Before I talk about seed cycling, I want to preface this post by saying that I’m going to be talking about hormones, and things that relate to hormones, birth control, health, and the female human body. If this isn’t your jam, feel free to scroll right on down to the recipe part and stop there. Or just skip this post entirely.
Okay! So, I normally just share recipes here, but I wanted to talk a little bit about my hormone journey. It’s something that I’ve been struggling with for several years now, and every time I talk about this with female friends or acquaintances, I find that SO many of them are struggling with the same issues, so I wanted to put all this out there to help provide more information about the hormonal issues that many of us are experiencing (unexplained infertility, ovarian cysts, adult acne, and so on). I’m starting off by sharing my go-to seed cycling recipe and talking about seed cycling a bit, and then I’m going to share my personal hormone journey and struggle, and list out what’s actually helped me and made a difference, and what I hope can help you too if you’re struggling with something similar. Let’s dive in 🙂
Seed Cycling Skillet Potatoes and Eggs
- 6 ounces yukon gold potatoes (about 1 medium potato) peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon either raw flax seeds or raw sesame seeds freshly ground
- 1 tablespoon either raw pumpkin seeds or raw sunflower seeds freshly ground
- Kosher salt
- Ground black pepper
Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the potatoes and stir to coat in the oil. Spread out in a single even layer. Cover the pan and allow the potatoes to cook for 8 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Remove the lid and raise the heat to medium high and cook until the outside is golden and crispy and the inside of the potatoes are soft, stirring once every few minutes.
Meanwhile, about halfway through cooking the potatoes, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a separate small frying pan over low heat and immediately crack the egg into it. Cover the pan and cook for five minutes, or until the whites of the egg are cooked but the yolk is still jiggly.
Stir the ground seeds into the potatoes and season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with the egg, one more pinch of salt, and enjoy!
So, what is seed cycling? Well, seed cycling helps support your body’s natural hormone levels by providing it with the nutrients it needs at different times of your cycle. You’re basically giving your body the building blocks it needs to turn the compounds and nutrients in those seeds into the appropriate hormones. With seed cycling, you eat different freshly ground up seeds during the two phases of your cycle. The seeds DO need to be freshly ground, since the nutritive compounds in the seeds deteriorate quickly once ground, but stay very protected within the shell of the seed. So, just order an inexpensive electric coffee grinder and use that *exclusively* for grinding your seeds. It literally takes 20 seconds each morning to scoop out two tablespoons of seeds and pump the grinder a couple times. Super easy stuff!
If your hormones are out of balance, this is a really helpful and healthy way to get them back on track. I have the details broken down below. If you’re unfamiliar with the numbering of your cycle, though, know that day 1 is your period and kicks off the first half of your cycle. During this first half (aka the follicular phase), you should have more estrogen in your body. For a ‘regular’ 28-day cycle, you ovulate on day 15, and that starts the second half of your cycle. During the second half (aka the luteal phase), you should have more progesterone in your body.
However long your cycle is, just know that day 1 is your period, and the halfway point is about when you’re likely ovulating. So with that in mind, the directions for seed cycling go like this:
First half of your cycle (day 1 [period] through ~14)
1 tablespoon of freshly ground flax seeds
1 tablespoon of freshly ground pumpkin seeds
2000 mg of fish oil
Second half of your cycle (day 15 [ovulation] through ~28)
1 tablespoon of freshly ground sesame seeds
1 tablespoon of freshly ground sunflower seeds
2000 mg of evening primrose oil
A lot of people add the seeds into smoothies to eat them, but I have a hard time starting the day with a smoothie when the weather is still cold, so I have a recipe above for potatoes and eggs with your daily dose of seeds incorporated into it. For the fish oil, I just take a supplement via my prenatal vitamin (I have my complete hormone balancing regimen listed + linked below), and for the evening primrose oil, I just take about 1/2 teaspoon of it straight. It’s pretty flavorless and unoffensive taste-wise.
I was on progesterone-based hormonal birth control pills from the time I was 18 until I was 28. After I went off hormonal birth control, I started breaking out. I tried every. single. product. I could find, and nothing worked. I went to a dermatologist, explained that I kept breaking out around the jawline, and was prescribed two different pills to take everyday and two different creams and sent home, with worrying warnings about the side effects of the prescriptions. I took the pills and did the creams for 4 months with no difference, so I stopped taking them. After several years and lots of google sleuthing, I had the suspicion that it was related to hormones because it was always along the jawline area, which is typically where women break out if they have a hormone imbalance. So, I got my blood tested in November 2018 at my normal doctor, and asked her to do a hormone panel. I did the test, and was told that my results were in the normal range.
This was *hugely* frustrating for me, because I knew that something was wrong, but no one in the traditional medical field seemed to be listening or even care about finding out what the root of the problem was. All that happened was that I’d get prescriptions thrown at me, and still have no idea about what was actually happening inside my body to cause this. Normal healthy 30 year-olds aren’t breaking out like teenagers, and I knew something wasn’t right.
So, I did some googling for Portland naturopaths and made an appointment with a local naturopath here. The moment I walked in, I knew it was going to be different. We talked and talked, and she listened to my frustrations and explained to me how hormones work in the body, what she suspected might be going on, and tests we could run to get answers. I was so, so happy to finally be heard, and to have a doctor that actually wanted to find the root of the problem as much as I did. She did a hormone blood test, and a food sensitivity panel to see if there was anything dietary causing it, and then I waited a couple weeks for the results.
Well, the only thing I’m sensitive to apparently, is green beans (so weird!), so that was a relief. But on the hormone test, she had me get my blood drawn on specific days of my cycle, because the normal levels of the three main types of hormones in the female body (progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone) vary depending on the time of your cycle. For example, if you’re ovulating you usually have higher progesterone levels, and if you’re on your period you usually have higher estrogen levels, kind of like a yin and yang type thing. So having the reference for where I was in my cycle was a hugely important part of knowing whether my levels were normal or not. This is not something my ‘regular’ doctor even asked about, which is why my previous results were marked normal, even though (as you’ll find out), they were not.
A normal women’s progesterone levels in the luteal phase of her cycle are between 3.3 – 28.0 ng/mL, with above 10 being considered ideal, and mine were 0.3. When my progesterone levels were supposed to be highest, they barely existed. Armed with this information, my naturopath prescribed a regimen of seed cycling in combination with low doses of a naturally-derived progesterone cream (made from sweet potatoes) to help me get my hormones in the right place, and we decided to do a more in-depth hormone panel called the DUTCH Test.
After the appointment, I did a lot of reading about low progesterone levels and realized that it meant it would be very difficult for me to have children as my body currently is. Progesterone is what creates a healthy blood lining in the uterus, and the body needs progesterone to be able to carry a child to full term (aka stay pregnant). So in a way it’s a blessing in disguise that I was breaking out, because if I wasn’t, I never would have found out about my hormones and gotten a head start on getting them normalized.
I ended up doing the DUTCH test three separate times to track my hormones over the past year. I also have scans of the first page of my results below here, too, in case any of you are curious what the DUTCH test looks like. There’s a lot more detail in the rest of the pages of each test result, too, where it breaks down how your body is metabolizing the hormones, but to keep it brief I’m just sharing the first page of each result. So, the results were:
Estrogen: 7.71 (1.8 – 4.5 is normal)
Progesterone: 5.0 (6.0 to 20 is normal)
Estrogen: 4.12 (1.8 – 4.5 is normal)
Progesterone: 5.6 (6.0 to 20 is normal)
Estrogen: 3.93 (1.8 – 4.5 is normal)
Progesterone: 3.5 (6.0 to 20 is normal)
So my estrogen levels were insanely high at first, but have now gone down significantly with every test, which is a relief. I was especially high in the estrogen 4-OH-E1 which is tied to increased cancer risk, and that has gone down with every test too (from 3.5 to 3.3 to 2.12—normal is 0 to 1.8), although it’s still higher than it should be.
For this last test, you can see that my progesterone levels dipped down again, and it’s because I didn’t apply any progesterone cream leading up to the test that time because my doctor wanted to see what my baseline natural progesterone production was. I also stopped seed cycling back in October after traveling a lot, which I think contributed too. It’s pretty clear now that my body really needs the external progesterone at this point, so I’ll continue doing that and am going to start seed cycling again.
If you suspect you might have a hormone imbalance, or want to try getting pregnant after being on hormonal birth control for years, I’d highly recommend asking your doctor to do a DUTCH test. It’s so incredibly helpful with giving you a precise picture of what’s going on inside your body, which will help you and your doctor lay out an effective treatment plan.
My Hormone Balancing Regimen
This is everything I’ve done to help balance my hormones that I felt really made a difference. If you suspect you have a hormone imbalance, definitely talk to your doctor and advocate for yourself. In my personal experience, going to a naturopath resulted in finding the root of the problem rather than a band-aid type of treatment, but do whatever makes you comfortable. And *always* consult with a physician before starting any new supplements. And only use a hormone cream that is prescribed by your doctor, *never* try to use or buy one on your own without your doctor’s prescription. The linked items are the exact ones I use, and the supplement brand (pure encapsulations) is the one recommended to me by my naturopath.
- DIM (daily supplement)
- Calcium D Glucarate (daily supplement)
- Pre-natal multi-vitamin (daily supplement)
- Seed cycling with flax and pumpkin seeds and fish oil (daily through days 1-14 of your cycle)
- Seed cycling with sesame and sunflower seeds and evening primrose oil (daily through days 15-28 of your cycle)
- Naturally derived progesterone cream (daily through days 15 – 28 of your cycle)
- Eating lots of fresh ginger + turmeric (helps your liver filter out excess hormones from your system if you’re dominant in a particular hormone)
- Cut out most dairy (dairy products definitely make me break out and the hormones in fresh dairy aren’t helpful. The only dairy items I still eat in moderation are butter and quality aged cheeses, like parmesan or aged cheddar)
A Word About Endocrine Disruptors
At the end of all of this, I was asking my naturopath about how my hormones could have ended up this way, and if it was because I was on progesterone-based birth control pills for a decade. She said it could be that in part, but that a lot of it has to do with endocrine disruptor exposure, too. Endocrine disruptors are compounds that are structurally very similar to hormones, so when they enter the body they are accidentally used in the same way that hormones are, except that they aren’t hormones, so they end up wreaking havoc on your hormonal system. You can read more about how they work here and here.
Things like BPA (the thing that used to be in almost all kinds of plastic), phthalates (which are in most commercial cosmetics), glycol esthers (which are in a lot of cleaning products and cosmetics), many pesticides (especially DDT/round-up), and fire retardants (which are required in some states for materials like pillows) are endocrine disruptors. You can read a list of some of the most common ones here, and about some more of them here.
Basically, a lot of plastics, cleaning products, sun screen, cosmetics, receipts, and fragranced products have them. I don’t use much plastic for environmental reasons, but reading about endocrine disruptors really reinforced that on a whole new level. I’d highly recommend trying to switch to more low-key and natural products, like using baking soda and lemon juice as a cleaner, essential oils as a perfume, glass jars for food storage combined with using the bulk bins at the grocery store (its cheaper, too!), and avoiding plastics in general as much as you can.
Back when I was growing up in the 80’s and 90’s these weren’t even on the radar, but were omnipresent everywhere (hello, flame retardant children’s pajamas). It makes sense that myself and so many of my female friends are struggling with hormone issues, ranging from unexplained infertility to unnaturally large ovarian cysts to migraines to miscarriages. If you are experiencing hormone issues, definitely check out what endocrine disruptors are in your home and try to minimize your exposure to them as much as possible, *especially* when it comes to food preparation and storage (never put plastic in the microwave or oven!!)
My Next Steps
Now that my hormones are finally in a relatively stable place and I know how to best keep them balanced, we were going to try to get pregnant this year. But with COVID-19, we’re putting those plans on hold. It will be nerve-wrecking enough through the early stages of the pregnancy with my progesterone issues (low progesterone means a sharply increased risk of miscarriage), and worrying about contracting a virus during pregnancy or the birthing process or infancy isn’t a risk we feel comfortable taking right now.
In all honesty, I’m really nervous because I know that with every year that passes, it will become more and more difficult to get pregnant, but with all that’s going on it feels like it’s best to wait. Even though in my heart I want to start our family *right now*, I know that it’s the wrong thing to do. If I or the baby contracted the virus and something happened, I would never be able to forgive myself. So, I’m just going to keep taking care of myself and my hormones to create as healthy a home as a can for the day when it’s safe to start trying again.
And I’m really and truly grateful for getting to the root of what was happening to me, and finding healthy treatments that work. I know I mentioned this before, but it’s worth saying again. Please don’t be too intimidated in your doctor’s office to advocate for yourself and your health. You *know* your body and can tell when something is wrong, and if your doctor keeps telling you it’s normal, definitely get a second opinion. It can’t hurt anything to get the insights of a second physician, or even a third. Be your best and strongest advocate, you deserve it <3