Could seed cycling help with perimenopausal symptoms?
The aim of seed cycling is to support oestrogen during the first half of the cycle (the follicular phase) and progesterone during the second half of the cycle (the luteal phase).
The menstrual cycle starts in the brain, more specifically in the hypothalamus which releases a hormone called gonadatrophin releasing hormone (GnRH). It’s job is to tell the pituitary gland to produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and lutenising hormone (LH). During the follicular phase GnRH triggers the release of FSH. FSH supports the maturation of follicles which when mature start to secrete oestrogen leading to an oestrogen peak just before ovulation. Testosterone levels also rise during this phase to help boost libido and get in you the mood for baby making prior around the time of ovulation to increase the chances of conception.
In a seed cycling regime, during the follicular phase (days 1-14 of your cycle) 1-2 tablespoons each of pumpkin seeds and ground flaxseeds are consumed every day.
Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc which helps support the production of progesterone production as well as testosterone. They are also a good source of tryptophan, which is the amino acid precursor to serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter, and melatonin, our sleep hormone. Daily consumption of these seeds therefore may support sleep and mood.
Flaxseeds contain lignan’s which have weak estrogenic properties which helps to balance excess oestrogen. Research has shown that consumption of flaxseeds can reduce oestrogen and promote healthy metabolism of oestrogen. Some studies have also shown an increase in testosterone levels although this was not seen in other studies and so the evidence is mixed.
In addition to consuming pumpkin seeds and flaxseeds during the follicular phase, some variations of seed cycling include consuming omega-3 fish oils during this period. These fish oils have been shown to decrease FSH levels during the follicular phase in normal weight women by almost 30% when supplemented although this effect was not seen in obese women. During perimenopause levels of FSH fluctuate wildly and so consuming fish oils may help to regulate FSH levels which in turn may impact the levels of oestrogen.
The luteal phase
The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and following ovulation progesterone is released from the corpus luteum. Levels of progesterone reach 100 times that of the oestrogen peak. The role of progesterone is to help the uterus prepare for implantation however progesterone also has very calming effects on the nervous system and is essential for bone health.
In a seed cycling regime, during the luteal phase (days 15-18 of your cycle), 1-2 tablespoons each of sesame and sunflower seeds are consumed every day.
Sesame seed contains lignans which help to block excess oestrogen. A specific lignan
called sesamin is converted by the bacteria in the gut into another compound called enertolactone which has oestrogenic activity and can help balance oestrogen levels. In addition sesame seeds work by reducing the amount of active oestrogen that is available. A study showed that consuming 50g of sesame seeds a day for 5 weeks increased levels of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG) which decreases active oestrogen by binding to it and making it inactive. The study also showed that sesame seed consumption improved cholesterol metabolism antioxidant status (vitamin E levels increased by 72%). Sesame seeds are also high in zinc which supports production of progesterone.
Some seed cycling regimes also incorporate an oil here as well but for the luteal phase, the oil of choice is evening primrose oil which in studies has been shown to significantly reduce PMS symptoms.
The ground seeds and oils can be added to smoothies, museli, granola, soups or salads to make it easier to get them in each day.
I haven’t yet found any clinical trials that show that seed cycling actually work (and it is highly unlikely that I ever will do due to the nature of funding for scientific clinical trials however there is plenty of research to support the individual health benefits of the nutrients found in the different seeds and oils and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence from people that have tried it with great success to regulate their cycle. But even those that have used it, do so as part of a wider nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Seed cycling on its own without getting the sleep, hydration, exercise and wider nutrition requirements is unlikely to dramatically alter the hormonal storm that is perimenopause.
But does it work?
The truth is that with everything, I guess you would have to try it and see but at the end of the day seed cycling is a way of adding more nutrients and plant variety into your diet which is no bad thing!