Can eating seeds improve our periods?
That’s the premise of seed cycling. Whether your hormonal misery is PMS or perimenopause, if you have a menstrual cycle, you can try it. Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds, in a prescribed quantity, in each phase of your cycle, to support hormone balance. It uses flaxseeds, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds.
Beginning on the first day of your cycle, you eat 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds. Following ovulation, you switch to 1-2 tablespoons of raw sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. If you don’t know when you ovulate, switching at day 15 is recommended.
The idea is that the flax and pumpkin seeds support oestrogen production and hormone metabolism in the first half of your cycle, the follicular phase, and then the sunflower and sesame support progesterone levels in your luteal phase (the phase between ovulation and your next period). That’s the theory. So, have I done it and what do I think? Honestly, no, I haven’t. Do I eat seeds every day? Pretty much, but I’m not prescriptive about it. Does eating those seeds have a positive effect on my menstrual cycle? Maybe. But I can’t be sure.
Let’s consider scientific research – well, there are no studies that I could find explicitly comparing the effect of seed cycling with any kind of control. However, an absence of specific studies on seed cycling does not equate to its potential value or lack of. It just means it hasn’t been studied YET. Now, there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence for it – by which I mean people saying that it’s helped them enormously and this, in my opinion, should not be disregarded either. If you just dip your Google toe into seed cycling, you’re going to find that women in huge numbers have tried this.
There are a decent number that considers the impact of flaxseeds on health and there is certainly literature that recommends ground flaxseed for hormonal balance. Take one period misery, menstrual cramps: the cause of period cramps may be due to excess prostaglandins, oestrogen dominance (too much oestrogen in your body, or your body not clearing oestrogen effectively), or inflammation. Seeds are rich in omega 3 fatty acids which may help lower inflammation and tackle the effects of prostaglandins. Also, the lignans in the seeds may help support the elimination of oestrogen which helps reduce the chances of oestrogen dominance. Several studies have highlighted other benefits on hormonal health of ground flaxseeds:
1. Fewer anovulatory cycles in normal cycling women
2. Longer luteal phase with higher progesterone/oestradial ratio
So, it doesn’t seem like an outrageous suggestion that eating a few tablespoons of seeds might improve your cycle. They are little nutritional powerhouses. Upping your daily dose of these four – flax, pumpkin, sunflower and sesame - is going to help increase your dietary intake of zinc, omega 3, calcium and magnesium - and that’s all good. (Buy organic though to rule out pesticide residue.)
My professional opinion is that there are any number of interventions that can improve hormonal problems for women, both dietary and lifestyle. I would always suggest that if you are having problems with your cycle, be it low mood, painful periods, breast tenderness or anxiety, consulting a qualified and registered nutritional therapist will give you 1:2:1 tailor-made care that is more likely to garner results than just trying one thing, like upping your seed intake each day. But hey, give seed cycling a go for a few periods and see if you find any benefits and be sure to let me know if you do! Remember, pay attention to the bigger nutrition picture too – good hormonal balance requires lots of good quality protein, healthy fats, eating the rainbow, good sleep and keeping your sugar, caffeine and booze to a minimum.