Seed Cycling for Fertility and Hormonal Balance: Does it Work?
Seed cycling for fertility and hormonal balance. What is it and should you be doing it? Understanding the basics of this diet-based approach to balance hormones can help you decide whether it’s right for you.
Female hormones can be tricky, amiright?? We often don’t know anything is out of balance until we try to become pregnant or are diagnosed with a hormone-related condition, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which can make it hard to conceive. And of course, hormones wax and wane throughout phases of life, like menopause.
Seed cycling is a purported natural approach to support hormonal balance and improve fertility. But does it really work?
What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is the act of adding seeds to your diet in a structured, daily way, that is intended to support different phases of your menstrual cycle.
Below is a typical seed cycling schedule:
- Eat 1 tablespoon each of ground flax and pumpkin seeds per day for the first 14 days of your cycle (follicular phase)
- Eat 1 tablespoon each of ground sesame and sunflower seeds per day for the second half of your cycle, until the first day of your next period starts (luteal phase)
- For menopausal/postmenopausal women, proponents use phases of the moon, with the new moon as day 1
The claims for using these specific types of seeds are as follows:
- Flax seeds contain phytoestrogens, which act like estrogen in the body and can balance our bodies’ estrogen levels as needed
- Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, which can boost progesterone for the next phase of your cycle
- Sesame seeds contain lignans, a type of polyphenol, which may prevent estrogen from rising too high
- Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E, which promotes progesterone production
Advocates of seed cycling for hormonal balance say that positive benefits can be felt after just a few months.
Causes of Hormonal Imbalance
In the first 14 days of a normal menstrual cycle, estrogen is produced as your ovaries prepare your eggs for the month. Before ovulation, when your eggs are released and you’re most fertile, levels of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) increase.
Estrogen levels drop following ovulation, but eventually rise again alongside progesterone as your body prepares for fertilization, implantation, and conception. If this doesn’t occur (aka no baby is made), the amounts of these two hormones drop again in preparation for the cycle to start over.
However, it’s common to experience hormonal imbalances.
These are sometimes caused by lifestyle factors like over-exercising or being under- or overweight, but also by conditions like PCOS. Moving into menopause is also known to wreak havoc on female hormones, as your levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease, or even plummet.
What the Research Says About Seed Cycling for Hormonal Balance
Seed cycling is said to be beneficial for both women with normal hormone levels and those with imbalances. However, evidence of improvement in hormonal status by timing seed consumption to specific phases of the menstruation cycle is purely anecdotal.
That being said, there is a bulk of research showing the benefits of seeds on health in general and a small amount specifically on seeds and your hormones:
Seed Cycling for Menopause
A 2006 randomized controlled trial found that 24 postmenopausal women who took 50 mg of sesame powder daily for 5 weeks experienced improved hormone status as well as higher levels of blood fats and antioxidants.
Seed Cycling for Fertility and Hormonal Balance
Most research on lignans and hormone balance has shown insignificant effects. However, a few studies have found that eating flax seeds can help improve menstrual regularity and hormone balance, indicated by a reduction in hormone-related female breast pain.
Lignans, which are especially high in sesame and flax seeds, are converted into mammalian lignans enterolactone and enterodiol after consumption. These are phytoestrogens that appear to influence estrogen activity, depending on how much you consume. There’s more to be learned, but they may show promise.
Seed Cycling for PCOS
A 2007 case study describes the hormonal effects experienced by a 31-year-old woman with PCOS, who ate approximately 30 grams per day (3 tablespoons) of flaxseed for 4 months.
Measurements of various biomarkers showed that she experienced a clinically significant reduction in testosterone levels as well as hirsutism (hair growth related to high testosterone, common in PCOS). The authors felt that this warrants further research on flax seeds and hormone balance in PCOS.
An Alternative to Seed Cycling
While consuming a specific amount of a specific type of seeds at a specific time in your menstrual cycle is NOT evidence-based, eating seeds IS!
Seeds are an awesome source of plant-based protein, fiber, fat, iron, zinc, calcium, and a plethora of other micronutrients.
If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I’m a seed fanatic. I eat hemp, chia, and flaxseeds nearly every morning in my Super Seed Oatmeal.
Here are more ideas for adding seeds to your diet:
- Stirred yogurt
- Incorporated in homemade veggie burger patties
- Cooked with stir-fries
- Added on top of pasta, casseroles, and salads
- Mixed into warm grain dishes
- Included in homemade protein balls or granola bar recipes
- As a component of trail mix, with raisins or other dried fruits
- Used to coat banana or apple slices slathered in nut butter, like a breading
- On their own as a snack!
The Bottom Line:
Even if seed cycling for fertility and hormonal balance doesn’t work, it’s very unlikely to cause adverse effects. And it might even produce benefits. So I say, if you want to do it, go for it. Or just eat some seeds whenever you feel it :)
Weigh In: Have you tried seed cycling? If not, is it something you would try for a natural approach to hormone balance?
For more tips on supporting healthy hormones, check out these posts:
- 5 Foods for a Plant-Based Pregnancy
- Fertility Diet: Evidence-Based Tips
- Food and Acne: What the Evidence Says
- Intermittent Fasting Benefits