OK listen, I drug my feet about writing this post for like, two years. I’d casually mention seed cycling on social media, people would Google it and get overwhelmed, want more info from me – the person who brought it up in the first place – and I’d be like “eh, Google it.” There is a ton of info about seed cycling already on the internet – some of it written by Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, some by popular, formerly vegan bakers, and some by naturopathic physicians. So, in my defense, I felt like I had nothing new to add. But, I get it. I told you about seed cycling. You trust me because I’ve never tried to sell you “flat belly” tea. And here I am just refusing to help navigate all the wild stuff out there.
The other thing is, I learned about seed cycling from my esthetician – who is amazing – but when I did my own research it was hard to find anything from say, a gynecologist or endocrinologist – someone who could definitely say, “yes, science supports this thing where you eat all the seeds for hormone health.” (By the way, if you find any writings from either of those kinds of people on this topic, please drop a link in the comments!) I did reach out to people in those fields before writing this post, and while I did not get any response from gynecologists or endocrinologists, I heard from two nutritionists, and from a few seed cyclers who shared their experiences with me. So I’m including quotes from them throughout this post.
All that being said, seed cycling isn’t a flat belly tea that will give you diarrhea. It’s not an $80 serum. It’s not a drastic lifestyle change. It’s just eating 2 tablespoons of specific seeds every day, in addition to all the stuff you normally eat. Best case scenario, it benefits you in some way, as it has me. Worst case, it does nothing for you and you’re just eating some seeds. (Provided you aren’t allergic, obviously, or have some other medical reason that you can’t eat sunflower, sesame, pumpkin, and flax seeds.) What I’m getting at is, I feel OK about recommending that people with uteruses try seed cycling because it’s inexpensive, and generally harmless. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist if you have any concerns about adding these four things to your diet.
OK, that was so many words. Let’s get the fuck into it.
1. What Is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is a practise of eating different combinations of seeds at different points in your menstrual cycle to – in theory – help with hormonal issues such as acne, painful periods (endometriosis), polycystic ovarian syndrome and more (including menopause symptoms).
You could really fall down a Google rabbit hole just trying to answer this first question, so that’s my short answer. If you’re already rolling your eyes, maybe seed cycling isn’t for you. If you’re still interested, keep reading.
2. How Do You Seed Cycle?
Seed cycling revolves around a person’s menstrual cycle. During the first 13-14 days of your cycle, the follicular phase, you eat 1 Tbs each freshly ground flax and pumpkin seeds every day.
During the second half of your cycle, the luteal phase, eat 1 Tbs each of ground sunflower and sesame seeds per day until the first day of your next period when your cycle starts again.
I’ve seen guides that also recommend additional supplements during each phase of the cycle, but I keep it simple. I’ll get more into why those four seeds are the chosen ones, and what benefits science says they offer, as well as how I actually work them all into my diet, in numbers 4 and 5 below.
3. Does Seed Cycling Work?
For me? Yes. My esthetician introduced me to seed cycling on my very first visit to her. I’d mentioned that hormonal acne is a recurring issue for me – I had blood clots a few years ago so I can’t take hormonal birth control (which used to keep my skin clear) and I can’t use a lot of hormone-based acne medications that dermatologists have suggested for me over the years. I went home and Googled, and then got on Amazon and ordered bulk bags of raw, organic sunflower, sesame, flax and pumpkin seeds. These are all items you can easily find in most grocery stores and health food stores as well.
Most posts I’ve read about seed cycling recommend waiting at least one full cycle for any noticeable results – and up to three cycles for some people. For me, I noticed differences in my first cycle.
First of all, the painful jaw acne that typically plagued me during my period just like, didn’t happen. I know it sounds crazy – listen, I’m not even using any affiliate links to make money on this post because I want it to be clear that I have NOTHING to gain from recommending this to anyone. It didn’t happen, and I was fucking thrilled.
If that was the only benefit I noticed I would have been stoked, but then, a few weeks later, my period didn’t come when I expected it. For most people that would be a NIGHTMARE scenario, but I had a very short cycle, and would typically get two periods a month with only about 10 days in between them. (Yes, I know I should have talked to my doctor about that, however, I can’t take hormonal medications and when I’ve brought other perimenopausal issues up with my gyno I’ve basically gotten shruggy-shoulders because none of the medications are safe for me to take.)
Anyway, my period came three days later than it had been coming for years. Do you know how amazing THREE DAYS of not-period is for someone who has become accustomed to having a period 14-16 days per month is? I kept this routine up, and noticed that every month I seed cycled, I got a couple more days of my luteal phase back. After 4-5 months I had a NORMAL FUCKING CYCLE and it was incredible.
That’s when I started telling my friends, and strangers on the internet, about seed cycling.
4. Is There Any Science Behind Seed Cycling?
If I experienced such positive results, and heard from so many others who did, why try and poke holes in it? Because I’m skeptical about everything, not just things I don’t like or believe in. That’s why I’m so eager to speak with people who have scientific backgrounds about whether or not eating a rotating variety of four seeds could have any effect on a person with a uterus’ health.
Will a lack of scientific studies or a definite “this is bullshit” from a doctor or scientist cause me to dump all my seeds in the trash? No, because I have occasionally not kept up with it and paid for it with jaw acne, horrific cramps, and a return to a short cycle. Just recently I spent a week on a road trip and found it tricky to eat my seeds every day, and my jaw broke out like crazy. Could it have also been a different climate, using hotel towels washed in stuff that might irritate my sensitive skin, and eating a ton of garbage for a whole week? Yeah, totally. But I couldn’t control those things, I and I can control eating some seeds. So no, I wouldn’t stop seed cycling if someone with a pedigree told me it’s total nonsense. But I would stop recommending it to others. Does that make sense?
Luckily, I do have a nutritionist friend, Abi Sleven, who was willing to look into each seed and give me some insights about why they may or may not have any effect on hormonal health.
She says, “All 4 seeds provide a range of minerals including iron, zinc, magnesium, manganese, phosphorous as well as essential omega 3 fatty acids, and fibre. Adding these into the diet can [be beneficial] especially if essential minerals are deficient.” OK, so that kind of supports my whole “Whether or not they do shit for hormones, they’re good for you, so you might as well eat them” theory.
Abi continued, “These seeds also contain lignans, aka phytoestrogens, which are credited with altering the length of the menstrual cycle (amongst other things) but this is extremely complex and poorly understood. Whilst there are lots of theories, there currently isn’t any concrete evidence directly linking dietary intake of these nutrients with the menstrual cycle.” She concluded her thoughts by saying that while there isn’t enough evidence for her to concretely say seed cycling does fuck all for hormone health, that it’s not likely to cause any harm and that you should always consult with your healthcare provider before making major changes to your diet.
So yeah, until someone funds actual research on seed cycling (who will fund this? Big Seed?) we might never get a definitive yes or no on whether or not there’s any science to support this. But here’s some more info about each seed from Kristen Ciccolini, CNE that I found interesting:
- Pumpkin seeds contain magnesium, which is often recommended for painful periods as a supplement, and zinc, which helps the body produce and regulate hormones.
- Flax seeds have a phytoestrogen effect, meaning they have compounds that bind to our estrogen receptors and mimic our own estrogen production. They also help modulate estrogen levels, and are highly anti-inflammatory. (Inflammation can increase hormone levels to more than what we need.)
- Sunflower seeds contain B vitamins that are critical for adrenal support and the production of hormones, including serotonin, and thyroid-supporting selenium.
- Sesame seeds also have a minor phytoestrogen effect and contain magnesium and zinc.
5. How Am I Going to Eat All These Damn Seeds?
If you already make a smoothie in the morning, just toss a tablespoon of each seed for whichever phase of your cycle you’re on in your smoothie. Done.
If you aren’t a smoothie drinker, I recommend pre-grinding about 1 cup of each seed and keeping them in the fridge. Then, add a Tbs of each appropriate seed to your yogurt or oatmeal in the morning. Kristen suggests tahini and sunflower butter as two more ways to avoid boredom while seed cycling.
Not a breakfast eater, or don’t typically eat something seed-friendly for breakfast? In a pinch, I have sprinkled my seeds on salad, pasta, and even Asian take out. I don’t recommend adding them to soup or cereal, or anything with a lot of liquid unless you intend to drink all the liquid, too. You’re sure to lose a lot of little ground up seeds in the liquid you don’t consume.
It’s best to eat the seeds raw, so you can’t just cook or bake them into whatever you make, but you can make raw snack balls. One of these days I’m going to figure out the math on how many of these balls actually give you the full tablespoon of each seed you need, but until then it’s a good on the go solution.
When I travel, I pre-grind whatever seeds I’m going to need, mix them together, throw a measuring spoon in the container and pack them in my suitcase. I usually also travel with instant oatmeal just in case I can’t get my hands on vegan yogurt or a smoothie to mix the seeds into.
Do Read the Comments
Do you have a seed cycling experience you’d like to share? Are you a health professional with insights about why seed cycling may or may not be a natural way to support hormone health? Tell me in the comments!