Does seed cycling have real health benefits? Experts weigh in

If you need a little additional support during that time of the month, seed cycling could help you manage the hormonal shifts and symptoms that come with your menstrual cycle. On one hand, these changes are the very thing that allow someone to have a child (yay), but on the other, they can cause pesky symptoms like premenstrual syndrome (PMS), period cramps, and hormonal acne (decidedly not yay). Enter seed cycling: a dietary approach to potentially help manage some of the side effects that come with your period.

“Seed cycling essentially means syncing your nutrition with your menstrual cycle,” says hormone dietitian Kate Morton, RDN. The method has been gaining popularity as a natural way to regulate hormones and address menstrual cycle-related issues, per a recent study—however, most of the claimed benefits are from anecdotal evidence and more research is needed to confirm its efficacy.

The premise: Depending on where you are in your cycle, you’ll consume a combination of either flax and pumpkin seeds or sesame and sunflower seeds. The idea is that the seeds' nutrients can help mitigate your period symptoms, and experts say it's fairly low-risk. Of course, seeds aren't meant to be a replacement for medication you've been prescribed by your doctor to treat a serious condition, says Jolene Brighten, NMD, naturopathic endocrinologist, but seed cycling may help support your hormone shifts and temper their effects on your body, potentially leaving you to reach for ibuprofen less often.

Here's everything you need to know about seed cycling, including benefits, risks, and how to try it safely.

Meet the experts: Laura Purdy, MD, is a family medicine physician and medical director of SWELL Medical (SMed). Kate Morton, RDN, is a hormone dietitian and founder of Funk It Wellness. Jolene Brighten, NMD, is a naturopathic endocrinologist and author of Beyond the Pill.

What is seed cycling?

The plan behind seed cycling is fairly simple to follow: During each day of the follicular phase (which begins on the first day of your period), you consume one to two tablespoons of flax and pumpkin seeds. Then approximately 14 days later, starting on the day you ovulate and enter the luteal phase, you'd switch to one to two tablespoons of sesame and sunflower seeds daily.

But what do tiny seeds have to do with your cycle? Consuming flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds can help with oestrogen production and elimination, along with supporting testosterone and progesterone levels, says Brighten. The nutrients from seeds can supposedly help soothe symptoms like mood swings, acne, and cramps, and may regulate your cycle if you tend to get irregular periods, for instance.

If you're interested in naturopathic remedies, seed cycling could be for you, says family medicine physician Laura Purdy, MD, medical director of SWELL Medical (SMed). "It is a trending remedy for the idea that it could balance hormones, regulate your periods, help with any fertility concerns, endometriosis or PCOS, and even help with menopause symptoms," she says. "Therefore, if you are experiencing any of the above, [seed cycling] could be something to look into and try."

However, if your period, PCOS, or menopause symptoms are debilitating or interfere with your daily life, it's best to talk to a doctor instead of hitting the grocery store for seeds, she says.

How to try seed cycling safely

Seed cycling is pretty straightforward and safe to try—it can be as simple as grocery shopping for seeds and grinding them at home, Brighten says. To be extra safe, though, check in with your doctor before you get started. "With any naturopathic remedies or new trends it's important to do your research and connect with your doctor," says Dr. Purdy. "Of course, always listen to your body and ask lots of questions to make sure you are getting the care you need."

If you feel like seed cycling is right for you to try, all you need are pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds, a way to measure them, and a blender to get started. You can start seed cycling at any point in your cycle or simply start on the first day of your period if you’re not sure, Morton adds. Here is the basic formula (exact days will vary based on your unique cycle):

  • Menstrual phase (days 1-7): 1-2 tbsp of flax and pumpkin seeds per day

  • Follicular phase (days 7-14): 1-2 tbsp of flax and pumpkin seeds per day

  • Ovulatory phase (days 14-21): 1-2 tbsp of sesame and sunflower seeds per day

  • Luteal phase (days 21-28): 1-2 tbsp of sesame and sunflower seeds per day

Depending on where you are in your cycle, scoop one to two tablespoons of the corresponding seeds onto your food—whether it's sprinkling them on salad, in your breakfast smoothie, or using it as a topping for overnight oats or cereal. You can technically eat seeds raw, but Brighten doesn’t recommend it taste-wise.

Combine equal parts pumpkin and flax seeds in one mixture and equal parts sesame and sunflower seeds in the other. You can grind up enough seeds for two weeks at a time and storing them in a glass container in the freezer, Brighten says. (This ensures the seeds are fresh and protects them from oxidation, maximizing the nutrients you’re getting.)

As for syncing the seeds with your cycle, it may help to track ovulation using an Oura ring, basal body thermometer, or period tracking app, so you know know exactly when to switch over to the next group of seeds. (But if you happen to have pumpkin and flax seeds on a day when you’re actually in your luteal phase, it’s not the end of the world). And, if you don’t get your period because of PCOS, menopause, or another reason, you can treat the full moon as ovulation and new moon as menstruation, Morton adds.

How seed cycling impacts hormones

Here’s how each seed can potentially support your cycle, according to experts.

Flax seeds

One of the most beneficial nutrients you get out of seed cycling are lignans, which support both oestrogen and progesterone regulation. While all four seeds contain lignans, flax seeds are the richest in this plant-based compound. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids which address inflammation and help produce healthier sex hormone (and cortisol) levels.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds contain zinc, which supports healthy testosterone levels, and might even lessen period pain and bleeding, says Morton. Pumpkin seeds also contain magnesium, which is responsible for over 500 reactions in the body—many of which are hormonal—and are rich in antioxidants that support ovaries and eggs.

Sesame seeds

Sesame seeds also modulate inflammation because they are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. They’re also rich in calcium, which supports your bones and even your mood.

Sunflower seeds

Sunflower seeds have iron, vitamins B6 and E, which can improve mood and breast tenderness, and selenium, which supports the thyroid. They also have magnesium and calcium for reproductive and bone health.

Benefits of seed cycling

Dr. Brighten and Morton say their clients have reported decreased breast tenderness, improved mood and energy, reduced PMS symptoms, fewer headaches and migraines, less period pain, and less hormonal acne while practicing seed cycling.

Seed cycling may have benefits for people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), research has shown—specifically, it helps regulate their cycles, decreases symptoms from hormonal imbalances, and improves general reproductive health. Additionally, the method may help address commonly-reported menopause symptoms: The calcium in sesame and sunflower seeds may support bone health while the ligans in flax seeds may help reduce hot flashes, Brighten says.

Although seed cycling might be able to help some physical symptoms, it shouldn’t be thought of as your first line of defence. “Seed cycling by design was never meant to be a standalone treatment or therapy for anything,” Brighten says. The method can supplement various interventions you use to treat your symptoms, but it’s not something that can replace medications you might be prescribed, she says.

Risks of seed cycling

Fortunately, there aren't many risks of seed cycling—unless, of course, you're allergic to seeds themselves. If you are allergic or intolerant to flax, pumpkin, sesame, or sunflower seeds, you shouldn't consume them and therefore shouldn't try seed cycling, says Morton. (Sesame seeds are a common allergy that you might not even know you have, she adds.)

If you have a condition like diverticulitis, an inflammatory gastrointestinal disease, you are not advised to consume seeds and should not seed cycle, Brighten adds. If you've been diagnosed with another gastrointestinal disease like inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), you should always consult their doctor before trying seeds, she says.

Seeds might cause some gastrointestinal issues as you adjust, says Morton, especially if you aren't used to eating fibre-rich foods. Otherwise, there aren't many major risks. You can likely start seed cycling on top of other supplements and over-the-counter medications you're taking and consuming the seeds during pregnancy is generally safe. That said, always consult a doctor first to determine the best next steps for you.

How long does it take to see benefits from seed cycling?

It will probably take at least one menstrual cycle before you see benefits from seed cycling, but it can really take up to three. So, while you might not feel immediate benefits (or notice any changes at all), as the seeds become a part of your regular diet, they may make small improvements over time.

And while these seeds pack a nutritional punch, they can’t solve everything on their own. “If you are binge drinking on the weekend, skipping on sleep, crazy stressed out, don't eat meals regularly, not drinking water—you do all of these kinds of things that our mama told us not to do—you can't expect that you'll just seed cycle and that's going to instantly change all of those things,” Brighten says. If you really want to feel the effects of seed cycling, you'll want to make sure you're nourishing your body in other ways, too.

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