What Is Seed Cycling? Here's How This Holistic Practice Can Balance Your Hormones
So long, bad cramps.
Keeping up with the surge of “cure-all” wellness fads is a job in and of itself. In our column Wellness Inspector, we do the work for you, closely examining these trends to see if they’re worth your hard-earned pennies—or whether they’re just hype.
Have you ever woken up with such bad cramps from your period that you’ve internally sworn you’d try just about anything to make them go away? Or, conversely, have you ever noticed just how moody you are during (and leading up to) your period that, again, you’ve considered doing anything to be a little less testy? While switching birth control, taking up new meditation, or indulging in a little self-care are all wonderful ideas, you likely never have contemplated doing seed cycling, a hormone-balance practice.
If less painful periods and a calmer demeanor sound like godsends, keep reading to learn how seed cycling can help.
What is seed cycling?
Seed cycling is an alternative medicine practice that involves supplementing your menstrual cycle with specific seeds to help regulate hormones and alleviate any symptoms associated with imbalance.
The concept as a whole is that it’s possible to create a state of equilibrium in the body by eating certain seeds during specific days of your menstrual cycle.
“The idea is based on the nutritional values in these foods that help to promote the specific hormones in each phase: estrogen in the follicular phase, days one to 14, and progesterone in the luteal phase, days 14 to 28," Dr. Gabrielle Francis, a naturopathic doctor and wellness advisor for Love Wellness, tells HelloGiggles.
While it’s unclear exactly how seed cycling came to be, Dr. Jordin Wiggins, a naturopathic doctor and sexual health expert, hypothesizes that, like many forms of alternative medicine, it was born out of trial and error and listening to the intuitive wisdom of women’s bodies over the years.
Dr. Francis adds to this, noting that naturopathic doctors have long used herbs and foods to restore hormone balance and health. “Most Indigenous cultures and ancient wisdom medicines are aware of the ability of herbs, foods, plants, and essential oils to balance the hormones and women’s cycles,” she says. “There are many naturally occurring plants and foods that have, and promote, the activity of different hormones.”
How does seed cycling work?
Seed cycling works by consuming seeds that support estrogen production during the first half of your cycle (days one to 14, aka the follicular phase) and then seeds that support progesterone during the second half (days 14 to 28, aka the luteal phase).
“So from cycle days one to 14, we want to be consuming one tablespoon of flax seeds and one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds, as they are known for their omega-3 and zinc content,” Dr. Wiggins says. “Then in the second half of the cycle, day 15 to about day 28, we’re wanting seeds that are high in the omega-6s and selenium—being sesame and sunflower seeds. And, again, one tablespoon of each.”
With that in mind, depending on where you are in your cycle, you can adjust your diet accordingly to make room for the specific seeds.
What are the benefits of seed cycling?
Now that you know how to seed cycle, let’s go over why it’s worth it in the first place. Sure, you now know that it helps to balance hormones, but what comes along with that?
According to Love Wellness's chief wellness advisor, Dr. Jodie Horton, an OB-GYN practicing in Washington, D.C., seed cycling helps regulate irregular periods; reduce hormonal acne; treat polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, and infertility; and aid in menopause.
“There are several different protocols; however, the idea is to eat raw, freshly ground seeds during different phases of your menstrual cycles or in the moon's phase if you don't have a period,” she explains. “Theoretically, seed cycling increases or inhibits the production of estrogen and progesterone in the body, depending on the need to relieve symptoms due to hormonal imbalance. After a few months of cycling, women will start to see the benefits of seed cycling.”
Beyond directly menstrual-related benefits, Dr. Wiggins says that one of the major benefits of seed cycling has to do with your poop. (Bear with us.)
“Seeds have high fiber content,” she explains. “One of the most common hormonal concerns we see is estrogen dominance, where estrogen is too high in relation to progesterone. By providing adequate fiber—as found in these seeds—we’re able to excrete some of that excess estrogen, as the fiber acts as a binder for excretion in our digestive tracts.”
What kinds of seeds should you eat during seed cycling?
As mentioned above, the concept of seed cycling centers around eating seeds that promote estrogen from days one to 14 and seeds that support progesterone from days 14 to 28. To do this, Dr. Francis recommends eating flax and pumpkin seeds during phase one and sunflower seeds and sesame seeds during phase two.
“Flax is a well-known phytoestrogen plant and is documented to support balancing estrogen levels,” she explains. “Pumpkin seeds have phytonutrients that can help to promote healthy testosterone and estrogen balance and metabolism. Sunflower seeds and sesame seeds are the two seeds recommended for the luteal, progesterone phase (days 14 to 28)." Dr. Francis goes on to explain that the nutrients in sunflower and sesame seeds help metabolize and break down the estrogen hormone while also enhancing the production of progesterone.
"All of the four seeds that are typically recommended are high in omega fatty acids, nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. The effect that they have on hormone balance is attributed to the nutritional value and actions," she adds.
Here are a selection of seeds you can purchase:
How can you incorporate seed cycling into your diet?
Eating two tablespoons of seeds each day might feel a bit off if you’re not used to it. For that reason, it helps to know how to incorporate them into your routine. While you could totally eat them one spoonful at a time to get them out of the way, Dr. Francis recommends adding them to smoothies, yogurt, or salads for a little extra crunch.
At the end of the day, there isn’t much science on the risks, benefits, and efficacy of seed cycling—mainly first-person accounts that make it seem worthwhile.
“Most reports of seed cycling are anecdotal,” Dr. Horton says. “However, there is no documented risk of seed cycling. Despite the lack of evidence to support these claims, many women claimed a balance of hormones, improved fertility, decreased PMS symptoms, and ease of menopausal symptoms [simply from switching between seeds during their menstrual phases].”
While the evidence is lacking, Dr. Wiggins points out that when you use food as medicine—as opposed to eating higher-dose supplements—there are fewer adverse effects, meaning seed cycling is a great option for people trying to figure out their perfect menstrual balance.
If, however, you find that your PMS or hormonal symptoms are extreme, she recommends visiting your doctor for a baseline hormonal blood work assessment. “That way we can be more aggressive with our treatment if needed to actually get you the results you were looking for by doing something like seed cycling,” she says. “It’s intended for women with mild cycle dysregulation, while for women with a more extreme hormonal presentation, we’re going to need further support in addition to seed cycling.”