Most women are very familiar with the annoying and painful period symptoms that are often a sign of underlying hormone imbalance.
I used to suffer from terrible menstrual cramps, irregular flow, and acne throughout my teens and twenties. For these symptoms I used a lot of common medications like Advil and oral birth control, which were the only solutions I knew of at the time. As I transitioned to an anti-inflammatory diet (green tea, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and superfoods) from the pro-inflammatory diet I had been used to (refined carbohydrates, sugar, processed foods, trans-fats, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, fast food, etc.), I noticed an improvement in my menstrual symptoms. And as I learned more about the side effects of the medications I was on, I decided to stop taking them and begin this easy seed cycling protocol below.
To my amazement, my period normalized and the abnormal symptoms were gone. In combination with my overall healthier diet and exercise, the seed cycling protocol helped me make this transition, as it has helped many other women suffering from symptoms of hormone imbalance. Seed cycling can help improve hormone balance no matter what stage of life you are in - from puberty to menopause, so this isn’t something only for women in their 20’s and 30’s.
Are PMS and Painful Periods Normal?
If you've experienced PMS, menstrual cramps, irregular periods, very heavy or very light flow, complete absence of menses, breast tenderness, bloating, acne or any other frustrating symptoms around your period, you've probably asked yourself "Is this normal?" or maybe you've begrudgingly come to accept that this is just part of being a woman.
The truth is that your body could be trying to tell you that something is out of balance. I’m a big fan of keeping some sort of record of your menstrual cycles and symptoms – this can help your naturopathic doctor get a better picture of your overall health.
The good news is that there are a lot of natural ways to minimize and even completely stop these monthly symptoms - one of them is this easy seed cycling protocol that I'm about to share with you.
What Is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a food-based method of supporting a healthy menstrual cycle by incorporating different nutrient-packed seeds into your diet during different phases of your menstrual cycle. If your cycle is absent or irregular, you’ll follow the different phases of the moon (because she’s got the same rhythm that your body needs).
The menstrual cycle is regulated by a delicate balance of hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone. In a perfect cycle, estrogen is highest during days 1-14 (day 1 is the first day of your period), which is called the follicular phase, while progesterone is highest during days 15-28, the luteal phase. However, all too often these hormones become out of balance and can result in irregular/absent periods or nasty symptoms like PMS, cramps, acne, etc. Fortunately, the seeds in the seed cycling protocol below contain hormone balancing capabilities. I’ll go into greater detail later on about how they work.
How To Seed Cycle
It’s pretty simple. Just add 2 Tablespoons of seeds to your diet each day, rotating the type of seeds as described below. Flax seeds are best ground, due to their hard outer shell. All other seeds can be eaten with or without grinding. They can be eaten by the handful, added to a trail mix, sprinkled on oatmeal or salad, added to a smoothie or used however you like.
Here’s what you need to get started:
- Seed grinder or a strong blender that can grind up small seeds efficiently (Vitamix, Blendtec, or similar)
- Raw, organic ground flax seeds
- Raw, organic ground pumpkin seeds
- Raw, organic ground sesame seeds
- Raw, organic sunflower seeds
Days 1 to 14 of your cycle (or new moon to full moon if cycles are irregular or absent):
- 1 Tablespoon of raw, organic, ground flax seeds.
- 1 Tablespoon of raw, organic, ground pumpkin seeds
Days 15 to 28 of your cycle (or full moon to new moon if cycles are irregular or absent):
- 1 Tablespoon of raw, organic, ground sesame seeds.
- 1 Tablespoon of raw, organic, ground sunflower seeds
How Does Seed Cycling Work?
Seeds supply your body with the anti-inflammatory substances such as lignans, omega fats and fiber which can help to balance your cycle and reduce the frustrating symptoms we talked about earlier.
Lignans have both estrogenic and anti-estrogenic activity. This simply means that they can attach themselves to estrogen receptors in your body to compete against the stronger estrogens that are produced by our bodies. More data is needed about effects of phytoestrogens on specific conditions, like hormone-sensitive cancers. If you’re interested in more information on this topic, click here.
When you are feeling cramps during your period, what you’re feeling is due to contractions in the muscular lining of the uterus. The omega fats in the oils of the nuts and seeds have anti-inflammatory benefits and can promote muscle relaxation in the uterus, which will reduce cramping.
Other foods that are beneficial for reducing inflammation include Omega-3 essential fatty acids from various fish. (1) You can even rotate Omega oil supplements to make this protocol even more powerful.
The seed cycling protocol above also provides added fiber, something most of us are not getting enough of on a daily basis. Fiber has many benefits including:
- Promoting satiety: this helps you to feel fuller longer, reducing appetite and encouraging maintenance of a healthy weight
- Binding toxins from food and the environment to get them out of the body through bowel movements
- Reducing sugar & carbohydrate “crashes”: Fiber decreases the glycemic response to food, meaning that it supports more stable blood sugar, preventing highs and lows that may cause fatigue and mood swings
- Supporting healthy cholesterol levels
- Promoting regular bowel movements
- Supporting healthy bacteria in the large intestines: Fiber gets fermented by our healthy microflora (which are beneficial bacteria in the GI tract), producing substances called short chain fatty acids (SCFA’s). These SCFA’s become food for the cells lining the GI tract. (2) SCFA’s have many other exciting potential health benefits that are being investigated, including appetite regulation, immune function, balanced blood sugar, and weight control. (3)
More Seed Cycling Tips
- Note that organic raw seeds are optimal for this protocol (not roasted, sweetened, salted, or flavored). These can be found in the refrigerated section of your health food store or healthy grocery store. The raw seeds contain the most health benefits, and refrigeration will keep the seeds and their oils from going rancid. Rancid oils can do more harm than good in the body. As they become oxidized, they become pro-inflammatory.
- Recipe idea: 1 tablespoon sesame seeds blended with 1 cup warm almond or coconut milk, 1 teaspoon turmeric powder, a dash of cinnamon, and a little honey or molasses makes a delightful drink in the evening after dinner!
- Drink adequate water while doing seed cycling, as the seeds are increasing your daily fiber!
- If you have irregular or absent periods, you may wish to schedule an appointment with a naturopathic doctor for a more tailored-approach to seed cycling and for additional natural hormone balancing support. I love creating customized plans for women to help them improve their cycles naturally.
Hudson, T., & Northrup, C. (2008). Women’s encyclopedia of natural medicine: alternative therapies and integrative medicine for total health and wellness. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Lyon, M. (2013). Dietary Fiber. In J. Pizzorno, M. Murray (Eds), Textbook of natural medicine (pp 469-474). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
Morrison, D. J., & Preston, T. (2016). Formation of short chain fatty acids by the gut microbiota and their impact on human metabolism. Gut Microbes, 7(3), 189–200. http://doi.org/10.1080/19490976.2015.1134082