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A Guide to Seed Cycling for Hormonal Balance

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A Guide to Seed Cycling for Hormonal Balance

There is a trending hormone health hack taking over the internet. One that claims to help balance hormones, reduce PMS, and even ease the transition into menopause. If you've never heard of Seed Cycling, you'll want to take note of the four seeds that could have a profound impact on your hormone health. Although there is limited research on this method, many holistic-minded practitioners successfully utilize seed cycling to help their patients achieve balanced hormones. Experts on the topic even say that it's one of the best "food as medicine" protocols.

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What is Seed Cycling

Seed Cycling is a method used to help balance two phases of your menstrual cycle, the follicular and the luteal phases, by influencing the key hormones involved.

Progesterone and estrogen are the major hormones in regulating the menstrual cycle. The concept behind seed cycling is that specific seeds benefit your follicular phase while other seeds support the luteal phase. Rotating these seeds throughout the menstrual cycle can help regulate dysfunction, resulting in more balanced hormones and fewer hormone-related symptoms like hot flashes, PMS, irregular periods, and PCOS.  

Overview of Hormones in a Menstrual Cycle

The menstrual cycle is the process of creating conditions for ovulation and subsequent fertilization or menstruation. A woman's body undergoes physiological changes over an average of 28 days, creating the conditions for these processes.

While cycle variability ranges from 21-35 days, each person's menstrual cycle is calculated in the same manner. Your cycle starts on day one of menstruation (a period) and ends on the first day of your next period. During these days, your body will go through three phases- the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. When it comes to seed cycling, the two phases of importance are the follicular phase and the luteal phase.

Phase 1: Follicular Phase

Days 1-14 of your cycle are known as the follicular phase. This can also be identified as day one of menstruation to ovulation. From day one to approximately day six, the lining of the uterus (endometrium) sheds while menstruating. During this phase, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which initiates egg development, is released from your pituitary gland through a cascade of brain signals. After menses, FSH stimulates your ovaries to produce multiple follicles, each containing an immature egg. Out of these eggs, only one will typically mature. This maturation process causes the hormone estrogen to surge to help rebuild and thicken the endometrial layer. This rise in estrogen also causes luteinizing hormone (LH) to be released, which starts the next phase-ovulation.

Ovulation

A women's fertile window can span six days, with Day 14 of your cycle being the theoretical ovulation day. During ovulation, your ovary releases a mature egg. The job of this egg is to travel through the fallopian tube, where it will either become fertilized by sperm or dissolve.

Phase 2: Luteal Phase

Days 15 to 28 of your menstrual cycle are called the luteal phase. At this point, the surge in LH, which caused ovulation stimulates the release of the hormone Progesterone. This increase in progesterone, coming from the corpus luteum, begins its role in preparing the uterus for fertilization and implantation.

Throughout this phase, progesterone is the dominant hormone, but estrogen is still present due to the production from the corpus luteum. If fertilization occurs, these hormones will be maintained by the corpus luteum. If fertilization does not happen, both hormones rapidly decline, leading to the beginning of the cycle and your menstrual period.

How Seed Cycling Can Influence Hormones

If you are suffering from PMS, have PCOS, are approaching menopause, or have recently come off hormonal birth control, Seed Cycling could be a functional nutrition option to help balance your hormones. The seeds recommended for seed cycling are flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds.

Flax and pumpkin seeds are utilized for phase 1, while sesame and sunflower seeds are ideal for phase 2. Each seed is said to provide nutritional benefits which enhance the hormones in their respective phases. Healthcare practitioners that utilize seed cycling in their practice recommend a wide therapeutic range. Some say to do it when you need to re-balance hormones, while others believe it can be a lifelong practice for hormone maintenance. Here is what each phase entails, including the cycling protocol.

Phase 1: Pumpkin and Flax Seeds

During phase 1, estrogen is the dominant hormone. Estrogen deficiency can play a role in infertility and is also part of the natural process of menopause. Balancing estrogen with pumpkin and flax seeds is promising due to the lignans found in these seeds, which act as phytoestrogens.

Phytoestrogens are plant compounds that have estrogen-like properties and can modulate your body's estrogen production. One study showed beneficial results of flax seed ingestion on menstruation. Results revealed that those regularly consuming flax seeds in their diet had consistent periods, compared to three anovulatory cycles in the control group.

An additional benefit is that both seeds in this phase contain zinc, a mineral necessary for LH release and ovulation. Zinc, a common deficiency associated with estrogen imbalance, can also decrease symptoms of PMS. Implementing these seeds during phase 1 can assist in proper cycle regulation by influencing hormone function and essential nutrients.

Phase 1 Protocol

During the follicular phase (Days 1-14), consume pumpkin and flax seeds. You can take these seeds solo or add them to your meals. They are a great addition to smoothies and yogurt or can be sprinkled on salads or meals.

Days 1-14 consume:

  • 1 Tbsp organic raw pumpkin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp organic ground raw flax seeds

Phase 2: Sesame Seeds and Sunflower Seeds

During phase 2, progesterone is the dominant hormone. Utilizing sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase, days 15-28, has shown to be clinically relevant in supporting healthy progesterone levels. A study on the effects of sesame seed ingestion and sex hormones revealed that consuming 50g of sesame seed powder for five weeks resulted in an elevation of serum sex hormone-bind globulin (SHBG).

Both seeds contain fatty acids and lignans that help maintain hormones during the luteal phase. Sunflower seeds are also rich in vitamin E and selenium, which help with ovulation, progesterone production, and the detoxification of hormones.

Phase 2 Protocol

During the luteal phase (Days 15-28), it is recommended to consume sunflower and sesame seeds. Like phase 1, you can consume these separately or with food. Sunflower and sesame seeds are great additions to salads or toppings on a savory dish.

Days 15-28 consume:

  • 1 Tbsp ground organic raw sunflower seeds
  • 1 Tbsp ground organic raw sesame seeds

Functional Medicine Labs to Consider When Seed Cycling

Obtaining functional labs can help determine if your hormones are out of balance or if nutrient deficiencies are playing a role.

Dutch complete or Dutch Cycle Mapping + Complete are great options for evaluating pulsatile sex hormones, their metabolites, and adrenal hormones. If you have irregular periods, missed periods, PCOS, or menopausal, the Dutch Cycle Mapping + Complete may be a better option. This test includes a mapping of progesterone and estrogen throughout your menstrual cycle, which can help in evaluation and treatment.

A blood hormone panel would be an option for a snapshot of hormones. This could be helpful for those with regular menses but going through a transition period, such as discontinuation of birth control.

Nutrient deficiencies are possible contributors to hormonal dysfunction. Measuring your vitamin and mineral status through micronutrient testing could provide some clarity.

Benefits of Seeds Outside of Hormones

Adding seeds to your diet can help beyond hormone health. There are numerous benefits to eating these seeds in moderation. Seeds are high in omega fatty acids, which have health benefits ranging from fetal development, healthy cholesterol maintenance, and reduced inflammation. Consumption of seeds can also help with adequate insoluble fiber intake, which in turn aids in digestion.

There is some evidence showing that flax seed can improve fasting blood sugar, HbA1C, and insulin, which points to it being a great functional food for pre-diabetes. Flax seeds have also shown beneficial results in decreasing a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Pumpkin seeds have been shown to be beneficial to those suffering from overactive bladder conditions.

Sesame seeds are rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Black sesame seeds are commonly used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to build Jing, Yin, and Blood. They are a go-to food as medicine herb for women with menstrual cycles and to help rebuild blood after birth.

Sunflower seeds are a source of many vitamins and minerals. Studies have found that consuming sunflower seeds could lower inflammation, improve heart health, and support the immune system.

Summary

If you suffer from hormone imbalances, infertility, menopause, or PMS, seed cycling may be worth a try. If you are considering implementing this method, it is always best to consult with a doctor that specializes in this area. Acquiring information through laboratory testing and a thorough health intake is the best way to customize a protocol that addresses your health goals. If your hormones are not an issue, we encourage you to enjoy these seeds in moderation, as they support many other areas of your health!

Lab Tests in This Article

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References

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