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      Dietitian Reviews: Seed Cycling for Hormonal Imbalance

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      I first heard about seed cycling when I was in college through a book called Beyond the Pill by Jolene Brighten. I had suffered from heavy, painful periods for years and was desperately searching for relief wherever I could find it.

      As a nutrition major, I was super interested in the link between diet and reproductive health and was hoping this book would help answer some of my questions. I remember reading the whole book over the course of several days.

      I immediately began implementing the strategies laid out in the book, including seed cycling, but unfortunately my period remained just as horrible as ever. Along with this, I had a history of disordered eating and the recommendations in the book became too restrictive to maintain.

      Throughout my time at school and first few years of my career as a Registered Dietitian, I was able to learn more about how to interpret research and identify logical fallacies. If I read this book today, I would most definitely have a different perspective.

      In this article, I will discuss what seed cycling is, the research behind it, what we know about hormone imbalance and if seed cycling is worth it.

      seed cycling

      What is seed cycling?

      Seed cycling involves rotating seeds based on which phase of the menstrual cycle you are in, specifically the luteal or follicular phase. The purpose behind this is to provide nutrients that help support corresponding hormones during each phase of the cycle.

      While the essential fatty acids in these seeds promote general hormone production, there are claims that specific seeds provide nutrients that support individual hormones. This is why different seeds are recommended for each phase of the menstrual cycle.

      It is recommended that these specific seeds are consumed daily during each cycle to support your hormones and improve your menstrual cycle.

      Understanding the phases of your cycle 

      Before jumping into the specifics of seed cycling, let’s discuss the different phases of your menstrual cycle. The average cycle lasts about 28 days, but can range from 21-35 days depending on the individual.

      Within that cycle, there are two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. These phases are outlined in the graph below.

      The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period and lasts until ovulation, typically around day 14. During this time, progesterone levels are low and estrogen levels slowly rise, until they peak at ovulation.

      The luteal phase starts at ovulation and ends when your period begins again. During this time, progesterone levels rise and lower again and estrogen levels decrease, increase slightly with progesterone and decrease again. This hormonal fluctuation triggers menstruation.

      If either progesterone or estrogen are out of balance, this can greatly affect your period and overall menstrual cycle.

      How to implement seed cycling

      During the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle (usually days 1-14), it is recommended you consume seeds that will support your estrogen levels, like flax seeds and pumpkin seeds. You should be consuming two tablespoons daily during this phase.

      During the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle (usually days 15-28), it is recommended you consume seeds that will support your progesterone levels, like sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. You should continue to consume two tablespoons daily.

      You can incorporate these seeds into smoothies, trail mixes, soups, avocado toast, whatever you like. The goal is to stay as consistent as possible.

      seed cycling

      What does seed cycling help with?

      Seed cycling is meant to support your hormones (specifically progesterone and estrogen) during your menstrual cycle. This is theorized to help with an array of medical conditions including PCOS, endometriosis, amenorrhea (not having a period), dysmenorrhea (painful periods) and low libido. Basically any issue involving the female reproductive system. 

      A common diagnosis I’ve seen plastered over social media lately is “hormone imbalance”. This could refer to a wide variety of hormones, but typically it’s referring to an imbalance of female reproductive hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

      What is hormone imbalance?

      Hormone imbalance occurs when your body is producing too little or too much of a particular hormone. As mentioned earlier, it’s a broad term and can refer to several conditions.

      While some of these conditions may not make a huge impact on your day to day life, others can require medical attention and even medication to manage.

      Here are a few examples of conditions caused by hormone imbalance:

      • Diabetes: type I, type II, gestational
      • Thyroid disease: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism
      • Acne: during puberty or hormonal acne during adulthood
      • Infertility: PCOS, anovulation
      • Irregular menstruation: PCOS, amenorrhea

      Symptoms of hormone imbalance

      It is possible to have a hormone imbalance and not know it. But, often there are corresponding symptoms that may hint that something is off.

      Here are a few common symptoms of hormone imbalance, specifically having to do with female sex hormones:

      • Acne
      • Hair loss
      • Excess body hair
      • Low libido
      • Irregular periods
      • Heavy periods
      • Infertility
      • Vaginal dryness

      If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please consult your medical doctor to get proper treatment and/or referrals to specialized medical professionals.

      seed cycling

      What does the research say about seed cycling?

      Unfortunately, there is little to no formal research done on seed cycling. Though there is some anecdotal evidence suggesting it can be helpful, it’s important to note that most people try multiple approaches at once, so it’s hard to pinpoint the effect seed cycling had. 

      The only study I could find was on flaxseed and menstrual cycles. This study found that consumption of flax seed led to more regular cycles, longer luteal phases and higher progesterone to estrogen ratio during the luteal phase. 

      This being said, the study was conducted on only eighteen women and they all had normal cycles. Plus, it’s possible the possible effects of flax seed were due to a higher fiber intake, especially since their diets prior to the study were noted to be low in fiber.

      In general, we need control studies on the effect of seed cycling on hormonal levels and symptoms to determine if it’s an effective treatment. 

      seed cycling

      Does seed cycling really work to balance hormones?

      Right now, there simply is not enough evidence to suggest seed cycling can balance your hormones. That being said, this doesn’t mean seed cycling doesn’t work, it just means it hasn’t been proven yet.

      If you tried out seed cycling and noticed a positive change in your period or other symptoms, there is no reason to stop. But, if you tried it out, didn’t notice a difference and it’s difficult for you to maintain, it’s probably fine to stop.

      Similar to most treatments on the holistic side of nutrition, the research just isn’t there. But, if there are no side effects and you’ve personally noticed a difference, keep doing it! 

      What are the side effects of seed cycling?

      There shouldn’t be any significant side effects of seed cycling. If you are eating a low fiber diet currently the initial increase of fiber (about 2-3 grams per 2 tbsp of seeds) could possibly lead to some gastrointestinal issues, but this should dissipate as your body becomes used to it.

      Is it important to note that if you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, it may be best to avoid creating strict rules around food. If you notice you feel very guilty after skipping a day or stress about staying on track during vacation or when eating out, then you should probably stop.

      It’s important to have a healthy mindset about any dietary changes you make. If you want to try out seed cycling, don’t stress about skipping a day or two. Stay flexible and don’t let it affect your mental health. 

      seed cycling

      Nutritional benefits of seeds

      While there is little evidence to suggest seed cycling is beneficial for hormonal health, there is plenty of evidence to suggest seeds are beneficial for your overall health. 

      One review study found that specialty seeds (including flax, sesame and pumpkin) have a variety of healthy benefits due to their high concentration of polyphenols and bioactive components which create antioxidant activity. 

      Another review study found that increased seed consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

      While seeds are beneficial in general, there are benefits for each specific kind of seed due to their different nutritional profiles.

      seed cycling

      Pumpkin seeds 

      Pepitas, those green pumpkin seeds you see in the store, are packed with beneficial nutrients. You can all buy pumpkin seeds with the hull on them (they will be yellowish white on the outside). They are nutrient dense as well.

      Two tablespoons contain about 90 calories, 4 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrates and 7 grams of fat. They are an excellent source of copper, magnesium, manganese and phosphorus and a good source of zinc. Along with this, they contain 1 gram of fiber.

      seed cycling

      Flax seed 

      Flaxseeds are unique because they contain a very high amount of omega-3 fatty acids compared to other seeds. Another great omega-3 rich seed is chia seeds.

      Two tablespoons contain about 110 calories, 4 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrates and 9 grams of fat. They are an excellent source of vitamin B1 (thiamine), copper, magnesium, manganese and a good source of phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Two tablespoons contain a whooping 6 grams of fiber.

      seed cycling

      Sunflower seeds 

      Sunflower seeds not only taste delicious, they are a nutrient dense food. I love them roasted and salted, but enjoy them however you’d like.

      Two tablespoons contain about 90 calories, 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of fat. They are an excellent source of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin E, copper, phosphorus and selenium and a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), manganese and zinc. 

      seed cycling

      Sesame seeds

      Sesame seeds are my favorite way to garnish a variety of asian dishes. But you can also consume them in a variety of other ways, including tahini.

      Two tablespoons contain about 90 calories, 3 grams of protein, 4 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of fat. They are an excellent source of vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid), vitamin E, copper, phosphorus and selenium and a good source of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), manganese and zinc.

      seed cycling

      Can you heal hormone imbalance naturally? 

      Honestly, it depends. While most conditions can improve with diet and lifestyle, some may need medication or other treatments to stay managed.

      The best way to find out if your condition can be treated or reversed with lifestyle alone is speaking to your doctor. If they don’t know enough about your specific condition, speak to a specialist.

      An endocrinologist, cardiologist, OBGYN, dietitian or dermatologist are good options, but ask your doctor for a referral. This specialist can provide more specific recommendations based on your condition.

      You may have noticed that I didn’t put naturopathic doctor or holistic doctor on this list. While it’s up to you to make your own medical decisions, I avoid recommending these practitioners. They aren’t evidence based and can provide recommendations that are more harmful than beneficial. 

      It’s best to stick to practitioners who have spent years (often longer than a decade) being educated and trained. Especially when they have an area of expertise. This shows that they are very familiar with specific conditions in a way a general practitioner isn’t.

      I know many people go to holistic practitioners because of their bad experiences with doctors, being pushed to take medications or not being told about lifestyle changes that could improve their condition. But I promise there are good practitioners out there that will provide recommendations based on the approach you want to take.

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      My name is Tia and I am a Registered Dietitian and content creator. My goal is to help young women learn how to eat healthy without giving up enjoyment and satisfaction.

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