By Dr. Erin Stefanacci DC CFMP
Have you ever heard of seed cycling? Ironically, it does not involve gardening or riding a bike but instead has to do with hormones. Seed cycling is a protocol where you eat certain seeds during distinct phases of the menstrual cycle in order to balance female hormones.
The theory behind seed cycling is this: by eating certain seeds during the first half of your cycle (follicular phase) and others during the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase), the varying micronutrients, fatty acids, and phytoestrogens will balance estrogen and progesterone levels due to optimal nutritional profiles at the right time during your cycle. Unfortunately, there is not much to back this up in terms of research.
So, What Does The Research Show?
There are studies that show seeds are beneficial for hormonal health - just not by the way of seed cycling. Let’s dive in!
Sesame seeds may be particularly useful for women suffering with PCOS. One study showed menopausal women had a significant decrease in dehydroepiandrosterone sulfate (DHEAS) and a significant increase in sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). In women with PCOS, SHBG levels are often low and DHEAS levels are high, so incorporating sesame seeds into your daily routine if you have PCOS might be worth your while. This particular study used 50g of sesame seeds daily for 5 weeks, that is ¼ cup of sesame seeds daily! That being said, Tahini (butter made from sesame seeds) would be a great add and it’s so concentrated, you only need 1-2 tablespoons daily.
If you had to choose one seed to incorporate into your routine, Flax seeds are the one! These seeds are powerhouses!
Here is what Midwife and Herbalist, Aviva Romm MD has to say about flax seeds.
“Studies have shown that consumption of flax seeds does both increase luteal phase length and reduce the number of anovulatory cycles, as well as improving your progesterone to estrogen ratio in the luteal phase. What does this mean? Flax seeds may increase the likelihood of regular ovulation and improve progesterone levels as a result. So if you’re skipping periods, or have low progesterone, adding flax to your diet through the month is a great choice. They may also reduce excess estrogen levels.
Beyond its direct impact on the menstrual cycle, flax has additionally been found to both decrease stress hormones and decrease stress perception (your subjective sense of stress levels). This impact on the HPA axis (hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis) and the stress response, in general, could presumably have positive downstream effects on your cycle as stress is one of the overarching signals that most influences the sex hormone levels. After menopause, they also have protective effects against breast cancer. Beyond their beneficial hormonal effects, flax is also a superstar for your overall health. In addition to its sex hormone effects, it has also been shown to reduce cardiovascular risk profile, decreasing A1C levels in type 2 diabetes, making them a great addition to your diet if you have PCOS with insulin resistance or elevated blood sugar.”
Most of the studies that Aviva mentions used 10g of flax per day. 2 tablespoons of flax daily gives you a little bit above the 10g, while also giving you a healthy boost of soluble fiber! Get creative - sprinkle on cereal, add to a smoothie or use as a salad topping.
Pumpkin and Sunflower Seeds
Similar to all other seeds, pumpkin and sunflower seeds also have lots of micronutrients for overall nutritional health. This is why seeds are recommended to incorporate into your daily life. These seeds all have fatty acids profiles and micronutrients that are shown to impact overall health, which in general can be beneficial for the menstrual cycle. For example, zinc may improve progesterone levels during the luteal phase with the highest levels being found in pumpkin and sesame seeds. Unfortunately, there is not much research showing that sunflower seeds have any impact on hormone levels. This does not mean that you shouldn’t eat them!
If you have PCOS, sesame seeds would probably be a good daily addition for you and flax seeds would be great if you have missing periods or irregular menstrual cycles.
Seed cycling can get overwhelming and time-consuming, rather than spending time focusing on what seeds to use when simply incorporate these seeds daily and without restriction!
If you thrive on a more structured approach, seed cycling is outlined for you below! There is no harm to using this, the more healthy fats in your daily regimen, the better!
Having complete transparency here - I have recommended this to patients with success but I don’t believe the “seed cycling” to be the key as much as getting more fatty acids, lignans and phytoestrogens into the diet. Alas, here are the ins and outs of seed cycling.
First, you will need to gather raw:
Flax Seeds (whole, not ground)
You will also need a tool to grind the seeds, either a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle works great!
Next, you will track your cycle.
During the first half of your cycle, the follicular cycle which starts on the first day of your period and ends when you ovulate, you eat 1 tablespoon each of freshly ground flax seeds and pumpkin seeds each day.
Once you ovulate, you have entered the luteal cycle. This lasts usually around 2 weeks and is from ovulation until your next period starts. During this phase, you eat 1 tablespoon eat of ground sunflower seeds and sesame seeds each day.
Most women will experience some type of hormonal imbalance in their lifetime. If you are experiencing symptoms that are disrupting your life, we highly recommend scheduling an appointment with your doctor. Dr. Erin has helped many patients with hormonal symptoms and would love to discuss what she would recommend in a free 15-minute healthy strategy session.
**Reminder: This is an educational article that does not constitute medical advice. It is always recommended to speak with your healthcare provider before implementing any of the above recommendations, especially if you have pre-existing conditions or are taking medications.