Are you thinking of trying seed cycling? If you don’t know what we’re talking about, seed cycling is a new health trend, aimed at improving women’s menstrual cycles.
Women typically experience a menstrual cycle every 28 days- or once a month, on average. The menstrual cycle consists of 2 phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The follicular phase occurs first, and lasts from the first day of menstruation until ovulation. The luteal phase occurs after ovulation, and lasts until the next menstruation, which is typically about 14 days (1).
Hormones, which are present in varying concentrations at each phase of the cycle, largely impact the menstrual cycle. A hormone called “follicle stimulating hormone” (FSH) is released just before each menstrual cycle begins. FSH triggers the beginning of the follicular phase, in which ovarian follicles form. FSH also triggers an increase in the hormones estrogen, and luteinizing hormone (LH). Once LH is present in its highest concentrations, ovulation begins. Following ovulation, estrogen levels decline, and the luteal phase begins. In the luteal phase, unused follicles then stimulate the release of the hormone progesterone (1).
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SEED CYCLING?
According to proponents of seed cycling, pumpkin, flax, sesame, and sunflower seeds contain certain compounds that can optimize hormonal balance. They believe eating ground seeds at various times throughout the month may improve side effects of menstruation, such as PMS.
Those who practice seed cycling specifically believe eating ground pumpkin and flax seeds during the follicular phase, and ground sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase, may improve hormonal balance (2).
Follicular Phase: Flax and Pumpkin Seeds
There is little research to date supporting the effects of pumpkin and/or flax seed supplementation on improved menstrual health. However, proponents of seed cycling support their use because of certain compounds and minerals they contain.
Flax seeds contain particularly high amounts of lignan, a specific type of phytoestrogen. Phytoestrogens act similarly to estrogen when consumed, meaning they may impart similar effects on the body. However, research suggests phytoestrogens may also bind to estrogen receptors, and decrease estrogen levels in the body (3). Therefore, proponents of seed cycling believe they may help regulate estrogen levels during the follicular phase.
The limited research that is available does suggest flaxseeds may result in reduced breast pain (4), increased chance of ovulation (5), and even reduced symptoms associated with PCOS (6). However, participants in these studies consumed large doses (~4 tbsp/day) of flax seed during the entire cycle, not just the follicular phase.
Pumpkin seeds are used in seed cycling for their zinc content. Pumpkin seeds contain large amounts of zinc, which may improve dysmenorrhea, or painful menstrual cramps (7).
Luteal Phase: Sesame and Sunflower Seeds
There is also little research to date supporting the beneficial effects of sesame and/or sunflower seed supplementation on menstrual cycle health. However, proponents of seed cycling believe sesame and sunflower seeds may contain compounds that help balance progesterone levels during the luteal phase.
Similar to flax seeds, sesame seeds contain lignans. Seed cyclers believe these lignans can help regulate estrogen levels in the luteal phase, in addition to the follicular phase. As far as research goes, one study did find sesame seeds to have a beneficial effect sex hormone levels in postmenopausal women (9). However, participants in this study consumed large doses (~5 tbsp/day) of sesame seed during the entire cycle, not just the luteal phase. In addition, this study focused only on postmenopausal women, so we cannot assume the same effect for other populations.
Sunflower seeds contain high amounts of Vitamin E, which may improve menstrual health. However, there is very little research on this topic. In one available study, vitamin E supplementation was correlated with increased “luteal function” (10) when consumed in the luteal phase. However, this study addressed vitamin E only, and not sesame seeds specifically.
WHATS THE BOTTOM LINE: SHOULD YOU TRY SEED CYCLING?
There is certainly evidence to suggest seed cycling may have beneficial impacts on different aspects of menstrual health. However, there is no extensive research to date that confirms a direct benefit of seed cycling.
Yet, while there is no guarantee seed cycling will work, there is also little risk associated with adding seeds to your diet. So, you can always try it for yourself! However, it is best to consume only small servings of seeds, such as 1-2 tablespoons per day rather than the 4-5 tbsp/day used in research discussed here.
And on the plus side- if seed cycling doesn’t work for your hormonal balance- seeds remain a healthy addition to any diet!