Whether your menstrual cycle is regular, irregular or missing, seed cycling is a nutritional intervention that you can incorporate to support healthy periods. Benefits span from increasing intake of anti-inflammatory fats, to optimizing hormone balance with natural phytoestrogens.
Follicular Phase Seeds
1. Flax seeds: Considered an optimal source of lignans and omega 3.
- Lignans such as secoisolariciresinol, matairecinol and pinoresinol can be converted by intestinal bacteria into enterolactone and enterodiol. These lignans directly affect hormonal balance and are found to decrease risk of breast and prostate cancer(1).
- Flax seeds are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acid alpha- linoleic acid. Omega-3 fatty acids have been found to support follicle structure and function for hormone production, including increasing progesterone secretion.(2)
2. Pumpkin seeds: Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of zinc.
- Seven tablespoons (100g) of whole roasted, unshelled pumpkin seeds contain about 10 milligrams of zinc(3). Zinc has been found to increase follicle stimulating hormone (FSH)(4). FSH in turn supports the follicular phase and ovulation, triggering the ovaries to produce progesterone.
Luteal Phase Seeds
3. Sesame seeds are a rich source of nutrients such as copper and manganese. They also contain sesamin and sesamolin, which are lignans that are converted by gut bacteria into enterolactone, similar to flaxseeds. In post- menopausal women sesame seed powder has been found to increase urinary 2-hydroxyestrone, which is protective of breast cancer risk(5).
4. Sunflower Seeds: Sunflower seeds are a rich source of vitamin E. Vitamin E has anti- inflammatory effects, found to decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in women (6). Pre-menses, this antioxidant may play a role in reducing inflammation that studies have suggested is behind period pain (7). Sunflower seeds are also a source of selenium, a trace mineral incorporated into glutathione peroxidase for detoxification by the liver.
1. Identify follicular and luteal phases of your cycle.
• Regular cycle:
- If you know the day that you ovulate, the follicular phase is Day 1 that your start to bleed up to the day of ovulation. The luteal phase is the day after ovulation to the day before your period starts.
- On average, periods last 28 days long. Day 1-14 is considered the follicular phase, and Day 15 to 28, the luteal phase.
- If your cycle is shorter or longer than 28 days, divide the length of your cycle in half. The first half is an approximation of your follicular phase, and the second half, your luteal phase.
• No period or Irregular period:
- Follow the lunar cycle.
- Day 1 of the follicular phase is New Moon. Day 14, the day of ovulation, is considered the day of Full Moon, marking the end of the follicular phase. Day 15-28 is the span of the luteal phase, as Day 28 transitions into the New Moon again.
2. During the follicular phase Day 1 to 14, or until ovulation, consume at least 1 tablespoon each of ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds daily.
• Freshly ground flax seeds are optimal. If you are using seeds that have already been ground, store in an air-tight container, refrigerate, and keep away from bright light
• To minimize bloating, gradually increase your intake of ground flax, starting with one teaspoon and working your way up to one tablespoon. Additionally, consider increasing your intake of water to reduce bloating associated with ground flax.
3. During the luteal phase Day 15 to 28, or until menses, consume 1 tablespoon each of raw sunflower and sesame seeds daily.
4. The seeds can be eaten in smoothies, salads or soups to ease their digestion.
Note: Though there are many anecdotal reports of benefit, at this time research trials on seed cycling as an intervention are lacking. Have fun incorporating this food based intervention into your diet, knowing that you are increasing your intake of healthy fats!
- The key benefit I find in cycling the seeds across the month is that it increases awareness of the rhythms of sex hormones and natural phenomena.
- Increased awareness & tracking of the menstrual cycle is an important first step to gaining insight into how sex hormones influence mood, energy and focus for you.
- Ovulation is typically the time when estrogen peaks and progesterone starts to increase, and women find themselves having a higher libido and being at their most fertile. Ovulation is associated with the full moon in seed cycling, mirroring urban myths associated with energy peaking during the full moon.
- I recommending taking some time to moon bathe, or observe the moon indoors and outdoors while you practice seed cycling.
- If you have difficulty with the “cycling” aspect of seed consumption, you may consume at least 1 tablespoon of all four seeds daily across the month to obtain the nutritious benefits of the seeds.
- Flaxseeds. The George Mateljan Foundation. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php? tname=foodspice&dbid=81 Accessed December 15, 2017
- Zachut M, Dekel I, Lehrer H, et al. Effects of dietary fats differing in n-6:n-3 ratio fed to high- yielding dairy cows on fatty acid composition of ovarian compartments, follicular status, and oocyte quality. J Dairy Sci. 2010;93(2):529-545.
- The World’s Healthiest Foods. Pumpkin Seeds. Available online: http://whfoods.org/ genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=82. Accessed December 15, 2017
- Jalali GR1, Roozbeh J, Mohammadzadeh A, Sharifian M, Sagheb MM, Hamidian Jahromi A, Shabani S, Ghaffarpasand F, Afshariani R. Impact of oral zinc therapy on the level of sex hormones in male patients on hemodialysis. Ren Fail. 2010 May;32(4):417-9. doi: 10.3109/08860221003706958.
- Wen-Huey Wu, Yu-Ping Kang, Nai-Hung Wang, Hei-Jen Jou, and Tzong-An Wang. Sesame Ingestion Affects Sex Hormones, Antioxidant Status, and Blood Lipids in Postmenopausal Women. 2006 American Society for Nutrition
- Sunflower seeds. The George Mateljan Foundation. http://whfoods.org/genpage.php? tname=foodspice&dbid=57 Accessed December 15,2017
- Evans J1, Salamonsen LA. Rev Endocr Metab Disord. 2012 Dec;13(4):277-88. doi: 10.1007/s11154-012-9223-7. Inflammation, leukocytes and menstruation.