If you are trying to balance your female hormones as naturally as possible then have a go at seed cycling. Seed cycling is a way of using the natural phytonutrients in specific seeds to help you during your certain times of your cycle. It is a wonderful way of working with the natural rhythms of the body and is beneficial to do at any time during your lifetime. It`s also a great thing to do if you are coming off of hormonal birth control as it can really support your body to recognise the natural rhythms of the delicate balance of oestrogen and progesterone during the different phases of your cycle.
The menstrual cycle
During a menstrual cycle, the body produces different hormones at different times. For the sake of this explanation, I will use a 28 day cycle to explain. Please bear in mind that most women`s cycles vary greatly and only a small percentage of people actually have a 28 day cycle.
The first day of a menstrual bleed is day one of your cycle. After your bleed has ended, your body will be focusing on producing larger amounts of oestrogen at this point of your cycle. Oestrogen helps the follicle grow and stimulates the thickening of the lining of the uterus. This part of your cycle is called the follicular phase.
Around the mid point of your cycle (day 14 in this case) oestrogen has reached it`s peak. The pituitary senses the high levels of oestrogen and releases a hormone called luteinising hormone, which encourages ovulation ( where the egg leaves the follicle and is ready for fertilisation).
After ovulation, the last part of your cycle -( day 15 - 28 in this case) is known as the luteal phase. During this half, your body is focused on producing progesterone. Progesterone helps to maintain the lining of the uterus and is really important for a healthy pregnancy because of this. Progesterone is also the hormone that we need for easing unwanted symptoms during this phase like PMT, bloating and insomnia. It is the falling levels of progesterone at the end of the cycle that causes the uterus lining to be shed as a menstrual bleed.
When our cycles have gone a little wonky, we can help nudge them in the right direction by eating foods that help the right hormone, at the right time.
During your follicular phase ( from day 1 to ovulation)
Eat 1 - 2 tablespoons of ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds each day. These seeds can naturally increase your oestrogen so that it is in a healthy ratio to progesterone, whilst at the same time, giving you a good amount of extra fibre each day. They are also rich in fatty acids and nutrients like Zinc and Selenium, both important for healthy menstrual cycles. There is also research that shows that people who suffer from PCOS have a beneficial reduction in androgens by eating flax seeds. Studies also show that flax can reduce the symptoms of painful breasts before a period. Please make sure any flax seeds you get are ground, or grind them yourself. The beneficial lignans are inside them and our digestive systems just can`t get to them unless they are ground.
During your luteal phase (from day 15 to the end of your cycle)
Eat 1 - 2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds. Sesame and sunflower seeds have phytonutrients in them that support the progesterone phase of the cycle. Again, they contain a high level of zinc which is supportive to the production of female hormones and the sunflower seeds contain vitamin E which aids progesterone production.
What if I don`t have regular cycles?
You can still use seed cycling as a way to benefit your hormone balance. If you are post-menopausal, experience amenorrhea (missing periods) or are postpartum, then one of the easiest ways to show your body natural menstrual rhythms is to follow the sequence of the moon. Start with a full moon and count that as day 1 of your cycle and use flax and pumpkin seeds. When the moon goes black half way through its journey (a new moon) count that as the midpoint of your cycle and after this, use sesame and sunflower seeds until it is a full moon once again.
Ways of using seeds
Have a go at some of the following ideas of using seeds in your daily routines:
Try making a seed pesto - instead of (or as well as) using pine nuts, use pumpkin seeds. You could do a sesame seed version for later in the month also.
Sprinkle them on salads
Make seed butters (if you eat dairy)
Include them in granola
Add them to smoothies
Sprinkle them on porridge
Add them to energy balls
Add them to homemade breakfast bars
Toast then gently and sprinkle on soups and curries