Seed cycling is a growing wellness trend that has become popularised by social media in recent years. This simple and holistic practice involves eating four different seeds (pumpkin, flax, sesame and sunflower) and rotating them between the first and second half of your menstrual cycle. This practice is thought to help regulate reproductive hormones in females (oestrogen and progesterone specifically), ease symptoms due to hormone imbalances and menopause, and to support fertility, and therefore it can be used at any stage of a woman’s life.
To better understand your menstrual cycle, read our article on the menstrual cycle which explores the different phases of your cycle.
Even though this holistic practice has been around for the past decade, there remains a substantial lack of scientific evidence or literature that supports the proposed benefits of seed cycling on hormone balance. However, there is a vast pool of research on the nutritional properties and health benefits associated with seed consumption. The seeds used in seed cycling are rich in minerals like zinc, calcium, iron and selenium, gut-friendly fibre, and omega fatty acids and antioxidants, which have been found to help in reducing inflammation.
Additionally, there are many anecdotal accounts from users of seed cycling that have reported reduced hormone-imbalance related symptoms, improvements in the regularity of their menstrual cycle or even easier conception, but it is important to remember that everyone’s body and experiences are different. This isn’t proven to work for everyone.
But, on the other hand, I do encourage you, myself included, to approach this food-as-medicine practice with an open mind, and to become more aware of what does – and doesn’t – work for your body. There are no known side effects or contra-indications to seed cycling that have been reported. However, if you do have an allergy to any of these seeds, it is best to consult a nutritionist or dietician to explore alternative substitutions.
How does seed cycling work?
Aside: For the purposes of this article, I’ve used an average 28-day menstrual cycle as the frame of reference, but of course every menstrual cycle varies, so use this merely as a simple guide and adapt it to your own cycle.
The most convenient time to start seed cycling is either day 1 of your period (if you have a regular cycle), or at new moon if you have irregular periods or you are post-menopause (skip below if this applies to you).
First half of menstrual cycle
- Days 1 – 14 of your cycle – starts on the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate (usually falls mid-way through your cycle and can be anywhere between Days 12 – 16).
- Which seeds to eat: Flax and Pumpkin seeds
- Flaxseeds contain lignans, which are thought to be beneficial in improving the oestrogen-progesterone ratio by assisting in the clearance of excess oestrogen.
- Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc and antioxidants, and have been noted to support the production of progesterone, which gradually increases as you move into the second half of your cycle.
Second half of menstrual cycle
- Days 15 – 28 of your cycle – starts the day after ovulation and ends when you start your period again.
- Which seeds to eat: Sesame and Sunflower seeds
- Sesame seeds contain a high volume of zinc and lignans, which promote a balanced oestrogen-progesterone ratio during the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle.
- Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E and Selenium, which are believed to support the liver in clearing excess oestrogen, and it also appears to assist in stimulating increased progesterone production.
If you are using a hormonal method of contraception (which already does the job of balancing your reproductive hormones), you can use seed cycling as a means of introducing variety into your diet and reap the general health benefits.
Note: If you are considering changing or stopping your method of contraception, I do advise you to discuss this with your healthcare practitioner first and explore other options that are suitable and safe for you.
What if I have irregular periods or none at all (including post-menopause)?
It is possible to incorporate seed cycling into your daily routine, even if you have an irregular menstrual cycle or post-menopausal for example. Instead of rotating the seeds within the phases of your menstrual cycle, you can actually follow the phases of the moon. Yes, I know it may seem a little (or very) odd, but since the moon follows a 28-day cycle it’s a great alternative to use as your guide.
- Days 1-14 (new moon to full moon): eat pumpkin and flax seeds.
- Days 15-28 (full moon to new moon): eat sunflower and sesame seeds.
How should I incorporate my seed mix into my everyday routine?
It is recommended to eat at least 1 – 2 tablespoons of each specific seed daily according to the phase of your menstrual cycle. Raw (unroasted/unsalted) and ground seeds are best. Seeds eaten whole (in particular Flax) have been found to not completely breakdown in your gut, so grinding the seeds can facilitate easier absorption of their nutrients.
Pro tip: use a coffee / spice grinder to grind up your seeds, store in a jar and pop it in the fridge to keep your seeds fresh and save you time!
Here are a few simple ways that you incorporate your seed mix into your daily diet.
- Add seeds to yoghurt, oats, smoothies or fruit salad.
- Make your own homemade granola with your seed mix specific to your phase.
- Lightly roast and sprinkle seeds on toast, soups, salads, noodles or over your choice of protein.
- Mix seeds into spreads (i.e hummus or even butter).
Whether you have a regular cycle or not, the most important aspect is to be consistent. It is recommended that you regularly seed cycle daily for at least 3 months before you can expect any results. Remember – play around with different recipe options and don’t make it a chore, because it’s not. Have fun with your food!
Pro tip: I would recommend that you either jot down or keep a journal of your seed cycling journey, symptoms and to track your cycle for at least the first 3 months to give you an idea of how your body is adjusting to your new routine or if it isn’t. I also recommend speaking to your healthcare practitioner to explore any concerning causes of your hormone imbalances and related symptoms.
So, what is the bottom line?
Seeds are rich in nutrients and are a simple way to improve the quality of your diet and general health. Keep in mind though that seed cycling is not a one-stop wonder to your hormone problems. The endocrine system involves a complex interplay between internal and external factors, so it is important to understand that seed cycling is likely to play a small role in the bigger system of hormone balance. Prioritize good sleep, eat well, stay hydrated, exercise regularly, and manage your stress. The golden rule is always do what feels good for your body and incorporate practices or rituals, which align with your lifestyle and health goals.
I hope this article hasn’t overwhelmed you with information, but rather has prompted you to reassess (and maybe change) some of your lifestyle practices. Most importantly though, I hope it’s empowered you to be the key-decision maker in your health and wellbeing.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare practitioner.
Nokukhanya Zondi - final year Medicine student (MbChB), University of Cape Town