Efficacy, Effects on Hormones and Menopause

Seed cycling is a trend that claims to help balance hormones, boost fertility, and ease symptoms of menopause. It involves eating four types of seed — flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower — at different times of the month to balance certain hormones.

Despite plenty of anecdotal accounts of its effectiveness, scientific evidence to back its claims is lacking.

This article will explain everything you need to know about seed cycling and whether it’s a helpful practice.

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What Is Seed Cycling?

Seed cycling is a naturopathic (natural) remedy that proponents claim can help balance hormones. It is thought to work by regulating the hormone estrogen in the first half of your menstrual cycle and the hormone progesterone in the second half.

The most common seed cycling method instructs women to eat 1 or 2 tablespoons each of freshly ground flaxseeds and pumpkin seeds on days 1–14 of their menstrual cycle, which is known as the follicular phase.

During the second half of the menstrual cycle, which is known as the luteal phase, seed cyclers eat 1–2 tablespoons each of ground sunflower and sesame seeds per day until the first day of their next period when their cycle starts again.

Recap

Seed cycling is a naturopathic remedy that aims to balance hormone levels by eating flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of the menstrual cycle and sunflower and sesame seeds during the second half.

How Does Seed Cycling Work?

The basic idea of ​​seed cycling is that different seeds can promote or hinder the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Hormones in a Normal Cycle

A lot of hormonal changes happen in your body leading up to your period.

The start of your period signals day one of your menstrual cycle. As your period begins, your brain produces hormones that stimulate the ovaries to release estrogen and prepare an egg for ovulation. This is called the follicular phase.

Under the influence of the rising estrogen levels, the lining of your uterus, or endometrium, begins to thicken. In response to another change in hormone levels from your brain, your ovary releases an egg and ovulation occurs. This usually happens around cycle day 14.

Once an egg has been released, the luteal phase starts, and progesterone and estrogen levels gradually increase to support conception (fertilization of an egg by sperm) and implantation (when the fertilized egg travels from the fallopian tube to the uterus). They drop again before the next period if no implantation occurs.

Causes of Hormonal Imbalance

Most people with a uterus produce adequate levels of hormones to support a healthy menstrual cycle. However, certain health conditions, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS, a condition in which the ovaries produce high levels of androgen, considered a male hormone) and hypothyroidism (underactive thryroid) can lead to a hormonal imbalance. During menopause (when periods have stopped for 12 straight months), levels of estrogen and progesterone also decrease.

How Seeds Affect Hormones

During the follicular phase, advocates of seed cycling claim that the phytoestrogens in flaxseeds can help increase or decrease estrogen levels. Phytoestrogens are plant ‐ derived dietary compounds with structural similarity to estrogen.

Additionally, seed cyclers claim that zinc from pumpkin seeds can promote progesterone production in preparation for the next phase of the cycle.

In the second phase, the sesame and sunflower seed combination is thought to boost progesterone via a compound called enterodiolderived from a type of fiber in the seeds called lignan.

Recap

Seed cycling proponents say the practice can balance the hormones estrogen and progesterone through the actions of phytoestrogens, plant-based compounds that have similar effects to estrogen produced in the body.

Does Seed Cycling Result in Balanced Hormones?

A popular claim of seed cycling is that it can balance your hormone levels through the actions of phytoestrogens from lignans, a fiber found in some seeds.

Sesame and flaxseeds have particularly high concentrations of lignans. After consumption, these lignans are converted into phytoestrogens that can mimic the action of estrogen or hinder it, depending on the dose. However, the estrogen-boosting or -hindering effects of these lignans have not been proven.

With sesame, one five-week study in postmenopausal women from 2006 found that consuming 50 grams of sesame powder daily increased levels of some other sex hormones but did not affect estrogen levels.

In general, those with a regular menstrual cycle already produce the right amounts of hormones. For those with hormonal imbalances, seed cycling is not likely to improve symptoms.

Recap

Plant lignans can have a weak effect on estrogen levels, but more research is needed in this area. No scientific evidence associates seed cycling with improved hormone levels.

Seed Cycling and Menopausal Symptoms

Research has found flaxseeds have been linked to slight increases in estrogen, which may result in fewer hot flashes (sudden feeling of warmth), reduced vaginal dryness, and better overall quality of life in menopausal and postmenopausal women.

However, other studies note that lignans, phytoestrogens, and seeds may not be any more effective at improving symptoms of menopause than a placebo, so more research is needed.

Recap

While flaxseeds may offer some health benefits for menopausal and postmenopausal women, no evidence suggests that the doses and timings proposed by seed cycling have any benefits.

Seed Cycling for Fertility

Some claim that consuming lignans results in a shorter time to conception, however, there is little evidence to support this.

A 1993 study found that while a lignan supplement had no effect on overall cycle length, it did increase the luteal phase. This suggests that lignan consumption could have beneficial effects on the menstrual cycle but there is not enough evidence to say that seed cycling could positively affect fertility.

Other Nutritional Benefits of Seeds

Though there’s little evidence to support the claims of seed cycling, including flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds, in your diet, it’s still a great way to promote good health.

All four seeds are rich in fiber, manganese, magnesium, copper, thiamine, vitamin E, and healthy fats. These nutrients are vital to good health.

Additionally, flax, sesame, and sunflower seed intake have been linked to improvements in heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

There’s some evidence to suggest sesame seeds can reduce inflammation and may improve athletic recovery and performance.

Recap

Though seed cycling may not balance hormones, adding seeds to your diet boosts your intake of vitamins and minerals and is associated with reduced inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.

How to Do Seed Cycling

In order to start seed cycling, you will need to track your periods and ovulation. There are apps available to tell you when you are ovulating.

The follicular phase starts on the day you get your period (day one) and ends on day 14 when an egg is typically released if you have a regular 28-day cycle.

  • During the follicular phase, you are advised to eat 1-2 tablespoons of freshly ground flaxseeds and raw pumpkin seeds every day until day 14.
  • Following ovulation, or on day 15 of your cycle, eat 1–2 tablespoons of freshly ground sunflower and sesame seeds.

If you do not have a 28-day cycle, you can adapt the plan to fit the length of yours, starting on the day of your period, and ending the day before your next one starts.

And if you’re not having periods, some seed cycling advocates say you can follow the 28-day cycle of the moon, starting the follicular phase on a new moon and beginning the luteal phase on a full moon.

Summary

Seed cycling involves eating flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds at different times of your menstrual cycle. The practice is claimed to balance certain hormones, boost fertility, and ease symptoms of menopause. However, evidence to support these claims is lacking. Nevertheless, eating seeds is still a great way to improve the quality of your diet.

A Word From Verywell

Seed cycling is not harmful, but it’s quite a lot of effort to go through for something without much research to back it up. However, eating the recommended amounts of different types of seeds and nuts can have other benefits, so it’s worth considering adding some seeds to your diet regardless of their effects on hormones.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does seed cycling really work?

    Despite anecdotal claims from people who follow the practice, there’s no firm scientific evidence to suggest that seed cycling works.

  • How long should you do seed cycling?

    Proponents of seed cycling recommend trying the practice out for at least three months to see the benefits.

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