Part of holistic wellness is understanding that everything in the body is connected. Hormone balance affects many other areas of your health, and when this delicate balance is thrown off for some reason, your body’s way of telling you can be through energy issues, digestive troubles, insomnia, infertility, and more.
My approach to health focuses on getting to the root of the problem with culinary nutrition. For getting hormones back in balance, seed cycling can a powerful way to use whole foods to improve your wellbeing.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling, or seed rotation, uses four types of seeds (pumpkin, flax, sunflower, and sesame) in a strategic way that helps support the production of reproductive hormones: estrogen and progesterone.
My work focuses on those who menstruate and that will be the main context of this post, but this is a nutritional practice that you can incorporate into your diet no matter which stage of life you are in (menstrual years, menopausal, post-menopausal, or hysterectomy patients whose ovaries were not removed).
What a normal menstrual cycle looks like
The menstrual cycle prepares the body for pregnancy. There are four phases:
- The follicular phase: 7-10 days
- The ovulatory phase: 3-4 days
- The luteal phase: 10-14 days
- The menstrual phase: 3-7 days
In the follicular phase, estrogen naturally increases to build up and thicken the endometrium (lining of the uterus) to prepare for an egg. You produce follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) to signal to the ovaries it’s time to release an egg.
LH triggers ovulation and an egg is released from its follicle into the fallopian tube and stays there 12-24 hours. Estrogen and progesterone continue to increase and thicken the uterine lining.
In the luteal phase (most common for PMS symptoms), progesterone peaks and then drops in the latter half of the phase along with FSH and LH. Estrogen continues to rise.
Then comes the menstrual phase. If the egg is not fertilized, the drop in progesterone triggers bleeding, which is the shedding of the uterine lining that was built up to host pregnancy. Estrogen peaks in this phase and then drops to start the cycle over again.
On average, this takes 28-35 days.
With a hormonal imbalance, you may experience symptoms throughout the cycle including ovarian pain, period cramps, bloating, acne, headaches, irritability, cravings, mood swings, and more. Your hormones can be thrown off by stress, toxins, nutrient-deficient diet, digestive issues, or other factors.
Who is seed cycling good for?
Seed cycling is good for anyone experiencing irregular periods, heavy flows, PMS symptoms, symptoms related to menopause, or symptoms related to diagnosed conditions like endometriosis, PCOS, estrogen dominance, or other hormonal imbalances.
Since there are so many potential root causes, if you are trying to solve the issue on your own (which many resort to due to being dismissed at the doctor’s office), doing so through whole foods is a gentle path to go down.
How to start seed cycling
Grab your seeds! You’ll need pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds. These are all high in nourishing omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin E, which support follicle and hormone production.
Day 1-14: Starting the day you get your period, take 1 tbsp of pumpkin seeds and 1 tbsp of flax seeds per day. Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which supports ovarian function and progesterone production, while flax seeds have lignans that help regulate estrogen production by inhibiting any excess.
Day 15-28: Take 1 tbsp each of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Sesame seeds also contain lignans that bind to excess estrogen, while sunflower seeds contain selenium, an important mineral for hormone health that supports your liver in detoxifying excess hormones.
What form should the seeds be in? Seeds can be in the actual seed form or as oil. I recommend grinding the whole seeds in a coffee or spice grinder before using (if you do it ahead of time, keep it in the fridge) so you’re better able to absorb their benefits, otherwise the seeds can pass through your GI tract undigested. I’ve also had clients swap tahini in for sesame seeds, so that’s an option to try too.
What if your cycle is longer than 28 days? Keep up with the rotation, it will take some time for you to get in sync if your periods are irregular. This will take some extra tracking, so just take note of the days that you need to switch so you’re not losing track.
If your periods are regular in that they’re always the same number of days, but you’re experiencing other symptoms, then I would adjust and add or subtract seeds as needed.
If this all sounds too complicated, then you can just follow the moon phases, which never change, so it’s easier.
Seed cycling with the moon
What if you don’t have your period? If you’re trying to get your period back, or if you no longer have it, you can always follow the phases of the moon.
You may also want to download my guide to syncing with the moon for a better cycle. It has some suggestions for food and lifestyle that can help support your hormones, reduce stress, and make life feel like it’s more in flow.
The menstrual phases correspond to the following moon phases:
- Follicular phase = Waxing moon
- Ovulatory phase = Full moon
- Luteal phase = Waning moon
- Menstrual phase = New moon
To start seed rotation with the lunar cycle:
Day 1-14: Starting on the new moon, take 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds and 1 tbsp flax seeds daily.
Day 15-28: Starting on the full moon, take 1 tbsp sunflower seeds and 1 tbsp sesame seeds daily.
How long does it take to see results?
Depending how long you’ve been experiencing hormonal imbalance and the severity of symptoms it could take 3-6 months to start seeing results. Keep up with it!
Seed cycling recipe ideas
So how do you actually manage to get these seeds into your diet every day? There are simple ways you can use the ground seeds or oil (aside from just taking a spoonful of it straight up).
- Sprinkling on top of yogurt
- Adding to a smoothie
- Sprinkling on top of or blending into a smoothie bowl
- Sprinkling on avocado toast
- Mixing into protein balls / energy bites
- Making raw cookies (try these mocha cookies for the follicular phase)
- Stirring into oats
- Mixing it into a salad
I also really like Minimalist Baker’s idea of making seed “mixes” for each phase. She adds chia and coconut to hers, which sort of dilutes the effectiveness if you only stick with the 2 tbsp per day, so if you do go with her mixes I’d just use more of them.
Let me know how it goes!