What is seed cycling and why should you be doing it?
Seed cycling is easy to do and can benefit hormone-related conditions.
Read on to discover the simple seed cycling process and why it is a safe and effective way to balance female hormones. It can benefit PCOS, menopause, PMS, acne, and infertility.
Seed cycling is a straightforward system supporting the natural monthly hormonal fluctuations that pre-menopausal women go through. It can also be a supportive therapy during perimenopause or even menopause. I like to call seed cycling “HRT lite.” (Hormone replacement therapy). It is a gentle way of giving the body a boost of estrogen or progesterone, depending on which hormone should be dominant at that point in the monthly cycle. To really understand the benefits of seed cycling, we will quickly go through the physiology of the menstrual cycle. Day 1 is the first day of bleeding and is when estrogen starts to increase. Estrogen is the dominant hormone during the first two weeks of the cycle (called the follicular phase). During this time, flax seeds and pumpkin seeds can provide a natural estrogen boost. Day 14 is the classic midpoint of the menstrual cycle and the day when many women ovulate. The actual day of ovulation can vary so it is a good idea to track other metrics like basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus. Tuning into these other signs will help you be more aware of when you are likely ovulating. After ovulation, days 14-28 (approximately), progesterone increases and becomes the dominant hormone. This is called the luteal phase. If a woman becomes pregnant, progesterone remains elevated. If not, levels drop off, and menstrual bleeding results. During the second half of the cycle, sesame and sunflower seeds provide a progesterone boost.
What does seed cycling help with?
Women experience menstrual abnormalities for many different reasons. Some women have irregular, short, long, or missed cycles. PMS symptoms like heavy bleeding, cramping, breast tenderness, irritability, mood swings, and menstrual clots can also be an unpleasant reality. As women move into perimenopause, their regular hormonal shifts get disrupted, and cycles become irregular or absent. Menopausal women may experience vaginal dryness, hot flashes, night sweats, irritability, mood swings, and low libido due to estrogen and progesterone’s decreased production. Other conditions that seed cycling has been used for include acne and infertility. Acne has several causes, and hormone-driven acne is fairly common in women. Acne also tends to improve with the addition of healthy fats into the diet, so this is another reason seed cycling is beneficial. Caution is warranted regarding infertility. However, it has a wide variety of causes, including hormonal, structural, male-factor, malnutrition, age, etc. Seed cycling is a safe and gentle intervention that may be tried, but infertility is often a complex issue that requires help from a qualified healthcare provider. Seed cycling may benefit all of these conditions – PCOS, irregular cycles, perimenopause, menopause, PMS, etc. (PCOS = polycystic ovarian syndrome). It is important to work with a holistic healthcare provider to determine if seed cycling will benefit your individual condition, but overall, seed cycling is safe and effective. Strong interventions, including herbs and prescription-strength hormones, may also be beneficial if seed cycling is not producing relief from symptoms.
How does one seed cycle?
For menstruating women, you follow your regular cycle. The average cycle is 27-30 days, and seed cycling is built on a “typical” cycle of 28 days. Days 1-14 are the estrogenic seeds (flax, pumpkin), and days 15-28 are the progesterone-supporting seeds (sunflower, sesame). If you have a slightly longer cycle, you can do half and half. If you are wildly irregular (perimenopause, menopause, PCOS, amenorrhea, etc.), you can follow the moon. Day 1 will be the new moon; day 14 will be the full moon. Women in perimenopause or menopause who are not having menstrual periods at all can also start day 1 at any time and then keep to a regular rhythm of two weeks flax/pumpkin and then two weeks sesame/sunflower.
Consume 1 tablespoon of each seed per day regularly. Buy the seeds plain and raw and consume them this way if possible. If they are totally unpalatable, you may consider roasting them. Flax seeds are best-eaten ground and are more potent if they are ground fresh and consumed right away. You can also grind them in a blender or herb grinder and then store them in the freezer. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds can be eaten whole, and sesame seeds are a good addition to salads, rice, fish, etc. Since you will be consuming these seeds every day, it is good to get the best possible quality seeds. Organic seeds will cost a little more, but they will reduce your exposure to pesticide residue.
I will mention that there are not many robust scientific studies looking at the efficacy of seed cycling. As with my phytoestrogen article this month, it is relevant to note that herbs and foods are hard to monetize, which results in less research money. Much of the research on seed cycling is based on our physiological understanding of how they act in the body and plenty of anecdotal evidence. I have used seed cycling in my practice for women who have PCOS, experience irregular cycles, have PMS symptoms, and for menopause. I have found that it is a very effective and gentle intervention that carries basically no risk (aside from getting sick of eating the seeds every day!) You can find a good summary of the scientific research studies here, and there are several that show the benefits of consuming the various seeds used in seed cycling. One of the things we do in medicine is called a risk-benefit analysis. What might you gain, and what risks are you taking on? Everything has risks and benefits; even drinking water – too much at once can kill you, and not drinking any can also kill you. The risks are quite minimal for seeds – some women experience loose stools from too much flax or constipation from too much fiber. Having an allergic reaction to foods is always possible. But overall, an intervention at the level of food is very safe. The benefits are that you may see striking results in your symptoms – regular periods, less acne, decreased PMS, improved menopausal symptoms, etc. All four of the seeds are rich in healthy fats, vitamin E, copper, magnesium, manganese, fiber, and B vitamins, so your body will benefit from all of these essential nutrients.
If you are interested in seed cycling, give it a try. I recommend women keep a symptom diary to track any changes that they are making. The more aware you are of your health, the better you will be able to understand if a particular intervention is making a difference. And if the seeds have no other effect, you are still getting a healthy snack, a good source of micronutrients, fiber, healthy fats, and protein.
Seed cycling recipes
Sesame seeds are a nice addition to entrees. I frequently use them atop rice, ramen, salmon, and tuna dishes. They are easy to toss into a salad as well. Another option is using them in home-made granola to add a nutty, savory aspect.
Flax seeds can be very earthy or herby and will flavor anything they are added to. They can be eaten in protein shakes and smoothies if they are mixed in a blender. My favorite way to consume flax is to blend with 4 oz of orange juice and drink this mixture first thing in the morning.
Pumpkin seeds are elementary to roast at home and can be combined with a wide variety of flavors. During Halloween, when we carve pumpkins, I always save the seeds and roast them. Clean and dry seeds. Melt 2 tsp butter in a bowl and then mix toppings into this bowl. Flavor options include salt and/or pepper, ginger, turmeric, and pumpkin pie spice with a little sugar or honey. Next, toss 1 ½ cups raw pumpkin seeds into the flavor mixture. Spread seeds onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake at 300 degrees F for 45 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally.
Sunflower seeds are one of the easiest seeds to eat plain. You can buy them roasted, salted, flavored, etc., and eat them as a delicious snack on-the-go. I also love to put a tablespoon or two of salted sunflower seeds on top of my salads.