Seed Cycling and Moon Bathing for Menstrual Health

Imagine there were no clocks. Like at all. The whole world would grind to a halt, right? How would people know when to do things?

But think about it for a minute (or what feels like a minute!) and you’ll realize that we don’t really need a clock for everything. We would still know when to go to sleep—we’d just wait for it to be dark. When the sun rose, the light would tell us to wake up. We would still know when to have lunch, too: Just wait till the sun is directly overhead. The rotation of the Earth and the rise and set of the sun provide signals that inform our behavior. We don’t even need to think about it, because these signals naturally make us feel sleepy when it is dark and alert when it is light. Every cell in our body is tuned into these circadian rhythms, though modern technology encourages and allows us to ignore our natural clock and get out of balance.

Hormones: Our Bodies’ Natural Timekeepers

Clocks measure the day and night, but they don’t cause it. In the same way, women often use calendars to measure our menstrual cycles—but if we threw out our calendars and didn’t think about it, our bodies would go on cycling naturally. So, what are the signals that tell our bodies when to go through the different phases of our cycle?

Our bodies’ natural signals are hormones. Our bodies have many different types of hormones, and all of them are either released or withheld naturally in response to different situations. Just as the brain knows to wake up and increase alertness with the sun, the reproductive organs know when to initiate the menstrual cycle when certain levels and balances of different hormones are present.

The menstrual cycle has four phases: follicular, ovulation, luteal, and menstrual. In the follicular phase, the body sends signals to the follicles in the ovaries to develop and create an ovum to be released mid-cycle. When the ovum is released, this is known as the ovulation phase. After the ovum is released, the body enters the luteal phase; if the egg was not fertilized, the uterine lining will shed and be passed as period blood in the menstrual phase. For many women, the entire cycle lasts 28 days; however, some women may have longer or shorter cycles.

The Impact of Lifestyle on Our Hormones

Lifestyle and diet factors affect the behavior of our hormones; if these impacts are significant enough, they can cause hormones to signal all kinds of chaos. Amenorrhea, severe PMS symptoms, acne, infertility, and fatigue can all be the result of imbalanced hormones.

Fortunately, just as lifestyle and diet can throw you out of whack, it can also help you restore balance under the right conditions. One such intervention is known as “seed cycling.” Seed cycling claims to take advantage of high levels of compounds in different seeds that are known to have effects on hormones that signal menstruation—including hormones called lignans. Known as phytoestrogens, lignans resemble estrogen at the molecular level; in fact, the lignans in flax seeds may help the body regulate estrogen, which in turn may help the reproductive organs to regulate and moderate the menstrual cycle. One study found that women who ingested flaxseed powder as part of their normal diet had longer luteal phases. This is a good thing, especially for women who are trying to get pregnant, as long luteal phases support fertility; the implantation of embryo occurs during the luteal phase.

The science on some of the other benefits of seed cycling is less clear. There have been a handful of studies examining the phytoestrogenic properties of pumpkin seeds. You’ll also find a variety of claims about zinc in pumpkin seeds and selenium in sunflower seeds, neither of which are particularly relevant to hormone signaling. That being said, many seeds are incredible sources of vitamins, nutrients, and minerals and may have myriad benefits, even if they don’t work in exactly the way seed cyclers believe they do.

To practice seed cycling, consume a tablespoon each of ground flax seeds and ground pumpkin seeds every day beginning on the day your period starts. Then, after 14 days, switch to consuming a tablespoon each of ground sunflower seeds and ground sesame seeds.

Moon Bathing

Another natural intervention for menstrual health is moon bathing. Moon bathing is based on the idea that women naturally menstruate in sync with the cycles of the moon, with menstruation occurring on the full moon. This phenomenon was confirmed in one study of women’s menstrual cycles, in which researchers found that a significantly larger proportion of women in the study menstruated around the new moon.

Moon bathing prescribes introspection and sexual inactivity during the new moon, to promote the release of blood and emotions. Then, during the full moon, women should expose themselves to moonlight for around 30 minutes or more each night and turn up the creative and emotional energies in their life. Your practice during moon bathing should be slow and relaxing, because while you want to be basking in the moonglow, you don’t want to send mixed messages to your circadian rhythms. This is not the time for a jog or a vigorous yoga flow, but a slow flow, relaxing pranayama, or just being still in meditation. Journaling, chanting, writing songs, or drawing/painting are also great ways to express your creative and emotional energies during this time.

What moon bathers claim is that, if our bodies naturally tend to regulate their menstrual cycle around the moon, then exposure to the various moon phases, especially the full moon, can help signal our bodies back into balance. Once again, scientific evidence to support this is scant at best. Still, as with seed cycling, in the absence of scholarly findings, exposure to moonlight has other benefits that make it a sensible lifestyle intervention. For examples, exposure to moonlight takes us away from artificial light that we encounter indoors and in cityscapes. Studies are very clear that artificial light deprives us of the benefits of our natural circadian rhythms and can lead to fatigue during the day and sleep problems at night.

Whether or not seed cycling and moon bathing help balance the menstrual cycle, neither seem to have negative impacts on health, while both do have other proven benefits. I advise women to do what feels most natural to them and to be mindful of changes in their bodies and what serves them well.

Find out about upcoming programs with Sarajean Rudman at Kripalu.

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Sarajean Rudman received a bachelor’s in health and wellness and sports management, and a master’s in integrative clinical nutrition. She has more than a decade of experience in personal training and group fitness.

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