in preparation for ovulation. Ovulation, which typically occurs on day 14 for women with a 28-day cycle and is characterized by the release of an egg, marks the end of the follicular phase. On day 15, you enter the luteal phase. In this phase, the now-empty follicle turns into a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone and helps thicken your uterine lining to prepare for a pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, you will get your period. The lining of your uterus, also known as the endometrium, will shed during your period, and then your body will begin building it again in order to prepare for a fertilized egg. So how do you seed cycle thought this 28-day series of events? Let's start with the follicular phase:
1. Eat pumpkin and flax seeds from days 1 through 14 (AKA, the follicular phase).
When your period arrives, eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of freshly ground flax seeds and raw pumpkin seeds through day 14. These seeds can help naturally increase your estrogen1 while also providing fiber to support healthy estrogen metabolism. It's an excellent way to create a healthy level of estrogen without leading to excess levels, also known as estrogen dominance. Seeds are rich in essential fatty acids and nutrients, like zinc and selenium, which are the building blocks needed to create awesomely healthy hormones2.
Flax seeds in particular are rich in lignans, which have a weak estrogenic effect3 and have been shown to be beneficial in preventing osteoporosis, improving estrogen and progesterone ratios, and heart disease in women. Research has also shown that women with PCOS who consume flax seeds may also experience a positive shift in androgens4, which are what cause hair loss, acne, and hirsutism for women with this condition.
There have also been studies showing that cyclical breast tenderness, like the kind that comes on right before your period, is improved by including flax seeds in your diet5. Also notable is that some studies have shown that the lignans found in pumpkin seeds may be beneficial in breast cancer prevention6.
2. Eat sesame seeds or sunflower seeds during the luteal phase (days 15 through 28).
Following ovulation, or on day 15 of your cycle, eat 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh ground sunflower and sesame seeds. The second half of your cycle is your luteal phase, when your progesterone levels rise and peak. Progesterone is the hormone that is responsible for easing unwanted PMS symptoms like bloating, mood swings, and insomnia.
Sesame seeds have been shown to be beneficial for women's hormones7, even through menopause. Sesame and sunflower seeds also contain lignans and essential fatty acids that support the hormones that carry us through the luteal phase. For postpartum moms, postmenopausal women or those who are experiencing amenorrhea (no periods), seed cycling can be done by following the moon cycle. Use the new moon as your day 1 and eat flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. When the full moon arrives, switch to the sunflower and sesame seeds.
How to get creative with your seed cycling.
While a smoothie may seem like an obvious place to include these seeds into your diet, as I explain in Beyond the Pill, you can incorporate seeds into all kinds of foods (and yes, I give you recipes too). The seeds should be raw and the flax and sesame seeds need to be fresh ground. Avoid buying pre-ground flax seeds, as this allows the oils to become oxidized, and they do not have the same benefits.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Enjoy a homemade pumpkin seed pesto
- Make a fresh seed butter to enjoy with fresh fruit
- Make a yogurt parfait with seeds instead of granola
- Sprinkle them on salads
- Whip up a fresh (untoasted) tahini
- Add them to your morning oatmeal
- Include them in a no-bake energy bar or cookie recipe
So there you have it! Seed cycling is an incredibly helpful tool for better health and has the added bonus of being a totally food-based approach.
Jolene Brighten, N.D., is a women’s health expert currently working as the President and Chief Medical Officer at Rubus Health in Portland, Oregon. She received her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine at the National University of Natural Medicine and a bachelor’s in Nutrition Science from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She is the best-selling author of Beyond the Pill, in which she shares her clinical protocols aimed at supporting women struggling with symptoms of hormone imbalance, including Post-Birth Control Pill Syndrome and birth control related side effects. Dr. Brighten has been featured in the New York Post, Cosmopolitan, Forbes, ABC News, and The Guardian.