Women’s hormones function in a delicate balance that can be easily thrown off by factors like diet, stress levels, sleep, exercise, and environment. When hormones are imbalanced, you may experience side effects like irregular periods, acne, thyroid disorders, and chronic fatigue. Seed cycling is a natural method of hormonal balance with potential health benefits including regulating menstrual periods, reducing acne, treating polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, and infertility, and easing symptoms of menopause. While scientific evidence supporting seed cycling is lacking, numerous anecdotal accounts praise its effectiveness. Seed cycling involves eating flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds at different times of the month to balance the hormones estrogen and progesterone. While seed cycling should not be considered a miracle cure, it is a great way to experiment with the potential benefits of these tiny seeds that offer big nutrition.
To explain how seed cycling works, you need a simple understanding of the phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. The first 14 days of your menstrual cycle are the follicular phase. During this phase, estrogen is produced. The second 14 days are the luteal phase, which begins after an egg has been released. Levels of progesterone and estrogen gradually increase following ovulation to support conception and implantation, and drop again, which causes the onset of your period. In seed cycling, flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds are taken during the follicular phase, and sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are taken during the luteal phase. Most often, the woman eats 1-2 tablespoons daily of each freshly ground seed.
Follicular Phase: Flaxseeds and Pumpkin Seeds
Flaxseeds contain lignans, which are phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens mimic the action of estrogen and can help increase or decrease estrogen levels. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which can support progesterone production in preparation for the luteal phase. Those who advocate for seed cycling recommend including flaxseeds (ground into flax meal) and pumpkin seeds at the start of your period and continuing to add them for 14 days.
Luteal Phase: Sesame Seeds and Sunflower Seeds
Sesame seeds contain an abundance of zinc, which can boost progesterone production. Like flaxseeds, sesame seeds also contain lignans, which can bind to estrogen, inhibiting it from increasing too much. Sunflower seeds boast high levels of vitamin E and selenium. Like zinc, Vitamin E is thought to help to boost production of progesterone, while selenium supports estrogen detoxification of the liver, helping reduce excess estrogen during the luteal phase. Those who follow seed cycling recommend consuming sesame and sunflower seeds day 14, when you're ovulating, and continuing through the start of your period.
An editor from Glamour UK claims that these Sesame Sunflower Chia Bites helped her through the luteal phase. "I stocked up on flax, sunflower, sesame, and pumpkin seeds, and began taking the sunflower and sesame seeds during a luteal phase. While I later started to sprinkle them onto my breakfast, first I turned them into these tahini balls for a quick snack mid-morning. I found this to be such an easy and filling way to get my daily seed fix."
What's the science say?
So far, scientific studies that show a relationship between seed cycling and improved hormonal balance in women are limited. However, research has shown a clear connection between the hormonal cycle and some of the nutritional components of flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds.
It’s still possible to seed cycle if you have an irregular or missed period. In this case, you can track your menstrual cycle and adjust your seed cycling schedule based on your ovulation. For menopausal and postmenopausal women, it’s recommended to use the phases of the moon as a guide. This may sound a little peculiar, but many women’s cycles naturally follow the phases of the moon, which also follows a 28 day cycle. During days 1-14, or the new moon to the full moon, you should eat flax seeds and pumpkin seeds, while from days 15-28, or the full moon to the new moon, you should eat sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
How To Get Started
First, track your menstrual cycle. There are tons of apps out there that can help you track your cycle including Clue, Flo, Ovia, Eve by Glow, MagicGirl, and Period Tracker. These are great tools for someone who is just getting started with menstrual cycle tracking.
Next, buy raw seeds. The best type of seeds to use are unsalted and raw, meaning they’re not roasted. This ensures that they still contain all of their valuable nutrients that may be lost during roasting. If you can, choose organic seeds to reduce exposure to pesticides, which can disrupt hormones.
Store your seeds in the refrigerator or freezer. This prevents the fats in your seeds from oxidizing and going rancid. Keeping your seeds in a cool, dark place can help to keep them fresh for longer.
Make sure you grind your flaxseeds! You can use a coffee or spice grinder to grind your seeds, which helps your body to digest them more easily. But, don’t worry if you don’t have a grinder. Pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds can be broken down by your body. Only flax seeds cannot be broken down or absorbed if whole, so if you don’t have a grinder available, be sure to buy them pre-ground and keep them in the refrigerator to avoid their delicate fats from going rancid.
When Will I Notice A Difference?
Proponents of seed cycling claim that you can see positive hormonal changes within three months of daily use. You can use a journal or menstrual cycle tracking app to keep track of changes that happen over the months.
Beginning to seed cycle is an easy and natural way to support your hormone balance, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t a cure-all. Other strategies that can be used to improve your hormone balance include making time for enough sleep, managing stress, eating plenty of fat and protein, staying hydrated, engaging in gentle exercise, and avoiding environmental toxins. Incorporating seed cycling along with these strategies can be a holistic way to prioritize your hormonal balance.
Have you tried seed cycling? We’d love to hear about your experience below.
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Hi! My name is Katie Philippi and I am a student in Georgia State University's Coordinated Program for Dietetics. I have loved getting the opportunity to learn more and more about food and nutrition, and have taken a special interest in sports nutrition, intuitive eating, and disordered eating. Outside of nutrition, I enjoy traveling and spending time outdoors with friends, cooking, and trying new restaurants whenever I get the chance!