Many people are turning to something called “seed cycling” to support their hormone health. Menstrual cycles can often be inconsistent, even painful, and seed cycling aims to help. Inconsistencies in menstrual cycles are often due to hormonal imbalances. It’s believed that certain seeds contain specific lignans and fatty acids that provide the building blocks for balanced hormone production. This article explores the concepts of seed cycling, its potential benefits, and what science has to say about its efficacy.
Inconsistent menstrual cycles are not only uncomfortable and even painful, but they can negatively impact fertility and mental health. Hormone imbalances are the leading cause of menstrual cycle irregularities.
Seed cycling aims to use specific seeds to help balance sex hormones, making menstrual cycles more consistent and less painful and improving fertility, mental health, and overall hormonal wellness.
Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are all believed to contain specific lignans and fatty acids that help manage sex hormone production. Seed cycling involves eating these seeds at different times of the month to balance specific hormones.
Although there is ample evidence to support the health benefits of including these seeds in your diet, scientific studies on seed cycling specifically are still lacking.
As always, be sure to consult your healthcare provider before making any major dietary changes that can impact your health.
Seed cycling is a nutritional approach to balancing sex hormone levels. Our bodies need specific ingredients (like fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins) to make sufficient sex hormones (like estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone). Without these nutrients, our body may not be able to produce the right amounts of hormones, causing hormonal imbalance and menstrual cycle disturbance.
The idea behind seed cycling is that by eating higher amounts of certain seeds at certain times in the menstrual cycle, the body gets the nutrients it needs to make the right amounts of each hormone at the right time of the month.
Please know that gender identity and biological sex are different topics. The research findings discussed in this article aim to address health issues potentially impacting biologically female and menstruating individuals (including, but not limited to, people who identify as nonbinary, cis women, and transgender men who may still be menstruating). Any research statistic mentioned in this article that uses “women/woman” is referring to menstruating individuals.
Menstrual cycle and seeds
To understand seed cycling, you must first understand the menstrual cycle and its phases. Each phase of the cycle correlates to different sex hormones; these hormones dictate which seeds to consume. Please know that these stages reflect the average, standard, menstrual cycle and do not account for medical conditions, genetic predispositions, anatomical anomalies, and other variables that impact or change the menstrual cycle.
Follicular phase (days 1–14)
Menstruation begins with the follicular phase of the cycle. During the first few days of this phase, the uterine lining is shed. After about 3–4 days, estrogen begins to climb and is the most prominent sex hormone during this phase. The body uses estrogen and other substances to build follicles, one of which will turn into an egg to be released during ovulation.
Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are recommended. These seeds impact estrogen levels and are thought to be helpful during this phase of the cycle. They are rich in lignans, fiber, and healthy fats, which may help support estrogen production. These seeds are also high in iron, which helps with red blood cell production after uterine shedding.
Ovulation (between days 12–17)
Ovulation marks the middle of the menstrual cycle and the transition from the follicular to the luteal phase. An egg is released during ovulation, which marks the most fertile time during the menstrual cycle.
Because this is peak fertility, many hormones like luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), testosterone, and estrogen briefly spike just before and during ovulation and subsequently drop directly after ovulation.
Around day 14–15 is believed to be the best day to transition from follicular phase seeds (flax and pumpkin) to luteal phase seeds (sunflower and sesame).
Luteal phase (days 15–30)
After ovulation, the luteal phase occurs. Although estrogen will also slightly rise during this phase, progesterone begins to climb and is the most prominent sex hormone during this cycle phase. The uterine lining thickens during this stage in preparation to support the implantation of a fertilized egg. When the egg is not fertilized and pregnancy does not result, the egg begins to break down and the uterine lining prepares to be shed.
Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are recommended during this phase. These seeds contain lignans, zinc, vitamin E, selenium, and fatty acids, which may all help support progesterone production and hormone balance.
The first day of bleeding/shedding marks the beginning of another follicular phase and the cycle repeats itself every 27–31 days, on average.
Make sure to purchase high-quality, organic seeds and grind the seeds fresh for better nutrient absorption. As always, with any nutrient intervention, be consistent and be patient. It may take a few cycles to notice positive changes!
What does the research say?
Research for seed cycling, specifically, is somewhat sparse as not many studies have been conducted with this specific method. Although seed cycling itself doesn’t have a large body of research, the positive benefits of seeds and their relationship to overall health, as well as hormone balance, have been well documented. Here is a quick review of each seed type and some of the health benefits research has shown.
Some of the benefits include:
- Improves skin health. Flax seeds can lead to fewer acne breakouts.
- Improves menstrual symptoms. Less severe menstrual cramps and bloating.
- Improves mood. Fewer mood swings and better sleep.
- Regulates blood sugar. Flax seeds help with insulin resistance in PCOS and diabetes.
- Improves PMS symptoms. Reduced breast tenderness, less cramps, longer luteal phases, and more consistent cycle regularity. The International Journal of Family Medicine found that “flaxseed bread was effective in decreasing the intensity of cyclical mastalgia [breast pain] and could be considered as a simple method with few complications for women.”
- Helping PCOS. Lowers testosterone, prevents hair growth (hirsutism), and supports regular ovulation. The Journal of Nutraceutical Research found that “flaxseed may have a profound impact on testosterone levels, and also may diminish symptoms associated with hyperandrogenism, such as hirsutism [unwanted hair growth]. The reductions in androgen levels observed in this case study far surpass those reported with any other dietary intervention conducted to date.”
Pumpkin seeds are known for:
- High magnesium. Magnesium is a mineral that is crucial for muscle relaxation and reducing menstrual cramps. A deficiency in magnesium can lead to more severe PMS symptoms.
- Estrogen balance. Pumpkin seeds are unique because they help balance estrogen, making more or less based on the body’s needs.
- Lower risk of breast cancer. The International Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemical Research studied both pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds and found that “high consumption of pumpkin seeds and of soybeans and sunflower were associated with significantly reduced risk of breast cancer.”
Sesame seeds are high in zinc and are great antioxidants:
- Zinc helps progesterone. Sesame seeds are a rich source of zinc, which plays a vital role in progesterone production. A zinc deficiency can disrupt hormonal balance, potentially contributing to irregular menstrual cycles and a higher likelihood of PMS symptoms.
- Highly antioxidant. Sesame seeds have been shown to lower inflammation and oxidative stress, improving overall health, lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, and supporting faster athletic recovery.
Sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E and selenium:
- High vitamin E. Studies have suggested that vitamin E may help reduce PMS symptoms and support overall menstrual health. The Journal of Reproductive Medicine found that “vitamin E seems to cause a more significant reduction in pain” during menstruation. More specifically, it reduces uterine and pelvic cramps.
- Selenium. A high selenium concentration means sunflower seeds can help prevent estrogen from getting too high in the luteal phase. High estrogen at this phase is responsible for many unwanted PMS symptoms (like breast tenderness, mood swings, and insomnia) so eating higher quantities of sunflower seeds and other high-selenium foods (like Brazil nuts) can potentially prevent this.
Seed cycling offers a holistic and accessible approach to health, harnessing the power of whole foods to support hormonal harmony and menstrual well-being. Although research is sparse, it is very promising. Before trying seed cycling (or anything that will impact your hormonal balance), be sure to consult with a healthcare provider, especially if you have underlying health conditions or concerns about hormonal imbalances.
- Nutrition Journal. The effects of flaxseed supplementation on metabolic status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized open-labeled controlled clinical trial.
- Frontier Neuroendocrinology. Sex hormone fluctuation and increased female risk for depression and anxiety disorders: from clinical evidence to molecular mechanisms.
- Nutrition and Cancer. Effects of phytoestrogen extracts isolated from pumpkin seeds on estradiol production and ER/PR expression in breast cancer and trophoblast tumor cells.
- Food Science Nutrition. Effectiveness of combined seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flaxseed): As adjacent therapy to treat polycystic ovary syndrome in females.
- The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle.
- International Journal of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemical Research. Pumpkin Seed Oil: An Alternative Medicine.
- Journal of Nutrition. Sesame ingestion affects sex hormones, antioxidant status, and blood lipids in postmenopausal women.