This article was written by registered dietitian – Maeve Hanan
Seed cycling has been increasing in popularity over the past few years due to claims that it can improve hormone levels.
This article will explore what’s involved and whether there’s any evidence to back up seed cycling.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling is a naturopathic approach (a form of alternative medicine) that involves eating specific seeds at specific times during the menstrual cycle in order to balance oestrogen and progesterone levels.
The is claimed to be helpful for those struggling with hormone-related issues such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or premenstrual tension (PMT), fertility issues, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and unpleasant menopausal symptoms.
There are some variations with seed cycling, but this is often broken down into the following 2 stages. [For those without a regular menstrual cycle, such as menopausal women, day 1 is counted as the first day of the new moon.]
Phase 1 – During the follicular stage of the menstrual cycle (day 1 – 14):
- eat 1 tbsp of freshly-ground flaxseeds and 1 tbsp of freshly-ground pumpkin seeds each day
- this is claimed to balance oestrogen levels and encourage progesterone production.
Phase 2 – During the luteal phase of the menstrual Cycle (day 15 – 28):
- eat 1 tbsp of freshly-ground sunflower seeds and 1 tbsp of freshly-ground sesame seeds each day
- this is claimed to boost progesterone levels.
Is there any evidence for seed cycling?
No studies have examined the impact of seed cycling on hormone levels or hormone-related conditions or symptoms specifically. So the claims related to this are mainly based on individual experiences and stories rather than scientific research.
However, a few studies have investigated the impact of single seeds on hormone levels.
Proponents of seed cycling make the following claims:
- A type of phytoestrogens (plant oestrogens) called lignans in flaxseeds and sesame seeds helps to balance oestrogen levels
- Zinc from pumpkin seeds aids progesterone production
- Vitamin E present in sunflower seeds boosts progesterone
It’s true that certain phytoestrogens have been seen to impact oestrogen levels in the body, as they have a similar chemical size and structure to oestrogen. But because of differences in how they bind to receptors in the body, this really depends on the dose (1).
Consuming phytoestrogens, especially soy isoflavones, may help with PMS menopausal symptoms, but this link is questionable and seems very variable (1, 2, 3).
Although lignans found in certain seeds have health-promoting properties, there isn’t much evidence as to whether these compounds impact hormone levels (4, 5).
A few small studies have also found a possible link between the following (NB: this research is currently extremely limited overall):
- Consuming flaxseeds and improved cycle regularity and reduced PMS symptoms such as breast pain (6, 7, 8).
- Flaxseeds and improved hormone levels and symptoms for those with PCOS (9, 10).
- Consuming sesame seed powder and changes in certain sex hormone levels (not oestrogen) in postmenopausal women (11).
- Pumpkin seeds and impact hormone-dependent tumours and menopausal symptoms (12, 13).
Although nutrients found in seeds like omega-3 fat, vitamin E and zinc are important for hormones, fertility and reproductive health, there isn’t evidence that consuming these from certain seeds confers a particular benefit over other dietary sources (14, 15, 16).
Seeds are also known to be a nutritious addition to the diet, providing fibre, unsaturated fat, protein, as well as a variety of vitamins, minerals and polyphenols. Therefore there’s some evidence that they benefit our overall health, but ongoing research is needed before specific health claims can be made (17).
Seeds are a healthy addition to the diet. They are a good source of fibre, unsaturated fat, vitamin E, B-vitamins, minerals and polyphenols.
Seeds are also an excellent way of adding more plant points to your day or week, as sprinkling mixed seeds over a meal usually adds 3-4 types of plants.
As discussed above, there may be a hormonal benefit to including more seeds in the diet. But the evidence is currently weak in this area, and non-existent when it comes to seed-cycling specifically.
Some people may feel a benefit from seed cycling, which could be related to potential placebo effect or a sense of control in areas of health that are often under-researched and under-supported (i.e. women’s health).
However, based on the current lack of evidence seed cycling is unnecessarily specific and onerous. If this regime adds pressure or stress, that would be counterproductive when it comes to hormone levels and health.
You can get the benefits from adding seeds to your diet in easier ways, like sprinkling mixed seeds on top of meals or including seeds as part of a snack.
It’s also important to highlight that even in conditions that involve hormones, those who have a regular menstrual cycle are likely to already have a healthy balance of hormones. And when there are hormonal irregularities, this requires individual medical support (and potentially nutritional support depending on the circumstances and underlying cause). Replacing individualised care with seed cycling in cases like this would be very risky.
For overall health, including hormonal health, it’s important to consume a balanced and varied diet that provides enough energy and nutrients.
On top of this, an anti-inflammatory style of eating like the Mediterranean diet may be extra beneficial for fertility and conditions that involve inflammation like PCOS and endometriosis.
If you are having any specific issues related to your period, hormones or a medical condition it is vital to get individualised medical support, and if this is related to food, support from a Registered Dietitian or registered nutritionist as well.
For more information, you can also check out our previous articles about:
4 Reasons to See Your GP About Your Period
And Dr Hazel’s book The Female Factor
Seeds are a nutritious addition to the diet that may be beneficial for hormone levels and overall health. But there is little to no evidence to support seed cycling specifically.
So rather than following a tedious regime of grinding specific seeds based on the stage of your cycle, why not try including a variety of seeds in your diet. This can be as easy as sprinkling mixed seeds on your porridge, soup, salad or dinners etc.
It’s really important to seek individual advice and support from registered medical and health professionals if you are struggling with your hormone levels or a related condition.
- Desmawati, D., & Sulastri, D. (2019). Phytoestrogens and their health effect. Open access Macedonian journal of medical sciences, 7(3), 495. [accessed September 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6390141/]
- Rowe, I. J., & Baber, R. J. (2021). The effects of phytoestrogens on postmenopausal health. Climacteric, 24(1), 57-63. [accessed September 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33395316/]
- Kim, H. W., Kwon, M. K., Kim, N. S., & Reame, N. E. (2006). Intake of dietary soy isoflavones in relation to perimenstrual symptoms of Korean women living in the USA. Nursing & health sciences, 8(2), 108-113. [accessed September 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16764563/]
- Rodríguez-García, C., Sánchez-Quesada, C., Toledo, E., Delgado-Rodríguez, M., & Gaforio, J. J. (2019). Naturally lignan-rich foods: A dietary tool for health promotion?. Molecules, 24(5), 917. [accessed September 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6429205/]
- Touillaud, M. S., Thiébaut, A. C., Fournier, A., Niravong, M., Boutron-Ruault, M. C., & Clavel-Chapelon, F. (2007). Dietary lignan intake and postmenopausal breast cancer risk by estrogen and progesterone receptor status. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 99(6), 475-486. [accessed September 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17374837/]
- Phipps, W. R., Martini, M. C., Lampe, J. W., Slavin, J. L., & Kurzer, M. S. (1993). Effect of flax seed ingestion on the menstrual cycle. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 77(5), 1215-1219. [accessed September 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8077314/]
- Jaafarnejad, F., Adibmoghaddam, E., Emami, S. A., & Saki, A. (2017). Compare the effect of flaxseed, evening primrose oil and Vitamin E on duration of periodic breast pain. Journal of education and health promotion, 6. [accessed September 2022 via: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29114553/]
- Vaziri, F., Zamani Lari, M., Samsami Dehaghani, A., Salehi, M., Sadeghpour, H., Akbarzadeh, M., & Zare, N. (2014). Comparing the effects of dietary flaxseed and omega-3 Fatty acids supplement on cyclical mastalgia in Iranian women: a randomized clinical trial. International journal of family medicine, 2014. [accessed September 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4147287]
- Nowak, D. A., Snyder, D. C., Brown, A. J., & Demark-Wahnefried, W. (2007). The effect of flaxseed supplementation on hormonal levels associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome: a case study. Current topics in nutraceutical research, 5(4), 177. [accessed September 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2752973/]
- Haidari, F., Banaei-Jahromi, N., Zakerkish, M., & Ahmadi, K. (2020). The effects of flaxseed supplementation on metabolic status in women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomized open-labeled controlled clinical trial. Nutrition journal, 19(1), 1-11. [accessed September 2022 via: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6982376/]
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- Lestari, B., & Meiyanto, E. (2018). A review: the emerging nutraceutical potential of pumpkin seeds. Indonesian Journal of Cancer Chemoprevention, 9(2), 92-101. [accessed September 2022 via: https://ijcc.chemoprev.org/index.php/ijcc/article/view/225]
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Can seed cycling actually balance our hormones? was last modified: September 30th, 2022 by