In your typical line-up of healthy heavyweights, the nut family is worth its salt. And while we know including nuts in our diet can contribute to shiny hair and a healthy immune system, the popular snack may also be used to balance our hormones. Known as "seed cycling" in wellness circles, eating nuts at different stages of the menstrual cycle is nothing new. A well established practice in naturopathic terms, it's thought that the term evolved from the Chinese medicine method known as “Five-Seed Progeny Pill,” which was originally meant to treat male infertility (before its benefits were recognized as an aid in hormone-related issues like acne and irregular periods).
Although academic research on the subject of seed cycling specifically is sparse, the movement is gaining traction as women search for more natural alternatives to traditional medication. On Instagram, the hashtag #seedcycling has garnered over 6000 results. “I've started doing this, and I find myself craving the seeds at each part in my cycle!” writes one user, while another admits that it's "a total game-changer." Read on to find out how this remedy can help balance your hormones.
“Seed cycling (also called seed rotation) is a natural method for hormone balancing that has its roots in the naturopathic philosophy,” explains Vera Martins, PhD, a naturopath and herbalist. “The method of seed cycling consists of having fresh seeds in your diet at different phases of the female hormone cycle. Different seeds have different nutritional properties, supporting healthy levels of the right hormones at the right time of the cycle. One of the best things about seed cycling is that it can be beneficial at any stage in a woman’s life.”
While we can blame our hormones for everything from weeping over commercials to breakouts, maintaining balance can be helpful in easing painful cramps, emotional lows, and inflammation. It's all connected. “We are impacted daily in modern life with many hormone disruptors,” explains Abigail James, a leading skincare expert. “From the pollution we live in, chemicals applied to the skin and even plastics around us, they can all affect the levels in our body which can have a knock-on effect on our skin amongst other things.” Although the jury's still out on whether we do in fact see-saw out of whack, creating hormonal harmony could improve a whole host of ailments. “Even if you’re not looking to get pregnant, it’s important to have the right rhythm and balance of these hormones, as they have a ripple effect on your libido, your mood and even your bone density,” says nutritional therapist Fiona Lawson.
The concept works around the two main phases of the female cycle—the follicular phase and the luteal phase. Seed cycling can boost oestrogen levels in the first phase and progesterone levels in the second phase of your cycle. “The theory behind seed cycling is that the nutrients in different seeds support the body’s production of different hormones,” says Fiona. “A typical seed-cycling protocol calls for two tablespoons of seeds daily. These must be freshly ground, as this helps your body to absorb their nutrients, and you’ll need to commit to eating the right seeds daily for two to six months to see if it works for you.” Taking influence from Chinese medicine, Abigail suggests spending the first half of the month boosting oestrogen and the second half supporting progesterone with the below program.
Focus on stocking up on pumpkin seeds and flax as this is when the follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone trigger an increase in the production of oestrogen.
This is also known as the luteal phase, when the uterus prepares for an egg to be fertilized. Sunflower and sesame are your best friends here. Although most nuts and seeds are packed full of healthy fats and vitamins, seed cycling calls on very specific variations to get the job done. A study from 2007 found that flax seeds in particular could aid the symptoms of PCOS thanks to their lignans-dense content (a polyphenol found in plants that help attune hormonal pathways), and researchers at the University of Rochester also discovered the regulating properties of these little seeds in their 1993 study. In the latter stages of the cycle, sunflower and sesame seeds come into their own as they stimulate progesterone production thanks to their high zinc content (which also helps to improve the formation of the corpus luteum, the hormone-secreting structure that is responsible for producing progesterone).
Though seeds are an integral part of healthy diet and nutritionally speaking are a good thing, fertility expert Emma Cannon is hesitant to fully commit to their exclusive benefits of a well oiled reproduction system. “It is inherently difficult to measure the impact of different foods and seeds on specific hormones,” she says. “However using foods to energetically support each phase of the menstrual cycle has a long tradition in Chinese Medicine and menstrual tonics is part of the culture.” But before you start squirreling away your supplies, Fiona suggests looking at the bigger picture beforehand. “It can be worth experimenting with seed cycling as part of a wider effort to naturally regulate your hormones. A whole-body approach should include eating a nutritious diet, prioritizing sleep and exercising appropriately. Balance your lifestyle—and your hormones should follow suit,” she says.
Next, read up on how to deal with stress, digestion, and sleep, according to an acupuncturist.