Seed cycling science and research. Seed cycling combines ancient practices with modern research to help balance women’s hormones resulting in relief from PMS, hormonal acne as well as helping to regulate a menstrual cycle and reduce menopause symptoms.
With roots in Chinese Medicine and considered a Food as Medicine practice seed cycling involves consuming 4 key seeds – flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds at different stages of the menstrual cycle or moon cycling with the Lunar calendar. Seed cycling is often prescribed by naturopaths, nutritionists and acupuncturists.
Is Seed Cycling backed by Science?
There is an extensive body of research that demonstrate the benefits of specific seeds for women’s hormone health and health conditions which we are excited to explore below.
Seed Cycling for Hormone Health
Women’s hormones are complicated and very delicate. Did you know our hormone levels change on a daily basis? The ebb and flow depend on many factors such as our internal and external environments.
They’re greatly influenced by stress, diet, exercise, sleep and environmental toxins. This means that any of these factors can cause hormonal imbalances.
If we are not making optimal amounts, it can contribute to a range of challenging symptoms in the lead up and/or during menstruation. This can lead to both emotional and physical PMS symptoms, irregular periods, hormonal acne, PCOS, thyroid disorders and chronic fatigue.
Progesterone in particular helps to counterbalance estrogen, so when we have poor progesterone production this can tip the delicate balance of our sex hormones.
Seed cycling supports your monthly cycle, aiding in PMS symptoms—moodiness, cramps, cravings, sore breasts, and hormonal acne. Seed cycling can also help with anovulation, irregular cycles, and amenorrhea.
The 4 key seeds all have active components to assist in supporting the production and elimination of key hormones during both the follicular and luteal phases.
Let’s explore what Doctors and experts have to say as well as the science and research for seed cycling.
Doctors and Hormone Experts on Seed Cycling
“Seed cycling has long been used to support women’s hormones by supplying them with the nutrients they need at specific phases of their cycle. I recommend seed cycling for hormone balance in both my clinic and book, Beyond the Pill, because it is an effective and gentle way to support women’s hormones.
Seed cycling provides the specific nutrients to help build your hormones. As you’ll read in my book, Beyond the Pill, I recommend seed cycling at any stage in a woman’s life and find it 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.”
– Dr Jolene Brighten, Functional Medicine Naturopathic Physician, published January 9, 2019.
“Here at The Natural Nutritionist (TNN) we use seed cycling as a natural technique to stimulate and balance the sex hormones required for menstruation, through consumption of different types of seeds throughout the month.”
– The Natural Nutritionist, published June 25, 2019.
“Try seed cycling, Some women have experienced reduction in hormonal symptoms by consuming certain seeds as part of their cyclical routine.”
– Alisa Vitti In The Flow, published in 2020
Food as Medicine Research
The concept refers to prioritising foods that have medicinal properties, often due to high levels of a particular micronutrient or biomolecule — sometimes referred to as Functional Foods.
Functional Foods is defined as food products possessing the appearance of traditional food and included in the daily diet. These products provide physiological benefit and/or can reduce the risk of noncommunicable diseases. These include a variety of herbs and spices, legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables.
The Food as Medicine approach to health management challenges the construct of conventional medicine, which relies primarily on technological medical advancements to manage health and disease with pharmaceutical drugs.
It is important to note that Food as Medicine is not a cure-all or a stand-alone remedy for all health conditions and is often used in conjunction with appropriate medical therapy. Chronic diseases in particular are complex and may be attributed to non-diet related causes.
Research on Seed Cycling Seeds
Flaxseeds are the most widely studied lignan containing seeds. Lignans have been found to have both estrogen supportive and protective benefits. The lignans in flaxseeds have been associated a longer luteal phase, that is the time from ovulation until the start of your next period as well as reducing the number of anovulatory cycles.
This means consuming flaxseeds can increase the likelihood of regular ovulation. Studies have also shown flaxseeds can improve your progesterone to estrogen ration in the luteal phase and reduce excess estrogen levels. So, if you are skipping periods or have low progesterone adding flaxseed to your diet is a great option.
Pumpkin seeds are rich in Zinc, which aids in progesterone production & supports testosterone levels. Zinc increases the production of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which in turn causes ovulation and leads to the production of progesterone.
Sesame seeds contain Zinc which can assist with progesterone production as listed above and zinc has also been found to support dysmenorrhea and painful periods. They also contain lignans and omega 2 fatty acids, which help block excess estrogen. Research shows ligans can lower inflammation and balance sex hormones.
Sunflower seeds contain selenium, which helps improve liver function and remove excess estrogen. They also contain Vitamin E, which may help support progesterone production and overall antioxidant protection. There is new research showing that the combination of selenium and Vitamin E together may be beneficial for improving ovarian reserves and fertility.
Research on Seed Cycling for PCOS
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) can cause an irregular menstrual cycle, male-patterned hair growth, hair loss, acne, mood swings, intense cravings, and insulin resistance. When it comes to PCOS management, diet and lifestyle can be critical tools to help manage symptoms. As mentioned about there was a promising review published in January 2021 for seed cycling and PCOS.
The study reinforces the dietary intervention of seeds at different stages of menstrual cycle can play a pivotal role in reversing the symptoms of PCOS. The nutraceutical elements present in the seeds can greatly balance the levels of hormones and even reduce weight!
Studies have shown that including flaxseeds can decrease androgen levels in women with PCOS, which can cause excess hair growth and acne, plus improve the cyclical breast tenderness that affects many women before their period. Additionally a 2015 study found regular ingestion of flax seeds over three months caused a significant reduction in the number of ovarian cysts, as well as the size of the ovaries in women with PCOS.
Other important research can be found here that outlines the impact that food based interventions can have on PCOS symptoms.
The most recent seed cycling study for PCOS was conducted in June 2023.
In a three-month study involving 60 women aged 15 to 40 years, researchers divided the participants into three groups: a control group, a portion control & metformin group, and a portion control & seed cycling group. During this period, various measurements, including weight, FSH, LH, TSH, and prolactin levels, were taken, while the article emphasized the individual health benefits and nutrient properties of the seeds used. Notably, the study found that pumpkin seeds had a significant impact in supporting insulin and cholesterol control (important for PCOS) and reducing elevated androgen levels.
- The group that followed the seed cycling & portion-controlled diet experienced positive outcomes.
- Notably, there was a reduction in overall body weight.
- FSH levels, often elevated in PCOS clients, decreased significantly.
- A remarkable 36% of participants experienced complete cyst degeneration, whereas the number of cysts increased in the control group.
- Nearly half of the participants showed a decrease in the number of cysts.
- The reduction in LH levels was even more significant compared to the metformin group.
- TSH levels showed a slight reduction.
- Prolactin levels exhibited a significant reduction of 2%.
These findings open up exciting possibilities for supporting hormonal balance naturally.
Seed Cycling for Fertility
In Chinese herbology, herbal formulas are used made from seeds to support fertility. The idea is to use seeds to generate “seeds.”
Nutrition can impact fertility and the practice of seed cycling has been found to balance the two main female hormones affecting pregnancy, progesterone and estrogen. Seed cycling can also help regulate your menstrual cycle and encourage ovulation. This in turn can assist with boosting fertility and falling pregnant.
Always consult with your health care professional, if you are struggling with infertility there may be some major things that need to be addressed.
How do the seeds in seed cycling help boost fertility?
Flax seeds being high in calcium and Omega 3 fatty acid has been shown to reduce anovulatory cycles, and help lengthen luteal phases.
Pumpkin seeds are minerals needed for hormone balance, such as manganese, magnesium, and zinc. They are high in isoflavones and have been shown to boost healthy estradiol levels and moderating estrogen receptors to protect the body from bad estrogens.
Sesame seeds are known to contain fertility-boosting vitamins such as calcium, Omega 6 fatty acid which supports progesterone.
Please note, while mild hormonal imbalances may benefit greatly from eating seeds, seed cycling alone is not likely to solve more complex causes of infertility, like blocked tubes, or advanced endometriosis.
Seed Cycling for Insulin Sensitivity
Keeping your blood sugar at an optimal level can be difficult for some women due to decreased insulin sensitivity. That means that your cells are less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that helps bring nutrients into the cell and keep blood sugar stable. Diet and exercise can play an essential role in blood sugar balance.
According to a 2020 study, regular flaxseed supplementation for 12 weeks was associated with increased insulin sensitivity and weight loss with patients with PCOS due to the combination of hormone imbalance, insulin resistance and inflammation.
Additionally, the 2021 study found that phytoestrogens in flaxseed bind to 17- beta-estradiol receptors, which may have anti-diabetic effects. This same study noted that both pumpkin seed and flax seed are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that support cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
Seed Cycling for Menstrual Regularity and Ovulation Quality
A “regular” cycle comes every 21-35 days, lasts 3-7 days with little to no spotting between cycles, and has minimal pain or PMS symptoms. Zinc-rich foods have been found to support androgen levels and ovulation. The seeds used in seed cycling provide a rich source of zinc combined with fibre which research has found may support regular ovulation in people particularly with PCOS.
Seed Cycling for Chronic Inflammation
Regular intake of seeds containing omega-3 fatty acids such as pumpkin and flax seed could be beneficial for people with chronic inflammation. There is also additional research that indicates regular flax seed consumption may be protective against certain breast cancers.
Another interesting finding in this review study was that regular intake of these seeds might support improved cholesterol levels and support weight loss.
Seed Cycling for Menopause
A study in post menopausal women found that eating 50g of sesame seeds daily for 5 weeks decreased DHEAS significantly (by 18%) and increased SHBG significantly (by 15%).
This study suggests flaxseeds in particular are lined to increased estrogen, improved hormone metabolism, fewer hot flashes, reduced vaginal dryness, and better overall quality of life in menopausal and postmenopausal women.
Currently, there is a huge opportunity for further research into the specific benefits of seed cycling on hormonal health. As you can see there is an extensive body of research demonstrating the benefits of the 4 key seeds used in seed cycling specific for women’s hormone health and specific health conditions.
There are also hundreds of accounts of seed cycling success stories you can find online and in our product reviews. We are excited to see these success stories be backed by science and hopefully see randomised controlled trials on seed cycling in the future!
Come across a study we haven’t included? We would love to know please send it to email@example.com
Additional Resources for Menstrual Cycle and Hormone Health
Seed Cycling for Hormone Balance by Dr. Jolene Brighten
Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighten
Menstruation: The Sacred Cycle: Redefining our menstrual cycle and PMS by Gina Cloud
Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Book by Maisie Hill
Period Queen: Life hack your cycle and own your power all month long Book by Lucy Peach
Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, the classic guide to living well in a woman’s body by Christiane Northrup, MD
Beautiful Girl: Celebrating the Wonders of Your Body, a guide for girls on the power and beauty of becoming a women by Christiane Northrup, MD
The Ecology of Estrogen in the Female Body, superb and in-depth article by herbalist Juliet Blankespoor
Effectiveness of combined seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flaxseed): As adjacent therapy to treat polycystic ovary syndrome in females: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10261760/
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