Intrigued by the ability to balance your hormones and regulate your periods with just a few tablespoons of seeds each day?
We must admit this trending “wellness” practice caught our attention, especially when we heard how much some of our patients were spending on seeds every month (more on that in a moment).
And the claims made by Instagram influencers?
Enough to raise our eyebrows…
So let’s jump in and take a look at what seed cycling is all about and whether it really works.
Seed cycling is the practice of eating specific seeds during the two phases of your menstrual cycle to help promote balanced estrogen and progesterone levels.
It’s actually a fairly long-standing naturopathic technique that’s been recommended as a natural way of addressing hormonally-related conditions beyond fertility including PCOS, PMS, hormonal acne, and irregular menstrual cycles.
Our thoughts on seed cycling?
We’ll let you know after we dive into all the details…
Seed cycling is all about tracking your menstrual cycle and changing the seeds that you eat to match the phase you are in.
So let’s take a look at your cycle…
The menstrual cycle has two main ovarian phases – for the purposes of illustration, we’ll use a 28-day menstrual cycle:
+ The follicular phase – phase 1 – begins with menstruation (cycle day 1 – 14).
+ The luteal phase – phase 2 – starts after ovulation (cycle day 15 – 28).
It’s actually estimated that only ~13-15% of women have 28-day menstrual cycles… so it’s important to note that menstrual cycles can actually occur between every 21 to 35 days and still be “normal.”
This means the widely held fertility myth that women always ovulate on day 14 of their cycle also isn’t true. But, we digress.
Back to the different phases (just a little more science, promise).
During the follicular phase, estrogen starts at its lowest point on the first day of your period. Estrogen remains low for the first few days of the cycle before it begins to rise rapidly and peak just prior to ovulation in response to follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). The peak in estrogen is what signals the luteinizing hormone (LH surge) to occur which precedes ovulation by ~36 hours.
It’s important to note that the follicular phase is the phase of the menstrual cycle that can vary in length. So if you have irregular cycles, this is the phase that is variable.
Moving onto the luteal phase.
Ovulation signals transition into the luteal phase. This phase is named after the corpus luteum that is formed from the follicle that ovulates. The corpus luteum produces progesterone which is the dominant hormone in the second half of the menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels will drop after ovulation, and increase again in the luteal phase but not nearly as much as progesterone.
Now after you release an egg each month, either one of two things happens:
From the menstrual cycle to seed cycling
Okay with a better understanding of the menstrual cycle and your hormones, the whole seed cycling concept should make more sense.
Effectively, the goal of cycling is to regulate estrogen during the first half of your menstrual cycle (follicular phase), and progesterone during the second half of your cycle (luteal phase).
See how our quick physiology lesson paid off 🙂
Now you’re probably still wondering… “What’s the magic formula of seeds for regulating my hormones and improving fertility?”
Based on the usual recommendations, here’s what you should eat:
During the Follicular Phase: consume one tablespoon of freshly ground pumpkin and ground flax seeds daily.
During the Luteal Phase: consume one tablespoon of freshly ground sesame and ground sunflower seeds daily.
*But remember not all women ovulate on day 14 or 15, so being aware of your body’s own cycle is essential for the concept of seed cycling and understanding your overall reproductive health.
You won’t find any results for “seed cycling” when you run a PubMed search (at least not at the time of this post). But this doesn’t necessarily mean there’s no science behind the idea.
When we break things down at a granular level, there’s some science to support the individual nutritional properties and health benefits of the seeds proposed for cycling.
Phytoestrogens are plant-derived compounds that have a weak estrogen and anti-estrogen effect in the body. Both flax seeds and sesame seeds contain phytoestrogens.
A small study of 18 women showed that flaxseeds may help with lengthening the luteal phase and potentially improve ovulation. And although sesame seeds have primarily been looked at in post-menopausal women, they have been shown to have phytoestrogen properties as well.
Lignans are another plant-derived compound that has weak estrogenic activity, but it also helps to bind up excess estrogen. The latter effect is thought to help block excess estrogen during the second phase of your menstrual cycle when progesterone rises.
Flaxseeds are the richest dietary source of lignan precursors, but sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds contain lignans too.
Omega Fatty Acids
Both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids are essential for hormone production and follicle function. There’s also talk that omega-3s promote blood flow to the uterus and increase progesterone secretion, but most of this evidence is limited to animal studies.
All four seeds proposed for seed cycling (pumpkin, sesame, sunflower, and flax seeds) are great sources of plant-based omega fatty acids. And remember, you shouldn’t fear all forms of dietary fat as we’ve discussed before.
Recently, we were told about a seed cycling subscription service that charges $195 per month for pre-packaged seeds in little bags… what the @#$&%*!?
For those of you wanting to give seed cycling a try, we simply recommend learning how to incorporate these seeds into your everyday pro-fertility diet.
Some nourishing ways to use seeds in your diet:
Add to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal or chia seed pudding
Sprinkle on toast, nourish bowls, salads or soups
Make homemade granola with pumpkin and flax or sesame and sesame seeds
And whatever you decide (our final verdict is coming up in a moment), please don’t waste your hard-earned money on pre-packed seed cycling packets.
If you’re eager to learn more, we have several recipes in our Fertility Foods Cleanse program that incorporate many of these seeds alongside other fertility-boosting superfoods as a part of a comprehensive dietary reboot.
The short answer is, we don’t know. But it’s important to point out that most dietary and lifestyle modifications are not a quick fix.
This means sticking with it on a daily basis for several weeks or months. Make sure to keep a journal to track your menstrual cycle and how you feel overall, which is a good strategy any time you are implementing a dietary change.
If the process ever feels daunting or overwhelming, we encourage you to go back to the mindset of using food as medicine. Remember by learning how to incorporate these foods into your everyday diet, it becomes less of a supplementing strategy and more of a nutritional habit.
Okay, we promised to give you our bottom line thoughts on the matter…
Rotating seeds that are rich in anti-inflammatory fats, phytonutrients, and antioxidants through your diet is definitely not a bad thing. The variety will certainly help give you a rich and balanced profile of micronutrients.
In fact, the Mediterranean diet, which is high in fruits and veggies, whole grains, olive oil, and notably, seeds, has been associated with higher rates of IVF success.
With that said, there’s not a lot of direct evidence to suggest that the seed cycling strategy actually balances hormone levels in real life.
And while we can totally get behind eating the recommended amount of seeds throughout the course of the month (especially if it crowds out processed foods), our biggest rub with seed cycling is the amount of work it can require.
If you can incorporate seed cycling into your life without any added stress or overwhelm, then know that it might help, but it’s unlikely to be the one thing that gets you pregnant.
As with everything we teach our patients, it’s all about a holistic approach – one that supports every aspect of your fertility. Seed cycling won’t perfectly balance your hormones if you skimp on sleep, eat too much sugar, and never exercise.
And for those of you who’ve come across the articles claiming that seed cycling is a “natural healing modality, alleviating the need for any other therapies, medications, supplements or herbs,” please recognize that this is far from the truth…
For some women, no matter what you do, leveraging medications or surgical procedures may be a necessary part of the fertility journey. Incorporating these types of treatments alongside a pro-fertility diet (and perhaps a dash of seeds here and there) is vitally important in optimizing overall outcomes.
Whenever you’re ready, join us and other women trying to conceive who are optimizing their fertility with a fork and spoon.
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