Did you know that your menstrual cycle can control your creativity, imagination, and motivation?
It's true… During certain times of the month, I am full of imagination and ideas and the energy for accomplishing those ideas. And, at other times of the month, my inspirational tank runs on empty.
Whether we’re aware of it or not, our bodies and minds are exquisitely sensitive to the elements swirling around us and in us, from the weather to the lunar cycle to the natural ebb and flow of our hormones. These influences may manifest as sleepless nights while the moon is full, tendencies towards napping during winter, restlessness during spring, and heightened senses the week prior to menstruation. We may expect our bodies to work like the dependable, predictable machines all around us, instead of honoring our natural rhythms and internal energies. (Source.)
My cycle affects other aspects of my life, too, including my skin health, sex drive, appetite, and even the quality of my sleep! It's important to know what's going on during each week of your cycle (see chart below). When you're aware of the hormone fluctuations, you are more in-tune with your body.
If possible, you can even plan your days, weeks, and month around your cycle. For instance, take advantage of those high-energy, creative days when you're on a hormone high (follicular phase). Then, back off and give yourself a chance to rest, be introspective, and stay at home during the hormone plunge (luteal phase).
I can definitely feel those ebbs and flows of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone throughout the month — yet I would say that I have a very healthy cycle (most of the time).
That hasn't always been the case, however.
A Bit Of My Own Story
From the time of my first period, my cycle and I have not been great friends.
Even in middle school and high school, I bled so heavily that I went through boxes and boxes of super-duper-thick-plus-plus pads and tampons. The cramping during the first couple of days of my periods was so severe that I commonly missed school.
This led to my first gynecologist visit when I was 15. I walked out of that appointment with a prescription for the birth control pill — not because I was sexually active but because that was (and still is) the accepted answer for dealing with menstrual issues caused by hormone imbalance.
Although The Pill helped with some of the cramping and heavy bleeding, I still experienced crazy, PMS-related mood swings, back acne, and ovarian cysts.
I was a college freshman when one of my cysts ruptured for the first time, and I honestly thought I was going to die from the pain.
Then I got married and had 2 beautiful babies — and went off The Pill after my husband's vasectomy.
Unfortunately, however, the hormonal issues that started when I was a teenager still hadn't resolved themselves. They had been masked only somewhat by the synthetic hormones in The Pill. Once I finished nursing my babies, at age 23, all the cycle-related issues returned — the cramping, heavy bleeding, PMS, back acne, and mood swings.
(Ironically, pregnancy seemed to fix the cyst issue because I have never had ovarian cysts again!)
The Beginning Of What Changed My Cycles
In 2008, when we began learning about Real Food and seeing a chiropractor, some of my cycle issues improved slightly over time.
I switched from conventional pads and tampons to a menstrual cup in 2011. This made a big difference too, especially in the duration of my periods. (They actually got shorter!)
Coffee enemas helped my cycles, also. They provided amazing pain relief on the first day of my period, got rid of my back acne completely, and also (I believe) helped my liver detox much of the excess estrogen that was floating around my body and leading to these debilitating symptoms.
Yet, despite doing all the “right” things, I still experienced PMS, including irritability and anxiety that practically changed my entire personality for the 2 days before my cycle started. Also, cramping on the first day of my period confined me to bed one day out of nearly every month.
Now, it's been over 12 years since I took my last birth control pill. There are 2 things I wish I'd known all those years ago:
- How to understand my cycle, especially the natural rising and falling hormones;
- How to stop fighting with my hormones and actually support them.
Understanding The Female Cycle
From menarche to the end of life, there are 2 phases of the female cycle.
The first phase — onset of menses to the day before ovulation (Days 1 to 14) — is the follicular phase.
The second phase — ovulation to the day before bleeding begins again (Days 15 to 28) — is the luteal phase.
The Follicular Phase
During the follicular phase, estrogen starts at rock-bottom on the first day of the period. Estrogen remains low for the first few days of the cycle before it begins to rise rapidly and peak at ovulation. Although estrogen starts low, the follicular phase is actually the estrogen-dominant phase (source).
Once past the first couple of achy, fatigued days of the cycle, women tend to feel a boost in energy, brain function, and mood. You may notice that you want to eat less because estrogen has a slight appetite-reducing effect.
As estrogen climaxes during the second week of your cycle, you should feel sexier and more “in the mood”, thanks to a peak in testosterone right before ovulation. You may feel the most confident, outgoing, and creative during this time as well.
Seeds and oils to support estrogen production are high in Omega-3 fatty acids:
- 1 tablespoon of flax seeds + 1 tablespoon of pumpkin seeds daily
- high quality fish oil that supplies 1500 to 2000mg of EPA and DHA daily (source)
The Luteal Phase
Testosterone and estrogen both peak at ovulation, after which begins the second, or luteal, phase. Typically, the luteal phase is the part of the cycle when most women experience problems.
A dramatic plunge in estrogen, ending around Day 17, signals the beginning of “PMS week”. Though every woman is different, it is not uncommon to feel somewhat fatigued, moody, or irritable due to low estrogen.
No worries though… Just before the start of a new cycle, progesterone and estrogen rise again (with progesterone being higher overall — this is the progesterone-dominant phase) to give you a slight boost of energy and level-headedness.
Although progesterone is still higher overall, both estrogen and progesterone drop again at the end of the luteal phase, which signals the body to prepare for the start of menstruation. Then, the follicular phase begins again.
Of course, not every woman experiences a 28-day cycle. This is why it's important to pay attention to your body and know when you switch from one phase to the next.
Seeds and oils to support progesterone production are high in Omega-6 fatty acids:
- 1 tablespoon of sunflower seeds + 1 tablespoon of sesame seeds daily
- 500 to 1500mg evening primrose oil daily
Seed Cycling: How Seeds Can Restore Hormone Balance
My naturopath recommended seed cycling for me when a nourishing diet, quality supplements, and acupuncture weren't enough to relieve my PMS, cramping, and heavy bleeding.
Seed cycling is the process of rotating hormone-supporting seeds and oils throughout the feminine cycle.
These seeds and oils supply vitamins, nutrients, and fatty acids to support the body's production, release, metabolism, and excretion of estrogen and progesterone.
…is a completely natural approach that guides our body into a natural rhythm that nudges hormones in the right direction by either detoxification or stimulating production. Excess hormones can be processed and eliminated while deficiencies can be increased as needed in order to balance irregularities, reversing amenorrhea, and easing cramping and PMS symptoms. (Source.)
Seed Cycling Can Help With…
Of particular concern is the widespread acceptance that periods are just awful — no matter what — and later in life, menopause is just awful — no matter what.
Believe it or not, cramping, headaches, heavy bleeding, spotting between periods, PMS, acne, hot flashes, loss of libido, and more are not normal — even if every woman you know has these experiences.
Each of these symptoms is a red arrow that points to an underlying hormone imbalance and each can be relieved or resolved with seed cycling:
- irregular periods
- periods that are too light or too heavy
- very painful periods
- perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause
- insulin resistance
- low libido
- thyroid problems
How Does Seed Cycling Work?
The answer is three-fold: lignans, minerals, and fatty acids.
First, seeds contain plant polyphenols known as lignans.
Because lignans have phytohormone (plant hormone) activity, they help eliminate excess estrogen (source).
When you consume lignans, your gut bacteria converts the plant lignans into “human” lignans — enterodiol and enterolactone. These substances bind to the estrogen receptor sites on your cells, preventing estrogen uptake in those cells. (Source.)
- reduce hot flashes in menopausal women
- reduce risk of breast cancer and other hormone-fed cancers
- naturally regulate the body's production of estrogen
- allow natural estrogen to be developed while preventing xenoestrogens (compounds with hormone-like qualities that imitate estrogen) from being created.
The lignans in sesame seeds help block excess estrogen during the luteal phase.
So, if estrogen is too high, lignans will block the cells' receptor sites from uptaking the excess estrogen. And if your estrogen is low, lignans can supplement estrogen levels to promote balance (source).
Second, seeds supply vital minerals that support hormone production and detoxification.
For example, pumpkin seeds are very high in zinc. By consuming pumpkin seeds during the first half of your cycle (follicular phase), you are gearing up for healthy progesterone levels in the second half (luteal phase) since zinc is necessary for progesterone to rise (source).
And, sunflower seeds are very high in selenium, which assists the liver in detoxing excess estrogen during the luteal phase (source).
Finally, the fatty acids within the seeds and oils are the building blocks of our hormones.
Seed cycling is a wonderful example of using food as medicine!
The Best Seeds & Oils
Optimize your body's digestion and absorption of minerals from the seeds by soaking/sprouting and then dehydrating pumpkin and sunflower seeds. (Here's how.)
It is not necessary to soak/sprout and dehydrate flax or sesame seeds.
Keep your seeds in the fridge or freezer at all times so they do not become rancid, which damages their beneficial oils.
Knowing When Each Phase Begins & Ends
It's helpful if you know when each cycle phase begins and ends prior to seed cycling — however, it's not absolutely necessary. (Remember, seed cycling can help with irregular or missing periods.)
It's pretty obvious when the follicular phase begins because that's the day you start your period. 😉
On the other hand, if you experience spotting between periods, you'll have to use a calendar to determine if the spotting is just that, or if it's a new period. (Bleeding that occurs less than 25 to 26 days after the first day of your last period is spotting and a sign of low progesterone or high estrogen, not the start of a new cycle. Again, seed cycling can help with this, too.)
Detecting ovulation can be a bit more tricky, especially if your hormones are throwing off mucous production, body temperature, and sex drive — the 3 best ovulation indicators.
- It may help to invest in a thermometer to track your basal body temperature if you don't know when you ovulate.
- Watch your cervical mucous. Around ovulation, you should produce more mucous, and it should be thicker and clearer.
- A marked increase sex drive is another good indicator of ovulation.
However, if you still can't determine when you ovulate, start with flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and fish oil on the first day of your period. Then, switch to sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and evening primrose oil on Day 15 and continue until the first day of your next cycle or through Day 28.
It's completely normal if your cycle isn't 28 days! Many women experience slightly shorter or longer cycles, and that's okay! You may switch from follicular to luteal on Day 15, 16, or 17.
Pay attention to your body's cues and rotate the seeds and oils accordingly.
How To Seed Cycle
You can begin seed cycling at any time of the month, however it is extremely beneficial to know which phase you're in so you can start with the correct seeds and oil. If you're unsure, simply start with flax and/or pumpkin seeds and fish oil on the first day of your period.
Follicular Phase — first day of period to day of ovulation (Days 1 to 14 on average):
- 1 tablespoon flax seeds + 1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds + 1500mg EPA and DHA from a quality fish oil daily
Luteal Phase — day after ovulation to day before a new period begins (Days 15 to 28 on average):
How to consume flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds so they are fresh and raw:
- add to shakes and smoothies
- sprinkle on porridge, oatmeal, or yogurt
- eat them straight from your hand, but make sure to chew very thoroughly
- add to no-bake treats
What About Menopause?
Lack of menstruation does not mean your body quit producing estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone completely; your body just isn't making as much. So, you want to support what your body is making.
Seed cycling can help you go through “the change” without the extreme hot flashes, vaginal dryness, mood swings, and loss of libido.
How to use seed cycling during or after menopause?
Pick a day to begin your follicular phase. Consume flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and fish oil on Days 1 to 14. Simply switch to sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, and evening primrose oil on Day 15 and continue until Day 28.
Then switch back.
This modality is food as medicine, and it may take time to see results. You may experience relief from any of the above issues in one cycle (unusual), or it may take three or four cycles to really notice a difference (more common).
You must give your body time to balance out — this is not like taking a prescription medication where results often happen almost immediately.
Furthermore, seed cycling may be more effective when used in conjunction with other natural remedies and hormone support, such as herbs, essential oils, bio-identical hormone replacement, and supplements.
Talk to your natural health care provider to learn more.
Do you understand the phases of your cycle? Have you tried seed cycling? Please share your experiences in the comments!
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