By Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
Nutritional cycling is an effective way to balance, promote, and optimize hormone health throughout menstruation, pre-ovulation, ovulation, and post-ovulation. Energetic guidelines and specific essential fatty acids, nutrients, fiber, and phytochemicals, have the potential to influence the production, detoxification, and ratio of sex and stress hormones as they wax and wane throughout the four phases. In addition, cycling offers plant diversity for gut microbiome health and nurtures lifestyle routine.
Beyond nutrition, you will learn that the four unique phases of your menstrual cycle influence varying physical and mental-emotional strengths in you. Learning to work with hormone shifts in tune to nature instead of against it is a sacred gift that I'm passionate to bring back.
“If there is lack of routine in life how can we expect our bodies to maintain routine or rhythms.” – Claudia Welch
For those without a menstrual cycle, follow the guidelines below according to the phases of the moon; choosing either the new moon or full moon as ovulation or menstruation. A woman's hormone cycle is interconnected to the ebbs and flow of nature; the gravitational force and light of the sun and moon encourage circadian and hormone balancing.
If you have a regular period and it is not aligned with the moon phases, not to worry; just because your period does not fall on a full or new moon does not mean it's not healthy. Keep in mind that the lunar cycle is around 30 days, which doesn't always equal out to your average cycle length.
For more information on your period as it relates to the moon, please read New Moon vs. Full Moon Bleeding: What Your Body Is Telling You. To explore how the four phases of your cycle relates to inner seasons and energy fluctuations, check out 4 Archetypes of The Female Cycle from risingwoman.com.
Adjusting to Your Cycle + What to Expect
If you are following seed cycling to optimize your hormones and if you know your average cycle length, adjust the following recommended seed cycling days according to the length of your four phases. Natural Cycles is a great app to help keep track.
You can expect positive hormonal shifts within 4 - 8 cycles when combined with weekly acupuncture treatments. Customized herbal therapy as advised from a medical herbalist is also recommended.
Phase 1: Follicular | Menstruation | Approx. D. 1 - 7 |
~ New or Full Moon ~ Wise Woman. Inner Winter. Death ~
“I move ahead with my intention now or accept that my intention was not the best at this time. I release it, and I course correct now. I feel grateful that my intention is coming into form in the perfect way. I receive with gratitude.” – Ezzie Spencer
Physiologically this is the beginning of the follicular phase of a woman’s cycle. Hormones decline and bleeding occurs as the uterine lining is cleared through the vagina.
Reduce arachidonic acid rich foods, a precursor to the inflammatory prostaglandin, PGE2, to ease menstrual cramps and PMS. To do so limit intake of saturated fat (animal fats and dairy products, coconut, palm) to 1 serving of animal and 1 serving of vegetarian saturated fat per day.
Increase foods that contain the antispasmodic muscle-relaxing prostaglandins, PGE1 and PGE3. Choose from omega 3 rich wild salmon, halibut, cod, sardines, and chia seed. Enjoy 2 tablespoons of hemp seed and 2 - 3 tablespoons of chia seed per day. *Scroll to the end of this article if you're interested in 'just the seeds' seed cycling summary.
Energetics: ~ Quiet. Slow. Inward. Sensitive. Emotions. Release. ~
As hormones decline, focus on introversion, stillness, rest, warmth, gentle walks in nature, and nourishing self-care. Consume blood-building foods to replenish and restore, such as: grass-fed red meat, grass-fed gelatin, bone broth, berries, beet, black rice, black beans, coconut aminos, unsulfured blackstrap molasses, and cooked dark leafy greens. Keep carbohydrate levels relatively low during this time as hormones are low.
Increase qi regulating foods to reduce cramping and to balance energy levels. Prepare cooked, warm foods, sip on raspberry leaf tea or honey-ginger-lemon tea infused with a sprig of fresh rosemary, and incorporate ginger and scallion into soups and stews with easy to digest vegetables and protein.
Phase 2: Follicular | Post Menses & Pre-Ovulation | Approx. D. 7 – 14 |
1st or 3rd Quarter Moon ~ Goddess. Inner Spring. Creativity ~
“I take discerning action to support my intention. I trust the perfect intention is coming into form at the perfect time.”- Ezzie Spencer
During the follicular phase of the cycle the pituitary gland begins making FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) and LH (luteinizing hormone) to simulate the growth of new follicles (eggs) in the ovaries. Follicles produce estrogen, which causes the uterine lining to grow in preparation for receiving an egg from ovulation, and cervical fluid increases. Note: Approximately one week prior to ovulation estrogen starts to rise and then peaks.
After your period, 1 - 1 1/2 weeks prior to ovulation (days 3 – 7 to 14), start to consume 2 tablespoons of fresh ground flaxseed per day. Phytoestrogen plant compounds (phytochemicals) in flax called lignans, its fiber content, along with cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, etc.) will help to detox unsupportive estrogen and other hormone metabolites via the digestive tract.
*For estrogen dominant conditions, continue to supplement with 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed per day for your entire cycle.
*If you are vegetarian and don't eat fish, consider supplementing with an omega 3 algae oil to take daily.
Phytoestrogen-rich foods such as flax, maca, chickpeas, and tahini, contain weak estrogen-like activity, meaning these foods can support healthy estrogen production when needed. Increasing these additional sources of phytoestrogen foods during the time mentioned above can support your second phase; for example, adding hummus (chickpeas or lentils and tahini) to a steamed veggie and protein bowl. Carbohydrate consumption can slightly increase from approximately day 7 - 16 with the increase in insulin sensitive estrogen and increased exercise levels (see below).
Exercise can increase during phase 2. Studies show that an increase in estrogen concentrations relative to progesterone during the late follicular phase enhances endurance performance. When estrogen is in balance it augments glycogen storage and facilitates insulin sensitivity and the metabolism of fat, carbohydrate, and protein.
Estrogen also has a key role in bone mineral density, therefore women who are estrogen deficient must include resistance training to increase hormones involved in bone formation. Studies show that resistance training increases muscular strength and blood levels of growth hormone, testosterone, estrogen, and parathyroid hormone, all which have an impact on bone formation and musculoskeletal health.
Energetics: ~ Focused. Active. Social. Creative. Playful. Driven. ~
Boost blood and yin production by consuming heme iron-rich protein foods, with yang-promoting fresh green herbs, for example grass-fed liver pate with onion, garlic, basil, and rosemary.
Phase 3: Luteal | Ovulation | Approx. D. 12 - 16 |
New or Full Moon ~ Nurturer. Inner Summer. Sexuality ~
“I set my intention; I feel my intention in my body. I reflect with thanks. I rest. I restore.” - Ezzie Spencer
High levels of estrogen trigger a surge of LH from the pituitary gland. This stimulates ovulation whereby one of the ovaries releases a mature egg from the most dominant follicle, which flows into the fallopian tube. The remainder of the ruptured follicle, called the corpus luteum, secretes progesterone. Testosterone increases during ovulation as well. The resulting rise in energy increases physical, social, and mental activity.
Carbohydrates consumption can slightly increase for a few days from approximately day 11 - 16 with an increase in insulin sensitive estrogen and increased exercise levels.
Energetics: ~ Adventure. Sensual. Playful. Flirty. Social. Giving. ~
Acupuncture intentions during this phase are to strengthen kidney and yang energy, and to invigorate qi. Seafood, nori and dulse, berries, walnuts, and black sesame seeds help to strengthen the kidneys. From days 12 - 16 consume 1 - 2 tablespoons of ground black sesame seeds and 2 - 3 tablespoons of ground walnuts per day. The body’s digestive fire is stronger during this time and so meat and fat consumption can be increased. Now is a good time to try to re-introduce foods that have been eliminated in the past as the body may be able to tolerate to a threshold amount.
This phase encourages us to look within ourselves and to reflect on intentions that may help light the way towards our purpose. This is a good time to proceed with something you’ve been putting off for a while due to lack of courage.
Phase 4: Luteal | Post Ovulation and Pre Menses | Approx. D. 17 - 32 |
~ 1st or 3rd Quarter Moon ~ Wild Woman. Inner Fall. Inward ~
“Now that I am receiving my intention I give back from a place of abundance.” – Ezzie Spencer
The corpus luteum shell continues to secrete progesterone, supports the uterine lining, and causes body temperature to rise throughout the luteal phase. Estrogen slowly increases as well. Progesterone reaches its peak around days 19 – 23.
The egg that was released during ovulation phase stays in the fallopian tube, which helps thicken the lining of the uterus to prepare for a possible pregnancy. If the sperm does not impregnate the egg during that time, the egg disintegrates and the menstrual phase resumes.
Ask your health practitioner about incorporating GLA rich borage or evening primrose oil, inositol, and chaste tree (vitex) into your supplement regimen from ovulation to the first day of your period, or for your entire cycle, to help reduce PMS symptoms. To support progesterone production during phase 4, consume foods high in zinc, vitamin C, vitamin E, and vitamin B6. To prevent and ease cramping, eat magnesium rich foods.
- Zinc: seafood, red meat, pumpkin seed, and hemp seed.
- Vitamin C: camu camu powder, bell pepper, grapefruit, orange, broccoli (florets and stalk), strawberries, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts, snow or snap peas, cauliflower, parsley, cabbage, butternut squash, and berries.
- Vitamin E: avocado (1/2 – 1 per day), sunflower seed, almonds, spinach, Swiss chard, asparagus, broccoli, olives, olive oil, berries, and winter squash.
- Vitamin B6: liver, duck, game meat, salmon, spinach, and avocado.
- Magnesium: pumpkin and hemp seed, spinach, swiss chard, buckwheat, halibut, dark chocolate (75% +), butternut and acorn squash.
Post-ovulation to approximately day 23, enjoy 2 tablespoons each of ground pumpkin and sunflower seed, and 1 tablespoon of hemp seed.
At one week prior to menstruation reduce arachidonic acid rich foods, a precursor to the inflammatory prostaglandin, PGE2, to ease chronic menstrual cramps and PMS. Limit intake of saturated fat (animal fats and dairy products, coconut, palm) to 1 serving of animal and 1 serving of vegetarian saturated fat per day.
Increase foods that contain the antispasmodic muscle-relaxing prostaglandins, PGE1 and PGE3. Choose from wild salmon, halibut, cod, and sardines, which contain omega 3 fatty acids (alpha linolenic acid) and enjoy 3 tablespoons of hemp seed per day, one week prior to menstruation.
Note: Hemp is the only omega-6 rich seed that has an optimal ratio of omega6 to omega3 fatty acids of 3:1. Hemp’s omega-6 transforms into gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SA), both of which are anti-inflammatory in nature, helping to prevent cramping and skin blemishes.
Carbohydrate consumption can slightly increase again from approximately day 20 - 22 with the increase in insulin sensitive hormones and exercise levels, and then decrease one week prior to menstruation as hormones and exercise decline.
Energetics: ~ Ideas. Learning. Edgy. Inward. Stillness. Hunger. ~
PMS and lack of menstruation can be a signal to slow down and to reflect on your relationship with yourself and others. One week prior to your period increase gentle self-care such as castor oil packs, journaling, soothing hobbies, massage, and introspection.
Avoid cold, raw foods, and focus on wild caught fish, cooked green and yellow-orange veggies, soups, stews, and chai tea. Support yang with basil, sage, thyme, and rosemary, dill, fennel, garlic and ginger, chai spices, lamb, venison, and quinoa.
Just the Seeds, Seed Cycling Summary
Essential fatty acids derived from seeds and other quality fats such as avocado play an important role in producing hormones. Nutrients, phytochemicals, and fiber in seeds also have their roles in optimizing hormone health. When consumed at regular times throughout the four phases, alongside a whole foods diet for 4 - 8 complete cycles, these components can help balance the ratio and detoxification of hormones.
*Use a seed/spice or coffee grinder to grind your seeds.
*You can either swap or supplement the seed cycling with oil cycling, which has a similar effect: For the first two phases supplement with omega 3 fish or algae oil. For the last two phases supplement with borage or evening primrose oil. If you don't eat fish, continue to take the omega 3 algae oil for the last two phases along with the borage or primrose oil.
Follicular Phase 1 | New Moon/Full Moon | Menses | Approx. D. 1 - 7
- Aim for 2 tablespoons hemp seed and 2 – 3 tablespoons chia seed per day from days 1 – 7. GLA transformed from hemp and omega-3 fatty acid-rich chia help to ease cramping and any PMS related symptoms.
Follicular Phase 2 | 1st/3rd Quarter | Post Menses + Pre-Ovulation | Approx. D. 7 – 14
- After your period, 1 – 1 ½ weeks prior to ovulation (days 3 – 7 to 14): 2 tablespoons fresh ground flaxseed per day. Flax lignans and fiber helps to detox unsupportive estrogen during this estrogen-peak time, and other hormone metabolites via the digestive tract. Lignans contain estrogen-like activity, meaning it can also support healthy estrogen production when needed.
Luteal Phase 3 | Full Moon/New Moon | Ovulation | Approx. D. 12 - 16
- 2 - 3 tablespoons each: ground black sesame seed and walnut to nourish essence, kidney health, and to supply phytoestrogens (sesame).
Luteal Phase 4 | 1st/3rd Quarter | Post Ovulation + Pre Menses | D. 17 – 32
Post ovulation, approximately days 17 – 23:
- Consume 2 tablespoons of ground pumpkin and sunflower seeds, and 1 tablespoon per day of hemp seed per day. These seeds are rich in zinc and vitamin E, which help to produce progesterone.
Pre menses (1 week before your period), approximately days 22 – 32:
- Increase hemp seed to 3 tablespoons per day. Hemp is a balanced omega6:3 ratio seed and a source of GLA and magnesium, which helps prevent PMS symptoms.
Balance Your Menstrual Cycle With Acupuncture
PCOS | How Acupuncture Can Help
Acupuncture For Stress & Anxiety
Acupuncture For Each Phase Of Your Menstrual Cycle
Chinese Medicine For PMS
What Your Period Tells You About Your Health
Circadian Rhythm For Hormone Balancing
If you're interested in acupuncture and diet therapy for menstrual health I’d be happy to guide you along! Please visit www.vcaspa.com to book online or call 250-590-4341. To learn more about my acupuncture practice, follow @hayley_stobbs on Instagram.
In health & happiness,
Hayley Stobbs R.Ac, CNC
Mateljan, George. The World’s Healthiest Foods. Seattle, Washington: George Mateljan, 2007.
Chambial, Shailja et al. “Vitamin C in Disease Prevention and Cure: An Overview.” Indian Journal of Clinical Biochemistry 28.4 (2013): 314–328. PMC. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
Dadkhah, Hajar, Elham Ebrahimi, and Nahid Fathizadeh. “Evaluating the Effects of Vitamin D and Vitamin E Supplement on Premenstrual Syndrome: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Controlled Trial.” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research 21.2 (2016): 159–164. PMC. Web. 11 Aug. 2017.
Bradbury, Joanne. “Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA): An Ancient Nutrient for the Modern Human Brain .” Nutrients 3.5 (2011): 529–554. PMC. Web. 11 Aug. 2017. https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/making-it-practical/tripping-lightly-down-the-prostaglandin-pathways/
Phipps W, Martini M, Lampe J, Slavin J, Kurzer M. Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle. J Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 1993; 77(5): 1215-1219.
USDA nutrient database: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods