Seed cycling for hormonal balance
Our menstrual cycle is characterised by oscillating hormone levels, which often translate to rollercoastering emotions. The balance of our hormone levels changes naturally, yet these levels can be disrupted by factors such as stress, lack of sleep, poor diet and oral contraceptives such as ‘the pill’  . A hormone imbalance produce issues such as PMS, period pain and even a very serious condition called endometriosis .
Even though the aforementioned factors wreak havoc on our hormonal balance, there are certain steps we can take that might have a positive influence regulating our hormones. One popular practice is called seed cycling.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling is a natural way that might restore hormonal balance in women. It’s based on the theory that certain ingredients in food contain hormones that can, in turn, influence our body's own hormones. According to this hypothesis, there are different oilseeds we might benefit from eating to help regulate the hormone balance during each phase of our menstrual cycle.
Hormones during our menstrual cycle
How does your hormonal balance fluctuate over the course of an entire menstrual cycle? Starting on the first day of our period, our body’s levels of estrogen and testosterone rise, while progesterone levels fall. Estrogen promotes the growth of the follicles in our ovaries (among other things). At the same time, testosterone promotes our desire for sex. During the follicular phase, the egg cell matures in the ovary and after about two weeks it’s released for fertilisation in a phase called ovulation .
After ovulation, estrogen levels fall and progesterone levels rise for about two weeks. This process initiates the luteal phase, which causes the mucous membrane of the uterus to thicken with blood so that a follicle containing a fertilised egg could grow there comfortably during a possible pregnancy, and progesterone is a very important hormone in preparing the body for this stage. If the egg remains unfertilised, the luteal phase ends with the body flushing out the egg with the bleeding lining of the uterine wall, whereupon estrogen and progesterone levels in the body drop  .
When hormones get out of balance
Both a deficiency and an excess of hormones like estrogen, testosterone and progesterone in our bodies can have many consequences, including e:
- irregular periods
- period pain
- mood swings
- reduced sex drive
- dry skin
- weight gain
- painful breasts
- gastrointestinal issues
- endometrisis .
Where seed cycling might come into play
Some of us might feel like our hormones go haywire shortly after we stop taking oral contraceptives. Or maybe we already experience some of the symptoms mentioned. The hormones found in our foods, specifically in seeds, might help us regulate our hormones through a targeted change in our diets.
Seed cycling focuses on different oil seeds for select phases of the menstrual cycle: In the follicular phase (the first 14 days, from menstruation to ovulation), 1-2 tablespoons of flaxseed and pumpkin seeds are eaten each day. In the luteal phase (the last 14 days, from ovulation to menstruation), the daily intake is replaced by sunflower and sesame seeds.
The idea behind seed cycling is to use the valuable nutrients in oilseeds to support our body naturally as it produces and breaks down the correct hormones for the menstrual cycle.
Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds
Both flax seeds and pumpkin seeds contain lignans, which are secondary plant components that resemble estrogen and can stimulate estrogen production in the body . At the same time, flaxseeds can help eliminate excess estrogen .
Pumpkin seeds have additional potentially beneficial properties: They contain a lot of zinc, which can ensure healthy testosterone levels, as well as multiple antioxidants, which can help protect the ovaries, eggs and the entire reproductive system from free radicals and damage .
Pumpkin seeds also contain an essential amino acid called tryptophan. One study showed that eating seeds with tryptophan can produce similar effects as medications used to treat sleep disorders . Sleep contributes greatly to hormone regulation and balance, and pumpkin seeds might provide helpful sleep support.
Sunflower and sesame seeds
Sesame seeds contain lignans as well, and sunflower seeds contain other valuable nutrients that can support the hormonal balance in the luteal phase .
Sesame seeds not only have anti-inflammatory properties — and inflammation can affect hormonal balance — but it also supports cholesterol metabolism  . Why is this helpful to regulating our hormones? Because cholesterol is the parent molecule of all steroid hormones formed in the ovaries.
Sunflower seeds contain nutrients such as magnesium, which promote healthy levels of prostaglandin, which are lipid compounds that act similar to hormones to stimulate uterine muscle contraction during menstruation. In this way, magnesium might help relieve strong period cramps . Calcium is also found in sunflower seeds, which some studies have shown can alleviate mood problems associated with PMS .
How seed cycling might work for you
Seed cycling uses the power of nature to try to alleviate hormone-related issues. However, this practice is not a substitute for medication. For those of us with severe symptoms, it’s always recommended to a doctor first before trying naturopathic methods such as seed cycling. A combination with conventional medical therapies and other holistic approaches, such as the use of medicinal herbs, might be beneficial.
Each woman's menstrual cycle is unique, which means that each of our needs and how any given practice like seed cycling might work in the body will likely differ as well from woman to woman. And sometimes it takes a few months to observe any results.
While there are numerous online testimonials that tout the benefits of seed cycling, there is no scientific evidence on the matter. Regardless, seeds contain many healthy ingredients such as vitamins, fatty acids and minerals that can give our body’s overall state of health a much needed boost.
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 What to know about female sex hormones
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 Flaxseed — a potential functional food source
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 Antinociceptive and Anti-Inflammatory Activities of the Sesame Oil and Sesamin
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