Hormones seem to be the culprit behind nearly every health-related woe these days. An imbalance of these pesky but powerful chemicals may be to blame if you have an irregular menstrual period, anovulation (the fancy word for an absence of a period), or PMS symptoms. It may also be why some struggle with infertility. If these difficulties aren’t enough, hormonal imbalance is what also makes perimenopause symptoms, like hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood swings, so uncomfortable, too.
While there are medical options like birth control and hormonal therapy to balance the hormonal scale, Mother Nature has our back, too. “Seed cycling is a natural way to reestablish hormonal balance,” says Dr. Kristy Vermeulen of Radiant Health San Francisco. She explains that seed cycling is the process of strategically ingesting seeds like pumpkin, flax, sunflower, and sesame during your cycle. (Yes, you can eat your way to balanced hormones.)
How does hormonal imbalance occur to begin with?
Estrogen and progesterone are the key hormones that regulate your cycle. Estrogen levels increase during the first part of your cycle, whereas progesterone rises during the last half of your cycle. In other words, it’s normal to have different levels of estrogen and progesterone during your cycle—it’s the way our bodies naturally work. When these different levels are in balance relative to each other, our cycles go smoothly. But when they are not, the aforementioned symptoms can start to present themselves.
Seed cycling for balance
“Seeds, like pumpkin, flax, and sesame, contain natural compounds called lignans and essential fatty acids,” says Dr. Vermeulen. “Lignans help our body bind up excess hormones, while essential fatty acids work to promote ideal hormone production. Together, this contributes to balanced hormone levels, hence a balanced cycle.”
Different seeds contain different types and amounts of lignans and essential fatty acids. Here’s an overview from Dr. Vermeulen of the seeds used for cycling and why they’re beneficial to hormonal balance:
- Flax and sesame seeds are full of lignans, which block excess estrogens.
- Sunflower seeds are high in selenium, a trace mineral that is essential for the liver detoxification.
- Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which supports progesterone release.
Your seed prescription
Seed cycling isn’t quite as simple as downing a bag sunflower seeds as your daily mid-afternoon snack. According to Dr. Vermeulen, it’s best to have flax and pumpkin seeds during the first phase of your menstrual cycle and sesame and sunflower seeds during the second phase. Here’s her recommended protocol for patients:
- Cycle Day 1-14: 1 tablespoon each of freshly ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds daily.
- Cycle Day 15-28: 1 tablespoon each of freshly ground sunflower and sesame seeds daily.
Tips to keep top of mind
Dr. Vermeulen adds that it’s important for the seeds to be freshly ground because this allows the essential fatty acids to be more easily absorbed in our bodies. “It is key to freshly grind your seeds everyday at home,” she says. “If you buy seeds that have already been ground, the essential fatty acids can go rancid. If you don’t have the time to grind your seeds everyday, you can do it once a week and store them in the freezer.” An electric seed grinder, similar to a coffee grinder, is quick and will work perfectly.
By adding the ground seeds to your morning smoothie or mixing them into oatmeal or yogurt, Dr. Vermeulen believes that with a little patience and dedication, you’ll be on your way to hormonal balance. “It usually takes about three months before you will notice the improvement in menstrual-related symptoms,” she says. “Give it time and be consistent.”