How can seed cycling support hormonal health?
From plastics containing endocrine disruptors to chronic stress, there's no shortage of reasons why hormones may fall out of balance. Seed cycling may just be one gentle solution for restoring hormonal harmony.

Many women swear by seed cycling. From promoting regular menstrual cycles to fewer PMS-related symptoms, there's a lot of anecdotal evidence. The idea behind seed cycling is that seeds (flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and sesame seeds) are rotated in the diet based on the phase of the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase (which begins on Day 1---or the day that bleeding begins), 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed and 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds are consumed daily through around Day 14 (or ovulation). Once the luteal phase (or the second half of the cycle) begins with ovulation, 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds and 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds are eaten daily through day 28 (or menses).

Related: What the Scars of Infertility Look Like

Personally, seed cycling has become a daily self-care ritual of my own and I've enjoyed sharing the benefits with others. Much of what I have learned is from Dr. Jolene Brighten, best selling author of Beyond the Pill. I had the chance to ask her a few questions of my own, and if you're intrigued, find out what she had to say about the practice of seed cycling below.

Q: What are signs and symptoms of a hormonal imbalance?

A: Symptoms of hormone imbalance in women can present in a variety of ways. Mood swings, anxiety, depression, weight gain, inability to lose weight, digestive system issues, changes to hair, skin, and nails, heavy or painful periods, acne, inability to sleep, fatigue, afternoon energy crashes, and PMS can all be due to imbalance in our hormones.

Q: How is seed cycling believed to support hormonal health? Who is it beneficial for?

A: Seed cycling is a supportive practice I recommend for hormone balance in both my clinic and book as an adjunct therapy. It is an effective and gentle way to shift hormones into balance by providing your body with the nutrients it needs throughout your cycle. More specifically, it can support the key hormones of each phase in the menstrual cycle and is beneficial for anyone wanting to to do so.

Q: Is there evidenced-based research to support the benefits of seed cycling? What does the literature say?

A: At the time I'm writing this, you won't find a study using the term "seed cycling" as a searchable term. What you will find is data supporting the benefits of the individual seeds used in the cycling methods. Seeds have been found to have many health benefits, from supporting cardiovascular health to being protective against cancer. Flaxseeds are hands down the most widely studied lignan containing seeds, probably because they have the highest concentration. The lignans in flaxseeds have been associated with supporting a healthy luteal phase length. Research has found that women consuming flaxseeds have more favorable levels of androgens and the fibers help with estrogen elimination while supporting gut health. These seeds are also rich in essential fatty acids, which support healthy oil production and decrease inflammation. Other nutrients, like zinc, found in these seeds are important for skin health and acne management.

Q: What are a few tips for seed cycling success?

A: As I talk about in Beyond the Pill, it typically can take about three months of consistently using seeds to notice a significant difference. Some women experience improvement sooner and it really depends on what the causes of the hormonal symptoms are. For someone wanting to try seed cycling, my best advice would be to dive in, starting wherever you're at in your menstrual cycle with the corresponding seeds.

Related: Ask the Expert: How Can Women Reclaim their Reproductive Health?

Recognize that seed cycling is a habit and habits can take time to implement. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Also, keep in mind that seed cycling doesn't work as a pharmaceutical. We can't expect to start seeds one day and see immediate results. You're working with your body naturally, which can take time to correct underlying imbalances. Don't feel like you're doing anything wrong or get discouraged if it takes time to shift your symptoms.

I'd also recommend getting creative so seed cycling doesn't become mundane! Don't just stick to adding seeds to your smoothies, but also try things like salads or the seed cycling recipes I've included in my book, many of which work well for grab and go snacks.

Note: While seed cycling can be a helpful support for hormonal health, this practice is not a substitute for medical care, especially if you are concerned with your symptoms or suspect a hormonal imbalance.

Image: Michelle Lee Photography/Shutterstock