Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds that support key hormones during each phase of your menstrual cycle. Seed cycling can help relieve PMS, increase fertility, regulate irregular cycles, and ease pain from reproductive conditions.
Seed cycling is a safe and effective way to support your hormones and your body. If you have an allergy to seeds then obviously, rotating seeds isn't for you. But otherwise, this is a very gentle way to give your body what it needs to bring hormones into balance.
Fresh ground flaxseeds are an excellent way to balance estrogen without pushing you towards estrogen dominance, a common cause of heavy periods and PMS. Flaxseeds are rich in lignans, which have a weak estrogenic effect.
Research has shown these lignans to be beneficial in improving estrogen and progesterone ratios, preventing heart disease, and can even support healthy bones.
Seed cycling provides specific nutrients required to help build your hormones. Seed cycling at any stage in a woman's life is beneficial and it is especially helpful for women coming off of birth control or struggling with post-birth control syndrome symptoms like acne, irregular periods, or new onset of PMS.
To use seed cycling you need to know a few things. You’ll be tracking your menstrual cycle and changing your seeds to match the phase you are in. Day one is the first day you experience your period (there is a flow). That will be the day you begin the follicular phase seeds and you’ll continue through ovulation or day 14.
The practice is quite simple, beginning the first day of your cycle you'll eat 1-2 tablespoons of fresh ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds, which supports both estrogen production and metabolism. It's a great way to create balanced estrogen, which is key during the follicular phase.
Following ovulation, which can vary for each woman, you will switch to 1-2 tablespoons each of raw sunflower and sesame seeds. For the purpose of seed rotation, we generally change to these seeds at day 15 of the cycle, but if you’re tracking your ovulation then you can switch seeds the day following ovulation. Sunflower and sesame seeds support progesterone levels, which is the key hormone during the luteal phase (the phase following ovulation until your next period).
Seed cycling is a practice that supports the nutrition and lifestyle therapies you may already be using. Seed rotation is considered a “food as medicine” practice, but it doesn't mean it is a substitute for a medication you require. In other words, you can't swap out seeds for a pharmaceutical treating a diagnosed medical condition. Seed cycling is meant to support what your body does naturally—building hormones and eliminating excess.
Seeds have been found to have many benefits from supporting cardiovascular health to being protective against cancer. In addition, as the advancement of research in the microbiome continues (the organisms that science once thought were “freeloaders” in the gut), we are learning more and more about how different foods enable the critters that grow in our gut to thrive and in turn, support our health. For example, eating a fibre rich diet supports the elimination of excess hormones like estrogen via the bowels.
At the time I'm writing this, you won't find a study using the term “seed cycling” as a searchable term. The truth about most studies is that there must be a return on investment (ROI) for a company to invest in the research to be done. In a perfect world we'd be studying so much more than the financial limitations we currently experience. I would love to see additional research in this arena.
But despite “seed cycling” not showing up in the literature yet, there is science to support the individual nutritional properties and health benefits of the seeds used.
Seed rotation can help with painful period cramps! In fact, the cause of those painful periods is rooted in excess prostaglandins, estrogen dominance and inflammation. Because these seeds are rich in omega-3 fatty acids then can help lower inflammation and the effects of prostaglandins. The lignans and nutrients support the elimination of estrogen in the body so that you don’t run into issues with estrogen dominance.
Seeds can be excellent for alleviating period pain, I also encourage women to leverage magnesium for at least a few months while the seeds work their magic.
Flaxseeds are hands down the most widely studied lignan containing seeds, probably because they are the highest concentration. The lignans in flaxseeds have been associated a longer luteal phase, that is the time from ovulation until the start of your next period.
Lignans have been found to have both estrogen supportive and protective benefits. Some research has shown that flaxseed lignans interact with the gut microbiome to produce protective effects against the development of breast cancer.
Lignans have been shown to be beneficial in multiple cardiovascular studies, but in all fairness, these studies (like too many) are only conducted on men. This means the results apply to men, but your doc most likely told you as a woman it applies too. MAYBE. But we must recognized we create and birth life, then feed that small human via our breasts, making us very different from our male counterparts.
During the first half of your cycle (follicular phase), estrogen is your main hormone that rises and spikes to trigger ovulation. Testosterone also rises prior to ovulation, which gets you in the mood and ready for “baby-making.” Look, whether you want a baby or not, your biology will keep this cycle going…and that's a good thing.
Zinc, which is rich in pumpkin seeds, supports healthy testosterone levels. In addition, pumpkin seeds are rich in antioxidants, which are protective of our ovaries, eggs, and reproductive system. Flaxseeds have weak estrogenic properties, but also help with excess estrogen elimination to the help support optimal estrogen levels.
Pumpkin seeds are also a source of tryptophan, which the body uses to create serotonin and melatonin. Interestingly, a study published in 2005 in Nutritional Neuroscience concluded that eating tryptophan rich seeds from a gourd (pumpkins are a gourd, in case you're wondering) along with a carbohydrate was as beneficial as a pharmaceutical for the treatment of insomnia. Sleep definitely has an impact on our hormonal health and if you've ever had a hormone imbalance, then you know sleep can be an issue. This may be why some women report improved sleep after a couple of months using seed cycling.
Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are rich in lignans and fatty acids to support the luteal phase. Sesame seeds have been shown to be beneficial to women's hormones even through menopause.
Sesame seeds may also help to lower inflammation, as multiple studies have demonstrated. They have also been shown to protect heart health by modulating inflammation and supporting cholesterol metabolism. Your sex hormones are made from cholesterol and inflammation causes a response from the adrenal glands, which can lead to a hormone imbalance.
Sunflower seeds contain nutrients like iron, which support estrogen detoxification via CYP liver genes and magnesium, which can support healthy prostaglandin levels and may reduce period cramps. They are also a source of calcium, which has been shown in some studies to reduce mood related issues of PMS. Vitamin E, which sunflower seeds can be a significant food source of, has also been shown to reduce PMS in supplement form.
Cyclical breast tenderness is a common complaint among women. It typically comes on right before your period. There have been studies showing improvement in symptoms when flaxseeds are included regularly in the diet.
And there have also been studies that have shown the lignans found in pumpkin seeds may be beneficial in preventing breast cancer.
Seeds are a great source of zinc, which supports healthy testosterone production. Testosterone is an androgen and in PCOS, androgens are responsible for the hair loss, acne, and hirsutism (hair growth on the face, chest and abdomen) that is commonly experienced by women with PCOS.
Research has shown that women consuming flaxseeds have more favourable levels of androgens and the fibres help with estrogen elimination while also supporting gut health. These seeds are also rich in essential fatty acids, which support healthy oil production and decrease inflammation. Other nutrients, like zinc, found in these seeds are important for skin health and acne management.
You'll want to give yourself a full cycle to note any changes. Typically, seed cycling needs to be coupled with other hormone supportive practices to have a noticeable effect. You can't expect to seed cycle and continue to dodge vegetables and skip sleep and create any real change to your hormones.
For some women, it can take up to 3 months to really notice an effect, although they typically note some improvement after their first month.
I encourage women to make it a lifelong practice. You don't have to be dogmatic about it, but it is a simple tool to support your hormone health and leverage food to create better hormones.