Did you know that you could control your consumption of nuts and seeds to optimize your cycle and to improve your hormonal health? It’s all part of the concept of using food as medicine. Most of us know that the better quality ingredients you put into your body, the better your overall health will be. But seed cycling, as it’s commonly known, takes this idea a step further. The concept is that paying attention to which seeds you are consuming at what point in your cycle you’re at could have benefits like improved period regularity, reduced cramps and breast tenderness and healthier eggs and reproductive symptoms. Adding in various nuts to also support nutrient levels can literally do wonders for your fertility, and all these dietary additions can literally fit in the palm of your hand.
The first thing to understand when attempting to add seeds into your diet in order to improve your cycle is your cycle itself. In an average 28 day cycle (and true average can vary in either direction so be sure to adjust your diet accordingly), the follicular phase is the first half of your cycle (roughly days 1 through 14). It starts on the first day of your period, and lasts through ovulation. The second half of your cycle is the luteal phase (generally days 15- through 28). This starts once the egg has been released from the follicle and ends the day before your next period begins.
During the follicular phase, estrogen is on the rise as your egg matures. When the estrogen rises to a certain level, it causes the pituitary gland to release a surge of LH (luteinizing hormone). If you’ve been tracking your cycles in anticipation of ovulation, you might be familiar with ovulation testing strips, and it’s the LH level that those tests are actually measuring. About 24 to 36 hours after the LH surge starts, the follicle will burst, releasing a mature egg into the fallopian tube. That’s ovulation.
Now the luteal phase begins. The empty follicle turns into a corpus luteum and starts producing progesterone. This will help to thicken the uterine lining, readying it for a possible implantation and pregnancy. If the egg is fertilized, progesterone is needed to support the pregnancy and will continue to be produced by the corpus luteum until the placenta is formed. If there is no fertilization, the corpus luteum will dissolve back into the body, and a new cycle will start.
Seeds come into play because of the high levels of lignans in their hulls. These lignans behave like phytoestrogens and can act like estrogen in the body. Different seeds have different nutrient makeups and based on this can be particularly beneficial at different times in your cycle.
In the follicular phase, pumpkin and flaxseeds help to naturally increase estrogen at a time when your body is doing the same thing. In addition to promoting estrogen, the fiber in both of these seeds also helps to metabolize estrogen ensuring that the hormone stays in balance rather than becoming either too high or too low. Flaxseed has been shown to help reduce breast tenderness that would come later in the cycle. Flaxsees also help maintain a healthy estrogen to progesterone ration and can reduce the number of anovulatory cycles in healthy women. Both seeds are packed with antioxidants, essential fatty acids and important nutrients like zinc and selenium which are important in fertility and hormone health. The antioxidants help to support the health of the ovaries and eggs and zinc helps to regulate testosterone levels, which is especially important in those with PCOS where androgens are being produced at a higher than normal level. Flaxseeds have been proven to be helpful in treating the symptoms of PCOS and regulating the imbalances associated with it.
During the luteal phase, sesame and sunflower seeds take center stage as they promote the production of progesterone. Sesame seeds have been shown to lower inflammation and support healthy cholesterol metabolism. The sex hormones are all made from cholesterol so it’s important that this conversion process is functioning properly. Sunflower seeds are high in iron, magnesium, calcium and Vitamin E, which are all important nutrients for fertility. Magnesium helps support healthy prostaglandin levels. When these levels are off, period cramps can be worse than normal. Prostaglandins also help to stimulate ovulation.
While focusing on adding seeds into your diet at the appropriate times, adding in certain nuts also has reproductive benefits. One of the best nuts to add is Brazil nuts, if only for the selenium content alone. It should only take about two Brazil nuts per day to get the entire recommended serving of selenium. We mentioned selenium as being important earlier, but it has also been shown that selenium deficiency can be a common cause for infertility and miscarriage. In addition to that, Brazil nuts and their corresponding selenium levels can also support thyroid health, and the thyroid hormones directly affect your period and your fertility.
Some other nuts that are beneficial to add into your diet to promote conception are pine nuts and walnuts. Pine nuts are high in Vitamin E and the amino acid, arginine. Studies show that these nutrients can help with implantation and increasing the thickness of the uterine lining. Walnuts are high in antioxidants and Omega-3.
Adding seeds and nuts into your diet likely won’t have a magical effect on your health in that suddenly all of your period troubles are over, but they are packed with nutrients that your body needs, and they can definitely improve how your reproductive system functions. Plus you only need to consume a tablespoon or two of seeds and a handful of nuts to get the right amount of nutrients. Generally, our bodies are equipped to do the right things, to produce enough estrogen and progesterone at the right times of our cycles, but it definitely doesn’t hurt to support your body in this process through simple dietary inclusions. Not only that, but seeds and nuts taste great and are simple and versatile to add into almost any meal.
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