Seed Cycling for Fertility
- Editors of FitBump
- Jul 24 2014
- 1 comment
By Amy Height
You' re probably familiar with the idea that what you put into your body changes your health: eat junk, feel crummy, lose sleep, gain weight. Whether or not you' re pregnant, there' s a pretty tight correlation between what we eat and how we thrive.
While we tend to think about nutrition from the perspective of what we should stop eating, it ’ s worth considering what foods we should start consuming, especially when it comes to promoting fertility and hormonal balance. Fertility reflects the overall health of the body, including digestion, elimination and metabolism, in addition to reproductive functioning.
It's no coincidence that seeds (essentially the nourishment for a growing baby plant) are highly effective hormone balancers, especially when taken at specific times. Seed cycling, a practice often recommended by naturopathic doctors, is designed to support hormone production and regulate menstrual cycles, particularly for patients looking to become pregnant or to reduce symptoms of PMS. Because a specific cocktail of hormones guides these processes, using hormone-supporting seeds medicinally encourages the body to find its natural balance. A body in balance is a healthy body and a healthy body is typically more fertile.
Understanding a few simple principles of seed cycling (based on a 28-day cycle) allows anyone to work the approach into their daily diet to support hormonal balance.
Different Hormones Dominate the Body Throughout the Cycle
The body is dominated by estrogen. It encourages production of a thick endometrial lining to prepare for the next fertile cycle, which means more happy fertile ground for an embryo to implant. Days 15 to 28 in the cycle are dominated by progesterone, a steroid hormone that maintains the condition of the uterine lining, facilitates implantation of an embryo and prevents the eggs from over-maturing during pregnancy.
Finding a Happy Balance
While estrogen and progesterone are key to a functioning cycle, the healthiest, most fertile body is one that is evenly balanced. Too little estrogen can lead to a thin uterine lining or a lack of ovulation; too much estrogen can cause irregular periods, depression and symptoms of PMS including headaches, weight gain, anxiety and digestive issues. A high level of estrogen has also been linked to difficultly conceiving, as in polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. P rogesterone deficiency has been linked to symptoms of PMS, fatigue, irregular periods and recurrent miscarriages. The hormone is essential for getting pregnant and sustaining pregnancy.
Seeds Help Build Hormones
Because the menstrual cycle is dominated by estrogen and progesterone, we can supplement our body ’ s natural hormone production with foods that contain the precursors to these hormones—in other words, the building blocks that will make them in the right proportions. Seeds—specifically pumpkin, sesame, sunflower and flax varieties—provide the ingredients for balanced hormone production, especially when paired intentionally throughout the month.
What to Eat When: Days 1–14: Seeds for Estrogen
Flax and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which allow the smooth transmission of hormones throughout the body. Flax also contains lignans, a family of plant compounds that blocks excess estrogen. The high zinc content in pumpkin seeds allows the body to release progesterone. The combination of these two processes allows for a balance between the two.
What to Eat When: Days 15–28: Seeds for Progesterone
During the second half of the cycle, sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are a huge boon for progesterone balance. Sesame seeds ’ high zinc content and the readily available selenium in sunflower seeds encourage the body to make progesterone. As in the first half of the cycle, the lignans in sesame seeds deter excess estrogen production.
How to Incorporate Seeds for Fertility
Look for a raw, unsalted versions of each of the seeds mentioned above. For the first 14 days of your cycle, have one tablespoon each of ground flax seeds and (preferably) ground pumpkin seeds daily. In the latter half of your cycle, work in one tablespoon each of (preferably) ground raw sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Grinding seeds, which breaks down the tough outer layers, makes their nutrients more easily accessible to the body. Add ground seeds to smoothies, salads or soups or simply stir them into water, milk or juice for a quick preparation. You can also take any of them whole (with the exception of flax seeds, which can pass through your system undigested)—just be sure to chew them well.
Seeds store best in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Keep flax meal, especially if it ’ s pre-ground, in the refrigerator.
It ’ s worth noting that foods that promote one hormone also discourage production of the other. If you ’ re committing intently to this practice, aim to avoid sunflower and sesame seeds during the first half of your cycle and pumpkin and flax seeds during the second half.
In general, it takes three months to notice a change in PMS symptoms when using seed cycling. And if you ’ re using it to promote fertility, starting sooner than later can be beneficial, especially if you ’ re actively trying to get pregnant.
Try this simple blood-boosting, hormone-balancing smoothie as an easy vehicle for your daily seed regimen.
1 cup unsweetend almond or hemp milk
1/2 medium red beet
1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
1 tbsp powdered greens (optional)
1 tbsp goji berries or goji powder
1 tsp maca powder
ice cubes (optional)
For Days 1–14: Add 1 tbsp ground flax meal and 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds
For Days 15–28: Add 1 tbsp sesame seeds and 1 tbsp sunflower seeds
Blend all ingredients until smooth. Enjoy!
Amy Height is the founder of From the Ground Up Wellness, a holistic nutrition and life coaching practice aimed at helping women rebuild a nourishing relationship with food, from pre-pregnancy to pregnancy and beyond. She is an avid home cook and triathlete with a passion for getting messy in the kitchen. When she’s not scouring the farmers market for obscure veggies or incessantly photographing new dishes for her blog, she can be found running in Central Park and taking in as many yoga and HIIT classes as she can. She is also co-founder of the Vive Detox, a whole-life food-based reset to kickstart weight loss and boost immune function. For recipes and more ideas on living vibrantly, visit fromthegroundupwellness.com.