What is Seed Cycling?
After my maternity leave, I started to realise that the longer I took off work, the harder it would be to get back into the swing of it. Not only do nutritionists need to stay on top of the latest health science, we also need to be aware of new health fads that pervade wellness spaces.
Of which, let's be honest, there are many!
So the real question I had was, is Seed Cycling a fad or is it something legit?
I knew about the benefits of seeds and I knew about women’s menstrual cycles. I also knew of research showing that the consumption of seeds supports general hormone function. But could Seed Cycling help our bodies to modulate our reproductive hormones each month.
So what exactly does seed cycling bring to the table for us women and our crazy bodies?
Seed Cycling is the practice of consuming different seeds at different stages of your menstrual cycle in order to balance your hormones at those times and alleviate unnecessary discomfort during your period.
The seeds most commonly used are flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
Piquing my curiosity, as I started reading about Seed Cycling as a protocol, I started to appreciate the holistic, sensible philosophy underlying this approach. What’s so great about it, is that it’s completely adaptable depending on your age, individual cycle and general reproductive health.
Seed Cycling for Hormone Health
To be clear, women’s menstrual cycles include changes in both the ovaries and uterus. What Seed Cycling aims to do, is modulate the hormones involved in the two broad phases of the ovarian cycle, known as the follicular and the luteal phases.
Phase 1 - Follicular phase
Begins on Day 1 of your cycle and ends approximately on Day 14. This corresponds to the start of your period leading up to the day of ovulation.
During Phase 1...
- luteinising hormone (LH) and
- follicular stimulating hormone (FSH)
are the dominant hormones. These hormones stimulate the ovary to release an egg for fertilisation and prepare the uterus for implantation. Testosterone is also prevalent in this phase as it helps with libido.
Phase 2 - Luteal phase
Begins at ovulation and lasts until you get your period. Here, the egg has been released, progesterone rises and is maintained as your body expects pregnancy to occur. Of course when it doesn’t occur, you get your period and the whole cycle begins again.
About your cycle…
Different women ovulate at different times, and most women are surprised to learn that it can even vary month to month. It’s not uncommon for ovulation to be on Day 12 or Day 16 (oh, hi!🙋♀️) and many women experience lengthened luteal phases, meaning your whole cycle could range from 26 days to 35 days.
Anything vastly over or under this along with painful symptoms, irritability, skin issues and bloating could all indicate reproductive hormone issues that warrant investigating.
The beauty of the food-as-medicine concept is that many whole foods work synergistically when consumed. Supported by research, we know that a greater protective effect exists from the combination of phytochemicals when eaten, which work together to augment the other’s activity in the body.
For the purposes of Seed Cycling, I don’t think the timing of when to include each seed needs to be strict, your body is wise and will pick up nutrients as she needs. What matters is providing those nutrients in the first place.
How to Seed Cycle
- During Phase 1 (Days 1 -14) you should include 1-2 tbsps pumpkin and/or flax seeds in your diet. They can be either ground or whole.
- Then during Phase 2 (Days 15-28) include 1-2 tbsps ground or fresh sesame and/or sunflower seeds.
Collectively, the vitamin E, omega 3 and 6 essential fatty acids found in ALL four seed varieties will help promote reproductive hormone function and the health of the ovaries and uterus.
Other general benefits of Seed Cycling:
- Zinc from pumpkin seeds supports progesterone and testosterone synthesis, and can help reduce period pain.
- Lignans from sesame seeds and flaxseeds are converted via gut bacteria into enterolactones, which help metabolise and clear away oestrogen. This helps oestrogen-dominant conditions such as PMS and breast cancer.
- Flaxseeds may increase the probability of ovulation and help with PMS-related breast tenderness.
- Sesame seeds may improve acne, PMS and PCOS presentations.
Will Seed Cycling Fix All My Hormone Concerns?
Good health practices take time to gain a positive effect. It’s time to manage your expectations. This means you can’t expect a few seeds to resolve an oestrogen imbalance within a week.
In most cases, with anything related to hormone health, health practitioners will say to allow 3-4 months for any treatment to take effect.
In a clinical setting, Seed Cycling wouldn’t be a stand-alone treatment to address underlying oestrogen dominance, fertility, PMS, acne or heavy periods. Lifestyle factors like stress, toxin exposure, hydration, sleep, exercise and the overall quality of your diet will all play into your hormone health.
This last point may be the reason why Seed Cycling as a fashionable wellness trend has fallen out of favour more recently. With all the hype of Seed Cycling as a panacea, guess what, it’s not that simple!
That said, I still think Seed Cycling is valuable. When used consciously and in conjunction with other healthful practices that support overall hormone health. Seed Cycling can offer a framework for understanding how the seeds can benefit your health and a simple way to include them. You’re therefore more likely to follow through with something if you understand it and it’s easy to to do.
If it means you’re more aware of what you’re eating, what you’re thinking, how you’re moving and you get to learn about your menstrual cycle - then perhaps Seed Cycling it’s a worthwhile ritual.
The only way you’ll know if something works for you, is just to try it for yourself.
It seems to be a theoretical idea that would no doubt have different effects on different women. As is true in all therapeutic approaches, a tailored one is best. So it’s important to work with a health practitioner who is able to look at your individual health, hormones and lifestyle to see if Seed Cycling could work for you.
Seed Cycling Energy Balls
- ½ cup chopped almonds or walnuts
- ½ cup pumpkin seeds (or sunflower seeds)
- ¼ cup ground flaxseeds (or sesame seeds in combination with sunflower)
- 1 Pinch salt
- 3 Tablespoons cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 cup pitted Medjool dates
- 1-2 Tablespoons coconut oil
- Add nuts, whole seeds, ground seeds, and salt into food processor.
- Blend until very fine consistency.
- Add in the remaining ingredients, starting with just one tbsp. of the oil.
- Blend again, until mixture begins to thicken and sticks together inside the processor.
- Add another tbsp of oil until mixture holds its shape when squeezed.
- Scoop and shape mixture into balls.
- Sprinkle with cacao powder.
- Store in the fridge or freezer.
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