Last summer, I weaned off 20 years of continuous birth control for endometriosis. The result: wildly sporadic cycles. Suddenly, I was on a mission to level out my out-of-whack hormones—and I wanted to get my cycle back naturally. This led me to discover “seed cycling” or a method of using various seeds (think pumpkin, flax, sunflower, etc.) to help my body naturally rebalance hormone levels during my menstrual cycle.
Seed cycling advocates say the method—in addition to helping level out hormones—helps relieve PMS, revs up an absent cycle, increases fertility, and can even help with things like acne and healing from serious conditions like endometriosis. To wit: seed hulls contain fibers, oils and lignans (chemicals that help bind up excess hormones) and the seed oils contain fatty acids that help make hormones.
I first found out about the method during a visit to New York City’s Earth and Sky wellness center. I toldEarth and Sky’s founder, licensed massage therapist and herbalist Katinka Locascio, about my whacky period situation.“What’s really interesting is how out-of-whack so many people’s hormones are, and how we take that for totally normal,” Locascio told me. She said that I might consider seed cycling in conjunction with Vitex—the ancient chasteberry supplement (more on that later).
Seed cycling advocates say the method helps level out hormones, relieves PMS, revs up an absent menstrual cycle, increases fertility, and can even help with things like acne…
Locascio is not the only supporter of this food-as-medicine method.“I’m a huge believer in seed cycling,” says Nicole Jardim, certified women’s health and functional nutrition coach, and self-dubbed period expert. Done in accordance with your menstrual cycle—whether regular, irregular or absent she considers it an alternative to try before considering doctor-prescribed hormones.
Jardim sees the best results in people with low levels of estrogen (especially those coming off birth control), amenorrhea (a.k.a not getting your period), menstrual irregularity, menopause, and women with long cycles (think 35 days-plus).
“It seems to be particularly helpful for hot flashes, painful periods, and breast pain,” Jardim says. The easy-to-follow daily protocol calls for one tablespoon of rotating seeds. Jardim advises buying whole seeds (raw, unsalted and organic) and grinding them with a coffee grinder for maximum absorption.
“You can add them to salads, smoothies, and chai seed pudding. And be sure to refrigerate the remaining seeds in a mason jar,” Jardim advises.
Before you consider trying seed cycling to help out your hormones be sure to visit your doctor to rule out abnormal complications. If you, like me, just went off the pill it’s not uncommon to have up to three months of post-pill amenorrhea according to New York City-based gynecologic oncologist, Dr. Elizabeth Poynor.
If you find yourself sans flow for longer than that, it’s a good idea to check-in with your gyno. Once you have the green light from your doctor, there’s two phases to know about seed cycling:
Days 1 to 14 Follicular Phase: Pumpkin and Flax Seeds
The first phase of seeding cycling starts on day one of your period and runs on estrogen that builds up through ovulation. Fiber-rich flax seeds contain lignans to help balance estrogen and reduce constipation. Jardim notes its essential you grind flax seeds for proper digestion.
“Flax seed has a high content of omega 3s, fatty acids, antioxidants and fiber and has been shown in some studies to be protective against developing estrogen-related (i.e., breast) cancers,” says Dr. Poynor. Meanwhile, progesterone-supporting pumpkin seeds are loaded with high levels of zinc and magnesium.
Days 15 to 28 Luteal Phase: Sesame and Sunflower Seeds
The second phase begins during ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg) and lasts through the end of your cycle. Sunflower seeds contain selenium, a critical mineral for the development of ovarian follicles; also helping the liver detoxify and ease cramps. Mineral-packed sesame seeds support bone health with the aid of zinc; helping with progesterone and quieting pesky PMS symptoms. Jardim also recommends 500mg of Evening Primrose Oil. “It contains gamma linoleic acid which inhibits the production of inflammatory prostaglandins that can cause menstrual pain,” she says.
And now, a word on Vitex
Remember how Earth and Sky’sLocascio recommended doing seed cycling with Vitex? Vitex, also known as the chaste berry, is an herb that’s been around since ancient times. It was used by male monks who wanted to lower their libidos, and women who wanted to balance their menstrual cycles. Today, its benefits are known to help wake up the pituitary gland, reduce PMS symptoms, raise progesterone, and even prevent miscarriages due to low levels of progesterone and amenorrhea— especially related to hyperprolactinemia (translation: higher-than-normal levels of the hormone prolactin in the blood).
The herb isn’t for everyone though. Dr. Poynor cautions young women coming off birth control and those with some forms of PCOS (or the hormonal disorder polycystic ovary syndrome)to take extra precautions before taking the vitamin. Your doctor can conduct a simple blood test to check your hormone levels to check if Vitex is suitable.
“You want to give your pituitary gland a chance to start communicating with your ovaries. If after six months your period still hasn’t returned, then you can try it,” says Jardim, who recommends taking Vitex capsules and tinctures in the morning on an empty stomach.
Go with the flow
If you decide to try seed cycling for yourself be patient. Jardim suggests trying the practice for three months. “It takes three to four cycles to regulate, because eggs start their journey to ovulation about 90 days before ovulation actually happens,” says Jardim.
Afterwards, you can wean off or adopt a moderate routine (a few times a week). And while there’s no scientific evidence seed cycling works, Dr. Poynor remains optimistic, “I like that it’s straightforward, provides variety throughout the month, and is relatively inexpensive,” she says. “Just because we do not have a study to prove or disprove the existence of a phenomenon, doesn’t mean that it does not exist. Sometimes we do need to “go with the flow,” she says.
“It’s not a miracle cure. Really, it’s a basic low-tech trick that can nudge a body back into it’s rhythm,” says Locascio, who has seen the practice trigger female bodies to remember how to cycle—without all those lame side effects that come with birth control like acne, weight gain, and mood swings. Jardim also touts “tons of positive anecdotal evidence from women I’ve worked with.”
Dr. Poynor suggests a plant-based diet, stress management, healthy sleep and restorative exercise will also help level your hormones. The good news? After seeding cycling I saw the return of my cycle after 45 days. I like celebrating the small victories.