There's always a new wellness fad doing the rounds on Instagram, but as I lack all form of dedication, they tend to pass me by. I was nonplussed by kefir, had no interest in matcha lattes (too green) and kimchi was just okay (but only on top of a fish taco). I'm in awe of those who adopt these glow-up rituals with aplomb, but I've just never found a wellness pursuit that really fit me. So how is it that a strange IG health phenomenon has actually piqued my interest?
Enter: seed cycling. I've been suffering from debilitating period pain (the kind that makes you puke, faint and whack your head on the bathroom sink, twice) for some time now, so I'm up for trying anything that promises to ease the womb-crunching, fallopian tube–squeezing agony. So when I saw Lee Tilghman (the sole Instagrammer I follow in order to keep my toe dipped in the font of wellness) posting about a new technique she was trying to quell her own menstrual-related concerns, I had to do some digging.
When I clicked through to Tilghman's blog, I found out more about the technique. She explained the ways of seed cycling, saying, "You rotate different seeds into your diet at different times to support your menstrual cycle and to maintain an 'optimal hormonal equilibrium' aka hormonal bliss, or better yet, hormonal balance." I guess, on a very low level, it's like bio-hacking. The idea is to eat certain hormone-boosting or hormone-reducing seeds at different stages in your cycle in order to tweak your hormone balance. In theory, doing this can help reduce PMS symptoms, settle bloating, reduce mood swings and, allegedly, help kick-start the menstrual cycle after a bout of missed periods.
As it turns out, Tilghman isn't the only one trying to hack their cycle with a few well-placed seeds. If you search the seed cycling hashtag on Instagram, you'll find over 2000 posts by people who are trialling the phenomenon.
Now, before my sceptical eyebrow reaches my hairline, I have to ask: Just how legit is seed cycling? Tilghman herself will be the first to admit that there's little scientific research in this area thus far, but I've listened to countless nutritionists extoll the virtues of seeds for years now, so might there be something in it? And is it as easy as eating a seed-coated bagel every day?
I turned to my sounding board, nutritionist Gabriela Peacock, for her advice. "Seed cycling has become part of alternative therapies; it's not something promoted by doctors and orthodox medical professionals," she says. "However, if you've struggled with PMS for a long time and are prepared to try out an alternative approach, there's no harm in including a few seeds in your diet to see if it brings any changes," advises Peacock.
Peacock talks me through the process and says, "For the first half of your menstrual cycle, your body needs more oestrogen in order to build up the uterine lining." That's where flaxseed and pumpkin seeds come in. "Flaxseed contains lignans, which bind to excess estrogen, while pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which helps boost progesterone production," notes Peacock. She recommends taking a spoonful of flaxseed in a smoothie and then eating a handful of pumpkin seeds every day for the first 13 days from the first day of your period.
"For the second half of your cycle, your body needs more progesterone to thicken the uterine lining and prepare it for implantation," explains Peacock. "During this phase—from just after ovulation until the day before your period begins—switch to one tablespoon each of raw ground sesame and sunflower seeds daily," she says. Sesame seeds contain lignans that bind to excess estrogen (that's a big thumbs-up for the sesame bagel) and sunflower seeds are rich in selenium to support the liver in its detoxification process.
I don't suppose seed cycling is going to bring me the kind of relief that taking two Nurofen and curling up with a hot water bottle might, but my hormones are so out of whack that this might just be the one wellness trend I try.
Would you try seed cycling for period pain? Let us know by DMing us on Instagram.