Mom life has plenty of ups and downs. There are joys and blessings, but also stress (both emotionally and physically). Besides everyday life, we also have the ups and downs of our monthly cycle. Seed cycling is one thing some women use to try and help with these hormonal cycles.
Our hormones are a complex system that’s easily thrown off balance. Whether life gets stressful or we aren’t eating as we should, it all takes a toll on our hormones. That’s not to mention endocrine disruptors from plastics and the environment!
And while seed cycling is a natural way to help remedy this, does it really work, and how do you do it?
What Is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling means eating specific seeds during the two main phases of the menstrual cycle. It’s a natural method for women to balance hormones, boost fertility, and even ease the transition into menopause.
Four kinds of seeds are used in seed cycling: flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. The seeds are freshly ground and women take a tablespoon of each seed during that time of the cycle.
You eat the two phytoestrogen-rich seeds (flax and pumpkin) are eaten at the estrogen-dominant first phase of the cycle. That begins with the first day of the period through day 13 or 14. Zinc in pumpkin seeds also helps prepare the body for progesterone production in the next phase.
One tablespoon of ground flax and one tablespoon of ground pumpkin seed are added to smoothies, yogurt, or hot cereal each day.
The progesterone-promoting seeds (sesame and sunflower) are eaten during the second phase of the cycle. This phase is naturally progesterone-dominant. The second phase starts at ovulation (usually day 14) and goes until the day before your next period.
Now, these examples are based on a 28-day cycle. Some women have longer cycles, and some shorter. The important thing is to switch seeds at the time of ovulation.
What Is the Idea Behind Seed Cycling?
The idea behind seed cycling is that the estrogen-rich flax and pumpkin seeds support the ovaries in raising estrogen levels. That happens naturally during the first half of the month.
The sesame and sunflower support progesterone levels during the second half of the month.
Estrogen and progesterone are the two primary hormones that govern women’s health. They also cause a lot of problems when they’re out of balance. Too much estrogen and not enough progesterone production are common. You may be familiar with estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.
Estrogen levels can also fall too low. That happens as a woman ages, but sometimes they decrease too much or too early.
Health Benefits of Seed Cycling
According to reports, seed cycling may help ease the following:
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS symptoms like cramps and bloating)
- Irregular periods
- Hormone imbalance
- Estrogen dominance
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Perimenopause and menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and mood swings.
Seed cycling might even be a great way to come off hormonal birth control and get your natural hormone levels back.
Does Seed Cycling Work?
While many women report benefits from seed cycling, research has yet to catch up. There is research on the hormonal benefits of individual seeds. You can also find research on some of the nutrients they provide. These include magnesium, selenium, antioxidants, fatty acids, and lignans. Here are a few examples of supporting research:
Flax seeds are rich in phytochemicals called lignans. Lignans have both estrogen-promoting and estrogen-limiting effects. They can help balance estrogen levels, whether they’re too high or too low.
A small clinical trial found that eating flax seed powder helped balance women’s progesterone to estrogen ratio. It also helped restore ovulation in women who didn’t ovulate.
The lignans and flavones in pumpkin seeds were also found to improve hormone balance. A 2013 study found that pumpkin seed extract lowered estrogen receptor activity. It also increased progesterone receptor activity, keeping the two in balance. The researchers saw a potential for pumpkin seeds in lowering breast cancer risk.
Pumpkin seeds are especially known for their zinc content. Zinc is really important for normal reproduction cycles in both women and men. It helps with estrogen, progesterone, and androgen (testosterone) metabolism.
The gut microbiome converts sesame lignan into a compound called enterolactone. This compound promotes estrogens. A randomized controlled trial of postmenopausal women tested the effects of sesame powder. After sesame treatment, blood levels of sex hormone-binding globulin increased significantly. So did an estrogen called hydroxyestrone. Researchers concluded sesame could improve hormone status in postmenopausal women.
In another study of postmenopausal women, eating sunflower seeds was linked with lower breast cancer risk. Again, this was due to the phytoestrogens and lignans in the seeds.
How to Do Seed Cycling
For menstruating women, the instructions are to eat one tablespoon of freshly ground seeds each day, according to their cycle. The first phase (the follicular phase) calls for flax and pumpkin seeds. The second phase (the luteal phase) calls for sunflower and sesame seeds.
An easy way to remember which seeds you eat when is that they go in alphabetical order. You eat the F & P seeds at the beginning of the month, while the S & S are for the last two weeks of the month.
For postmenopausal women, it’s recommended to follow the phases of the moon cycle instead. Women’s cycles were thought to originally sync with the lunar cycles of the moon. Research suggests that the more artificial blue light at night and hormone disruptors we’re exposed to, the more we stray from this rhythm. So, if you’re no longer cyclic, just let the moon be your guide.
In that case, day one corresponds with the new moon. The end of phase one comes with the full moon. (That’s when natural ovulation should take place.) That’s your signal to switch from flax and pumpkin to sunflower and sesame.
To get your seeds in, there are many different ways to use them. Here are a few ideas:
- Add them to homemade protein balls
- Use them in seed-based granola
- Add them on top of a salad
- Sprinkle them on top of a paleo-inspired avocado toast.
You can even make a “seed butter” out of them and smear it on apples. Get creative and enjoy the process! I also try to soak my nuts and certain seeds (not flax or chia though) before using, here’s why.
Where to Get Healthy Seeds
If you’re interested in trying seed cycling, I recommend getting organic when possible. Some brands now even sell presoaked nuts and seeds. You can find organic, sprouted pumpkin and sunflower seeds here from one of my favorite brands. They also have organic flaxseeds. I get herbs in bulk from this brand and they carry organic sesame seeds too.
Bottom Line on Seed Cycling
While there isn’t currently research to back up the entire protocol, we do know the benefits of each individual seed. Countless women have done this protocol with great success, it’s just a matter of sticking with it for a few months straight.
Wellness experts claim it takes at least three or four months to reap the benefits. There aren’t any known side effects of seed cycling – unless you’re allergic to any of the seeds. If not, it may be worth a try.
Have you tried seed cycling? What has your experience been? Share with us below!
- Phipps, W. R., et al. (1993). Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle. The Journal of clinical endocrinology and metabolism, 77(5), 1215–1219.
- Richter, D., et al. (2013). Effects of phytoestrogen extracts isolated from pumpkin seeds on estradiol production and ER/PR expression in breast cancer and trophoblast tumor cells. Nutrition and cancer, 65(5), 739–745.
- Favier A. E. (1992). The role of zinc in reproduction. Hormonal mechanisms. Biological trace element research, 32, 363–382.
- Wu, W. H., et al. (2006). Sesame ingestion affects sex hormones, antioxidant status, and blood lipids in postmenopausal women. The Journal of nutrition, 136(5), 1270–1275.
- Zaineddin, A. K., et al. (2012). The association between dietary lignans, phytoestrogen-rich foods, and fiber intake and postmenopausal breast cancer risk: a German case-control study. Nutrition and cancer, 64(5), 652–665.
- Helfrich-Förster, C., et al. (2021). Women temporarily synchronize their menstrual cycles with the luminance and gravimetric cycles of the Moon. Science advances, 7(5), eabe1358.