For many women, their menstrual cycles come with unwanted symptoms. Traditional tools like hormonal birth control and PMS pain-relieving NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can help, but some seek out alternative solutions for maintaining a healthy hormonal balance. One of these interesting new approaches: seed cycling.
Here’s what to know about seed cycling, from what it is to whether it could work for you.
So, What Is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a food-based approach to managing period symptoms. As the name suggests, it involves incorporating different combos of seeds into your diet every single day, depending on where you are in your cycle.
The most popular seed cycling regime involves two phases that coincide with the follicular and luteal phases of the menstrual cycle, explains regenerative medicine expert Dr. Carrie Lam, M.D., FAAMFM, ABAARM and co-author of Advanced Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.
During the follicular phase (the first half of the cycle, when estrogen increases to prep for ovulation), seed cyclers consume a mix of one tablespoon of ground, raw flaxseed and one tablespoon of ground, raw pumpkin seeds every day.
Then, during the luteal phase (the second half of the cycle, when estrogen decreases and progesterone increases), they consume one tablespoon of ground, raw sesame seed mixed with one tablespoon of ground, raw sunflower seeds each day.
The hypothesis: Each of these four seeds contains specific nutrients thought to hinder or promote estrogen production. So, consuming them strategically may support hormonal regulation. This, then, could promote a more normal cycle, and fewer unfavorable PMS symptoms, such as pain, cramping, bloating, acne, and weight fluctuations.
Does Seed Cycling Actually Work?
As interesting as this sounds, “there has been zero research on it,” says Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., author of PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline to Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness. “There is no scientific data showing that seed cycling works.”
That said, the lack of research doesn’t mean seed cycling is total bologna. In fact, given research on the menstrual cycle and the individual seeds themselves, proponents suggest there is reason to believe it could work.
Consider this: Pumpkin and flax seeds both contain phytoestrogens, plant compounds that parrot estrogen. So, consuming them during the follicular (estrogen-rising) portion of your menstrual cycle can support its regularity, explains Lam.
In fact, flaxseed consumption was linked to fewer anovulatory cycles (a.k.a. cycles in which ovulation doesn’t occur) in a small study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinological Metabolism.
Sesame and sunflower seeds, meanwhile, both contain essential fatty acids called lignans, which bind to estrogen receptors in the body, blocking its activity. This potentially keeps estrogen levels from increasing too much during the luteal portion of the cycle.
“Sunflower seeds also contain vitamin E, which has been shown to boost progesterone levels,” Lam says. “They, therefore, support the [luteal] phase of the cycle, when progesterone levels are supposed to be higher.”
In short, seed cycling itself has not been studied. However, what we know about the menstrual cycle and the seeds involved suggests the practice could be worth trying.
Are There Any Risks?
Whether you’re intrigued or skeptical, there’s certainly no danger in trying out seed cycling for yourself. (Assuming you’re not allergic to any of the seeds involved.)
“Seed cycling is only harmful if you self-prescribe it instead of working with a trained medical professional,” says Gersh. In this case, you may end up missing underlying issues that a doctor can identify.
Is Seed Cycling For You?
If you are experiencing period irregularities or serious symptoms, the first step is to work with a healthcare provider. “The menstrual cycle has been named the sixth vital sign, so if your period is abnormal in any way you need to get to the root cause of why,” says Gersh.
If there is an underlying issue causing your period pain (like endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or adenomyosis), the doctor may suggest seed cycling as one component in a multi-part treatment plan, she says. If not, you can always ask if you can incorporate it.
That said, if you would describe your period as “no big deal” but simply want to explore seed cycling, go on ahead, says dietitian Aubrey Phelps, M.S., R.D.N.
How To Try Seed Cycling
Want to see if seed cycling can support your menstrual cycle? Keep a few tips in mind to incorporate these little nutritional powerhouses into your routine.
First thing’s first: The seeds must be ground. Whole seeds do not break down completely in the gut, explains Lam. This means you don’t reap their full nutritional benefits. In addition to being ground, the seeds must also be raw. Heating them damages some of the micronutrients thought to support your cycle, she says.
Finally, to make the routine stick, nosh on your ground seeds at the same time every day.
If you’re consistent, you may notice some benefits of seed cycling within about three or so menstrual cycles, Lam says. Still, know that “the effects of seed cycling are very very gentle,” she adds.
Diggin’ What’s Good? For more essential health facts, tips, and inspiration, join our Facebook community, Eating Healthy, today!