As we begin a new year many of you may be thinking about starting a family or growing the one you already have. We all know that healthy bodies make healthy babies so the best way to plan for pregnancy is to prepare your body by taking the steps necessary to create a healthy environment for a baby to grow. The female reproductive system is controlled by the relationship between estrogen and progesterone. We need the right amount of each of these hormones at the right time of the month in order to grow a healthy egg and release it from the ovary so it can be fertilized by the sperm. The average menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days and has two, roughly equal, phases – the follicular phase which is dominated by estrogen and the luteal phase which is controlled by progesterone. Today I want to talk about how consuming certain seeds and oils at the right point of your menstrual cycle can help regulate your estrogen and progesterone levels, naturally.
Follicular Phase (Days 1 to 14)
The first day of your period (the day you start to bleed) is counted as Day 1 of your cycle. This part of the menstrual cycle is the estrogenic phase.
Estrogen is responsible for making our tissue plump and juicy; I like to think of the female archetype Venus de Milo with her curvy hips and voluptuous breasts – estrogen is responsible for producing our curves. Under the influence of estrogen the follicle (or egg) in the ovary begins to ripen and the lining of the uterus thickens. A properly thickened uterine lining is like a nutrient-rich garden bed ready for planting. Taking oils that promote healthy estrogen levels during this phase of your cycle will help your body produce a good quality egg and develop a thick lining for the potential fertilized egg to attach to.
During the follicular phase of your cycle (the first half), it is important then to support and promote estrogen levels. The five essential nutrients that will help with this are:
- Phytoestrogens (plant estrogens)
- Omega-3 oils
- Vitamin E
Anti-oxidants are important for protecting your cells from damage. This is vital to the very fragile, rapidly dividing cells that occur in pregnancy.
As essential as estrogen is however, it can also create certain problems such as fibroids, polyps and polycystic ovaries, all of which can affect fertility. Plant estrogens, or phytoestrogens, are a safer version of estrogen. When you consume phytoestrogens in food form they help modulate our normally occurring (endogenous) estrogen. This modulation helps us in the metabolism and excretion of estrogen which reduces the more harmful effects of too much estrogen. What this means is that a diet high in phytoestrogens gives all the benefits of estrogen while also reducing the dangers. The part of the plant that functions as a phytoestrogen is called the lignan. As well as being an anti-oxidant, lignans have a unique ability to mimic estrogen and bind to estrogen receptors without the dangerous effects of estrogen so the key to regulating estrogen levels is to make sure you increase the number of lignans you eat during the first half of your cycle.
Omega-3 oils are important in developing healthy cell membranes, promoting brain health and reducing your inflammatory pathways. Omega-3 promotes healthy pregnancies and is important for neurological development in babies.
Vitamin E is an important anti-oxidant that also helps keep the blood thinner and reduces blood clots which is important for a successful pregnancy and reduced risk of miscarriage.
Zinc is important for healthy cell development and hormone production. Zinc is vital in the early stages of pregnancy.
Seeds that are good at promoting estrogen levels are:
- Flax Seed (Linseed)
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Chia Seeds
These are all considered phytoestrogens that mimic the effect of estrogen in the body. They are also a rich source of lignans, omega-3 oil, vitamin E and zinc.
By consuming these seeds at the right doses and the right time in your cycle you can promote your estrogen levels naturally without having to rely on taking external hormones.
In addition to flax, pumpkin and chia seeds you also want to take fish oil which is high in Omega-3.
Luteal Phase (Days 15-28)
The second half of your menstrual cycle (days 15-28 in an average cycle) is known as the luteal stage of the cycle and occurs once the ripened egg has been released from the ovary. If you are tracking your basal body temperature with a thermometer you will see a rise in your temperature at this time. Progesterone’s key role is to keep the uterine lining that was formed during the first half of the cycle in place. If there is no fertilized egg to implant in the uterine wall then, at the end of the luteal phase, progesterone levels will drop and your period will begin. If there is a fertilized egg and you do not produce enough progesterone, then your body will shed the uterine lining too soon and the fertilized egg will not have enough time to implant.
During this phase you need to maintain a healthy balance of estrogen and progesterone, selenium to support the liver in metabolizing hormones and help with detoxification and omega-6 to help regulate your hormones and ease PMS symptoms.
Seeds that can help in this phase are:
- Sesame Seeds
- Sunflower Seeds
supported by Evening Primrose oil which is high is gamma-linoleic acid (GLA)
Sesame seeds contain lignans and help balance estrogen and progesterone ratios. They are also a good source of calcium, important in bone growth. Sunflower seeds are high in selenium which supports the liver in metabolism of hormones and detoxification. Evening primrose oil is an omega-6 oil, high in gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and helps with pms and hormone regulating.
Improving Fertility with Seed and Oil Rotation – timetable
Days 1-14 of your cycle (counting from the 1st day of your period)
Take 2 tablespoons of organic, raw and ground seeds daily. Any combination of:
- Flax seeds
- Pumpkin seeds
- Chia seeds
The seeds can be added to cereal, yogurt, and salad or blended into smoothies. Seed oils can spoil and go rancid quickly so, to ensure freshness, buy whole seeds and grind them before use. The easiest way is to use a coffee grinder and grind the seeds daily. Another reason it is important to grind the seeds is to ensure the lignans are adequately available and can be absorbed by your intestines. Whole seeds are likely to exit your digestive system the same way they went in – whole. If you want to grind a small batch of seeds to last a few days then keep the ground seeds in the refrigerator to ensure freshness.
Take 1500mg- 2000mg of combined DHA / EPA Fish Oil capsules twice a day
I recommend Nordic Naturals Pro-Omega lemon capsules at a dose of 2 capsules twice a day with food. We need our digestive enzymes and bile from our gallbladder to absorb all the nutrients in oils and taking them with food helps with absorbability.
Day 15-28 of your cycle
Take 2 tablespoons of organic, raw and ground seeds every day. Any combination of:
- Sesame seeds
- Sunflower seeds
If your period begins earlier than day 28, discontinue the progesterone supporting seeds and oils and start again with the estrogen supporting seed and oils.
Take Evening Primrose Oil
Most capsules you can buy will contain a combination of omega 6 oils. Make sure you have a minimum of 130 mg GLA per capsule.
The dose I recommend is 2 capsules twice a day with food.
Rotating seeds and oils in your diet is not just good for fertility, it is also important for hormonal regulation and can help with healthy skin and hair, reduce PMS, menstrual cramps, headaches, breast tenderness and irritability. By adding these supplemental seeds and oils to your diet you will be taking the first step to creating a hormonally healthy body. We not only need the right amounts of estrogen and progesterone but we also need them to be present at the correct time in the menstrual cycle. Producing too much or too little at the wrong times can throw your delicate hormonal balance off. If you have never tried these foods in your diet give it a try for 3 months and see what improvements you find in your health – and please let me know how it goes in the comments box below.
Creating a hormonally healthy body is the first step to creating a healthy baby. Join me next week as we talk about genetic testing for folic acid conversion defects.