When a woman's menstrual cycle is normal, ESTROGEN is the dominant hormone during the first two weeks of the cycle, leading up to ovulation (known as the follicular phase). Estrogen is balanced by PROGESTERONE after ovulation, during the second half of the cycle (known as the luteal phase). Estrogen dominance means a woman can have deficient, normal or excess estrogen, but with little progesterone to balance its effects. When this happens, a woman can experience a wide range of PMS symptoms. Here we will discuss a few ways to harmonize this balance and reduce symptoms.
Flax has an abundance of positive qualities for women’s health and hormones. In the case of PMS, flax provides a therapeutic effect because of its lignans, rich fiber and omega-3 content.
Flax seeds have the richest dietary source of LIGNANS, a type of phytoestrogen. A phytoestrogen is a plant-based nutrient similar to the female hormone estrogen. Due to this similarity, lignans appear to have estrogenic and/or anti-estrogenic effects in the body. Studies show that flax improves the estrogen to progesterone ratio, helping to alleviate PMS symptoms. And it has benefit for women who no longer ovulate: studies reveal that higher intake of lignans is associated with reduced risk of breast cancer.
Flax is high in soluble FIBER. Inside your digestive tract, soluble fiber attaches to cholesterol particles and takes them out of the body, helping to reduce overall cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. Soluble fiber helps with elimination as well. Having regular bowel movements is important because constipation can cause your body to reabsorb toxins that are meant to be eliminated through the stool. This is especially important for women because some toxins (like pesticides), can have estrogenic effects on the body which can further throw off the estrogen ratio and become a health risk. Because of this, we often prescribe liver herbs along with a hormone-regulating protocol, to help support elimination and detoxification for the very reason that the liver processes estrogens.
Estrogens like other sex hormones, are derived from cholesterol. In pre-menopausal women, the most important producer of estrogens are the ovaries but fat tissue also plays a role. Because fat tissue can produce hormones, excess body fat can disrupt hormonal balance. That is why proper diet (including excellent sources of fiber) are helpful in maintaining weight and contributing to hormone balance.
Finally, flax contains OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS. Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial to the body in many ways. In terms of PMS, they are known to help increase the production of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins. A prostaglandin is a hormone-like substance that helps regulate inflammation, pain, blood pressure, fluid balance and blood clotting. By increasing the amount of the “good” prostaglandin (PgE3 derived from omega-3 fatty acids and PgE1 derived from omega-6 fatty acids) we provide the body with anti-inflammatory benefits. Additionally, “bad” prostaglandins (PgE2) are derived from animal sources. With higher intake of animal fats and proteins, we tend to see higher levels of PgE2, manifesting as inflammation and pain.
Seed Cycling for Balance
To improve PMS symptoms, my favorite dietary recommendation is seed cycling. What I love about seed cycling is how simple, affordable and effective it is.
When your cycle is predictable, start on the first day of your period, this is called the Follicular Phase. The follicular phase usually goes from Day 1 to Day 14 (or until ovulation). This is the time when estrogen starts to rise. On these days, take 1 tablespoon each: ground raw flax and ground raw pumpkin seeds. The many benefits of flax have already been extolled; Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, an anti-oxidant essential for ovarian function. When your cycle is unpredictable or absent you can create a rhythm by taking flax/pumpkin on the first day of the new moon. The reason we choose this pattern is that when there was no artificial light, women used to start bleeding at the new moon, and ovulated at the full moon.
The next phase is called the Luteal Phase, which typically starts after ovulation, Day 15 to Day 28 (or until menses). During this time, progesterone rises. To support progesterone, take 2 tablespoons (1 each) of freshly ground raw sunflower and sesame seeds daily. Sesame and sunflower provide beneficial fatty acids and contain vitamin E, copper, B Vitamins, phosphorus and selenium, needed for proper hormone production. They also provide nutrients that reduce inflammation. If you are following the moon cycle, switch to sesame and sunflower seeds on the full moon.
Choose raw, organic seeds and use a clean coffee grinder or blender to grind them. To maintain the integrity of the seeds store in a glass container and keep them in the refrigerator. Add your ground seeds to smoothies, oatmeal, salads, yogurt and soups! Be patient when seed cycling. For some, it may take a few months to really see the results. Stick with it!
Balancing the Ratio with Evening Primrose Oil
Evening primrose oil (EPO) comes from the evening primrose flower. It is an omega-6 fatty acid that contains linoleic acid (LA) and gamma linolenic acid (GLA). GLA produces Prostaglandin E1 (PgE1). As discussed, PgE1 is anti-inflammatory. This conversion requires other nutrients to help convert essential fatty acids to PgE1. They include: Magnesium, Vitamin B6, Zinc, Vitamin B3 and Vitamin C. One serving per day of Evening primrose oil, taken during the luteal phase, has a supportive effect on progesterone.
*Research shows that PMS has a wide range of origins so it is important to seek a professional who can determine the cause of symptoms before starting any protocols. Since it is often a combination of issues, we provide support to the whole body to establish overall balance and health.