Could these teeny, tiny germs be the secret to a fuss-free period?
You’ve heard of “seed cycling”, right? No? Oh, okay. Well, basically: seeds – those things that begin all plant life – have the potential to regulate the human endocrine system. While there’s not yet any scientific evidence for seed cycling, the actual seeds involved have proven health benefits and the ability to keep your hormones in check. Interested? Then let’s start, seed-like, at the very beginning...
According to Natalie Seldon, author of The Goodness of Nuts & Seeds, seeds are little powerhouses of nutrition, energy and fibre. “They contain lots of energyboosting minerals, like iron, magnesium and zinc,” she says. “They’re also high in protein, which we should all be getting 45g of a day.” One of the greatest assets of seeds is their convenience. Would you pop a tin of oily fish in your pocket for a quick “don’t mind me, I’m just going to eat this on the bus to work” snack? Didn’t think so. Seeds, though, are small, mobile and totally convenient. “I add mine to smoothies and porridge, scatter them over soups, salads and pastas and mix them into home baking,” says Seldon. “Hemp seeds make a cheesecake crust nutritious and chia seeds and dates are a great alternative to biscuit bases.” And, as Seldon explains, you can soak and sprout seeds, make seed butter and seed milk or, you know, eat them by the handful.
Germ of an idea
Perhaps more interestingly, there’s also plenty of evidence that the phytonutrients found in seeds can have a measurable impact on female hormones. According to alternative therapy expert Dr Mark Hyman in his article “The Life Cycles of Women: Restoring Balance”, dietary fibre and lignans (phytonutrients found in many seeds, grains and beans that boost your immune system and help balance your hormones) bind to oestrogen and help your body to flush it out, either in urine or faeces. Quite simply, eating flaxseeds at a time of excess oestrogen will help your body wrap it up and get rid of the excess, which could result in more regular menstrual cycles and less breast pain. And then there are pumpkin seeds. In a pilot study published in the journal Climacteric, consuming pumpkin-seed oil led to a drop in the severity of hot flushes, fewer headaches and reduced joint pain among menopausal study participants.
But could we get even more benefits from seeds by eating specific combinations at specific times? Seed cycling is a relatively new practice and even its strongest proponents seem unsure of its origins. It involves eating at least a tablespoon each of pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds (aka linseeds) every day for the first two weeks of your menstrual cycle, then the same amount of sunflower and sesame seeds each day for the second two weeks. Of course, many women do not follow a 28-day menstrual cycle and experience absent or irregular periods that bear little-to-no relation to the lunar cycle. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that eating seeds like this – pumpkin and flax when you start bleeding, then sesame and sunflower from when you ovulate – could ease some of the unpleasant effects of oestrogen and also help keep your whole cycle regular and healthy. Nutritional therapist Hannah Alderson explains: “Where there is oestrogen, there is a need for detoxification, as oestrogen toxicity can lead to a variety of problems, such as PMS, breast tenderness, lack of ovulation, weight gain and an increased risk of hormoneassociated cancers.” Eating raw, organic ground seeds can boost detoxification, suggests Alderson. “Through seed cycling, you can support each phase of the cycle with the raw elements required to function optimally. I often discuss it with clients as a natural approach to PMS or trying to regulate periods.”
Flaxseeds, explains Alderson, contain omega-3 and lignans, while the zinc in pumpkin seeds, it’s argued, will stop oestrogen from converting into testosterone and prime your body to produce the hormone progesterone – which helps prepare your uterus for pregnancy – in the second half of your cycle. This half, known as the luteal phase, is when eating sunflower seeds, which contain omega-6 and vitamin E, along with sesame seeds, which contain lignans, will apparently help you to produce progesterone naturally. What, you may be asking, would happen if you ate other seeds at a time when you’re meant to be munching on
1.6 The number of milligrams of zinc in 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds. That’s around a quarter of your RDA – helping to keep your hormones in perfect balance.
flaxseeds or sunflower seeds? “I don’t think you’re going to prevent any of the benefits by having a teaspoon of sesame seeds when you’re meant to be having flax and pumpkin seeds,” says Seldon. Sure, eating different seeds will do you no harm, but seed-cycling devotees maintain that the method is the best way to keep your hormones in check. Of course, seed cycling should not replace treatment for extreme endocrinological problems, but being aware of how the minerals and phytonutrients in different seeds might support your body’s hormonal processes could help bring your cycle back into balance, particularly if you’ve just come off the pill, have an irregular cycle or are looking to boost your fertility. “Unless you have a very serious hormonal problem, like polycystic ovary syndrome, and you’re using seed cycling as the only treatment, then you’re not going to do yourself any harm,” says Alderson. Sold on seeds? To make the most of these little nutritional wonders, Alderson recommends consuming them organic, raw and ground. Why ground? Stomach enzymes don’t have the capability to break down whole seeds once they’re in the gut and unfortunately the average person’s molars aren’t quite up to the job either. But beware – if you buy preground flaxseeds, they oxidise within a few days and become rancid, so you’re better off grinding them yourself with a blender, coffee grinder or an old-school upper-arm workout using your trusty pestle and mortar.