Just as lifestyle and diet can throw your hormones out of whack, it can also help bring them back into balance. Our mood, physical and mental health are all things that can fluctuate on a daily basis and are all closely linked to our body’s chemical messengers, or hormones. Seed cycling, a Chinese medicine practice, focuses mainly on helping to balance sex hormones to give us more regular periods, less cramps, and an improved mood.
Balancing hormones also promotes a healthy menstrual cycle, which is one of the first things to work on when trying to conceive. A healthy cycle sets the foundation for a healthy pregnancy and can provide many benefits to mom herself.
In this article we’ll learn how to nurture the body by giving it a natural push in the right direction.
What Is Seed Cycling?
Chinese medicine seed cycling is the rotation of different types of seeds and their nutrients to support the production of the different hormones that are prevalent during the changing phases of our cycle.
By supporting this balancing of hormones, we see a cascade of benefits ranging from improving PMS symptoms, to supporting skin, mood, and digestive health.
But in order to understand how seed cycling works, and how it can help you, you have to first know what’s going on with your cycle.
Traditionally, we have about a 28-day cycle. Sometimes shorter, sometimes longer—and (mostly) that’s okay. There are lots of reasons for varying cycle length. Some factors we can attempt to control, like daily stress, diet, and physical activity. And others are a little more complicated, like hormone imbalance, metabolic conditions—and maybe just a general disconnect from nature.
The East West Medicine Philosophy and Fertility: A Holistic Approach
In Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, the key to all health is balance. This understanding of the natural world existed long before the modern definition of “hormone” was used to describe a complex network of signaling molecules throughout the body.
We now know that things like environmental toxicity can cause estrogen dominance or worsening PCOS symptoms. And that endocrine disruptors and stress can affect progesterone levels. Pairing this specific, modern knowledge with holistic and comprehensive wisdom helps us see the body as a whole, making sure we don’t merely address symptoms—but the root cause of imbalance.
Integrative medicine brings these philosophies together to provide modalities to treat an entire person and their whole body—helping to increase fertility, create more comfortable periods, and reduce toxic load.
Does Seed Cycling Work?
Seed cycling supports a healthy and fertile cycle because the nutrients and lifestyle choices we make in one phase of our cycle support the healthy function of the next phase, and so on.
There are many other factors that play a role in fertility, healthy menstrual cycles, and comfortable periods, but providing basic nutrients for hormone production and balance is a primary element of laying the foundation for fertility and a healthy cycle.
Read more about the lifestyle habits that can affect fertility.
Seeds & Your Cycle
Phase One: The Follicular Phase – begins with your period
This phase begins with the start of your period and lasts about 14 days. During this time, estrogen is slowly beginning to rise, and that also stimulates a rise in what’s called luteinizing hormone (LH). Then, a decrease in estrogen prompts the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). If estrogen is out of balance, it will affect LH and FSH too. So, by supporting healthy levels of estrogen, we help to balance LH and FSH as well.
Planning to get your hormones tested and worried about feeling overwhelmed and confused? Don’t worry! Take my Hormone Guide with you after your appointment to feel informed and prepared. Learn where your levels should be for each main hormone, and the 5 vital signs to keep an eye on!
Adding seeds that contain phytoestrogens can help the body to modulate estrogen.
This is important because many of the uncomfortable period symptoms are due to what we call estrogen dominance–especially in the latter half of your cycle. This is too much estrogen relative to levels of progesterone.
Phytoestrogens support the role estrogen plays in our body, and some sources—like flax—contain compounds called lignans which bind to excess estrogen and help our body eliminate it if we have too much (1).
The phases of our cycle are dependent upon each other, so according to Chinese medicine, how you treat your body in one phase can absolutely affect how you feel in the next. The nutrients we fill our body with can affect our hormone availability later.
Just before the beginning of phase 2, we should experience a rise in follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which then helps our ovaries to produce more progesterone.
Supporting healthy levels of progesterone in phase two is an absolute MUST if you want to alleviate PMS symptoms, inflammation, AND boost fertility.
Prior to phase two beginning, zinc is responsible for ensuring our pituitary gland and ovaries can produce enough FSH so that we can then go on to have adequate progesterone after ovulation. In addition, zinc nourishes ovarian follicles and can help lower period pain as well (2).
Struggling with PCOS or trying to conceive? Take a look at natural solutions for PCOS treatment here.
Many foods, including seeds, are great sources of zinc that you can eat in phase one to support a healthy and balanced progesterone level in phase two.
Chinese Medicine Seeds for the Follicular Phase:
- Source of zinc for progesterone production
- Source of zinc for progesterone production
Phase Two: The Luteal Phase – Begins After Ovulation
The luteal phase of our cycle starts with ovulation and ends when we begin our next period. This phase should last at least ten days (ideally more like 12-14 days), and if shorter, can play a role in decreased fertility.
If this phase is shortened, your body might not have enough time to produce adequate levels of progesterone, and estrogen circulating unopposed is one of the factors responsible for worsening PMS symptoms. We need a balance of both estrogen and progesterone to remain comfortable through the start of our period.
Our liver is the primary organ involved in eliminating excess estrogen from our body, and by supporting detoxification processes, we can aid in the proper metabolism of estrogen out of our body.
Selenium and vitamin E, two powerful antioxidants, are great additions to support the health of your liver and your body’s ability to metabolize excess estrogen.
PMS symptoms you’ve been told are “normal” have a dietary and lifestyle component that you can improve. And that’s great news.
The actions we take to support a healthy luteal phase can help us both boost progesterone production AND modulate inflammation associated with PMS symptoms.
Just prior to starting your period, your body produces compounds called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins are responsible for helping to shed the uterine lining that was built up during the luteal phase—assuming it’s not going to be used for growing a baby if you’re not pregnant.
Prostaglandins aren’t a bad thing, but they can be made from either omega 3 fatty acids, or omega 6 fatty acids, and that affects how much inflammation they produce in the process of doing their job. This inflammation plays a role in the severity of premenstrual cramps, headaches, and other feelings of malaise during our period.
This is a great reason to be consistent with a high-quality omega 3 supplement.
Cells involved in our body’s inflammatory response are typically rich in omega 6 fatty acids, but omega 3 can help to resolve this inflammation. The diets we eat are usually high in omega 6, because it comes from plants and plant oils, but most of us don’t get enough omega 3–from fish, flax, and other sources.
- High in vitamin E for progesterone production
- Good source of the antioxidant Selenium to support liver health and detoxification
- Good source of zinc
- Source of lignans to clear excess estrogen
What to Remember
Hormone imbalances are serious business, but seed cycling is one way to give our bodies a gentle push in the right direction (and get some great nutritional benefits in the process). But if you suspect a more severe hormone imbalance, working with an integrative Chinese medicine practitioner is very important.
The Doctor is IN–for virtual visits from the comfort of your living room! Learn how an integrative and holistic approach can help you conceive, or simply balance hormones for a more comfortable cycle!
Eating a well-balanced diet that suits your needs is the absolute foundation to healthy hormone balance and longevity but working with a practitioner who can test your hormone levels and provide specific treatment is the right option for many.
- When using seeds and nuts, it’s best to consume them raw, unroasted, and unsalted.
- The oils in seeds and nuts can oxidize over an extended period of time, and if left at higher temperatures. Keep them in an airtight container, and preferably somewhere cool and dark.
- Some seeds, like flax, are best consumed in their oil or ground form, as our bodies aren’t capable of breaking down the whole seed. It’s always an option to look for (or make) nuts and seeds in their “butter” form.
Do you seed cycle? What other holistic Chinese medicine hormone balancing solutions do you practice in your day?
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