What You Need to Know About Seed Cycling Before Making It Part of Your Routine

Jars of seeds on a counter

Getty Images / Yuliya Pinkasevich

Hormonal balance is an important part of any woman's health. It affects your menstrual cycle, fertility, sexual health, and nearly every part of your overall health. Supporting hormonal health involves a variety of factors and habits, such as getting quality sleep, following a nutrient-rich diet, managing stress levels, and more. Taking certain supplements can even support women’s hormonal health.

One trendy practice to promote a healthy balance of women’s hormones is seed cycling. It involves eating specific seeds, such as flax and pumpkin seeds, during the two specific phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. 

If seed cycling interests you, here’s what you need to know before getting started.

What is Seed Cycling?

Seed cycling is the practice of tracking your menstrual cycle and eating specific seeds at different points of the cycle to support hormone balance. Four different types of seeds are cycled throughout the two main phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is thought that seed cycling has the potential to natural support two main sex hormones: estrogen and progesterone.

Hormones are complex, and seed cycling is unlikely to cure hormonal issues like PCOS and fertility complications. However, seed cycling provides a natural and gentle way to support women’s hormonal health. 

“Seed cycling as a stand-alone intervention can do wonders for some, and for others, seed cycling alone may not be enough to make significant progress, hormonally speaking,” says registered dietitian and clinical herbalist Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT. “This is because there are many different factors and dynamics to consider when it comes to hormonal synergy.”

Despite firsthand accounts of seed cycling success, scientific evidence backing those claims is lacking. This being said, adding seeds to your diet means more vitamins and minerals for your body—this is associated with reduced inflammation, cholesterol, and blood pressure levels.

How to Practice Seed Cycling

There are two main phases of the menstrual cycle: follicular and luteal. The follicular phase begins at the start of the menstrual cycle until ovulation. The luteal phase occurs between ovulation at the first day of the menstrual cycle. 

Depending on the phase, those who are seed cycling will consume two of the following: pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, or sunflower seeds.

Follicular Phase

A woman’s menstrual cycle can last anywhere from 24 and 38 days. On average, it lasts for 28 days. The first part of this cycle is known as the follicular phase. This is when ovarian follicles, sacs that contain eggs, begin to grow. It’s also when estrogen levels increase, causing the endometrial lining of the uterus to thicken.

The first day of the menstrual cycle, and therefore day 1 of your period, is also the first day of the follicular phase. It usually lasts for 10 to 16 days, according to Volpe. The follicular phase ends when ovulation begins.

Seed cycling advocates point to the phytoestrogens in flax seeds to be key for supporting a woman's hormonal balance, particularly the increase of estrogen experienced during this phase.

During this phase, individuals wanting to practice seed cycling will incorporate both flax seeds and pumpkin seeds into their meal plan. It is recommended to take 1-2 tablespoons of each per day—Volpe notes that it's best if the seeds are raw and freshly ground.

"Since the follicular phase precedes ovulation, it makes sense that flax seeds would help to nourish and prime the body for ovulation during those two weeks leading up to it,” Volpe says. “During menstruation, estrogen levels rise, so this would be an ideal time for flax seeds to help the body utilize the estrogen it needs, and excrete the rest.”

Luteal Phase

The second part of the menstrual cycle is known as the luteal phase. This is when the follicle that grew during the follicular phase bursts and releases an egg. A cyst forms where the burst follicle was, and it secretes estrogen and progesterone to thicken the uterine lining.

What happens next depends on whether an egg is fertilized by sperm. If so, it travels down a fallopian tube and implants in the uterus. This triggers the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin hormone (hCG), and progesterone production continues. If not, the cyst deteriorates and progesterone levels decline.

The luteal phase begins during the latter half of the menstrual cycle. It usually occurs during days 14 to 28, according to Volpe.

During this phase, those practicing seed cycling will incorporate sesame seeds and sunflower seeds into their meal plan. Volpe recommends consuming 1-2 tablespoons of raw, freshly ground seeds.

Both sesame and sunflower seeds are potent sources of vital nutrients. Sunflower seeds are especially rich in vitamin E, an antioxidant that has the potential to support healthy ovulation and hormone balance. Sesame seeds are high in calcium. Low levels of calcium may be associated with symptoms of PMS.

Different seeds contain vitamins and minerals that positively impact the body. But that does not mean they are guaranteed to balance hormones, much less provide a quick fix for fertility struggles, PCOS, hormonal acne, or other hormone-related issues.

What You’ll Need for Seed Cycling

If you'd like to try seed cycling for yourself, there are a few key things you'll need to get started. Fortunately, practicing seed cycling doesn’t require a lot of time, effort, money, or equipment. You’ll just need the following:

  • Flax seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Sesame seeds
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Food processor or coffee grinder
  • Measuring spoons
  • Labeled storage containers

For best results, purchase the seeds whole, in bulk. Make sure they are raw and unsalted. Grind them yourself using a food processor or coffee grinder. If you don’t have access to these kitchen tools, you can also purchase the seeds already ground.

Store the ground seeds into labeled storage containers. They are the freshest when stored in the refrigerator. Measure 1-2 tablespoons of the appropriate types of seeds and consume daily in the form of smoothies, salads, seed butters, granolas, and more.

How to Get Started

Though seed cycling seems simple, there are a few measures to put into place before starting. 

Prior to starting seed cycling, Volpe recommends learning the ropes of tracking your menstrual cycle. This will help to identify when you’re ovulating but also to learn the specific patterns and symptoms you may experience during your cycle.

“A common barrier to seed cycling is knowing when ovulation is taking place,” Volpe says. Seed cycling relies on knowing when you’re ovulating, so it’s important to learn how to identify this period. Ovulation test kits are a great place to start understanding this phase of your monthly cycle.

Many individuals who live with a hormonal imbalance don't menstruate regularly, making their experience (particularly within the absence of ovulation) different than a textbook 28-day cycle. If you fall into this category, going to a doctor's office with the purpose of finding out how balanced your hormones are may provide more insight as to how you should work toward improved hormonal health.

Having the right mindset is also important. Volpe recommends viewing seed cycling as a marathon and not a sprint—it’s not a quick fix, and it requires long-term consistency for results. 

Finally, don’t feel like you have to do it alone. “For extra support, clinical guidance, and accountability, people are more likely to get positive results from seed cycling if they work alongside a qualified functional medicine doctor, naturopath, or functional nutrition practitioner,” Volpe says.

Safety Tips and Side Effects

Overall, seed cycling is a gentle and safe habit to form. There are no major side effects and very little risks.

Those with allergies to the seeds involved in seed cycling—flax, pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds—should not implement this practice. Additionally, individuals with a hormonally sensitive cancer should check in with a health care provider before they begin adding significant amounts of phytoestrogens through dietary supplements.

A Word From Verywell

Nutrition plays an important role in overall health and has the potential to influence hormonal health. Seed cycling is one of the many naturopathic methods of supporting hormonal balance. While this potential is exciting, and perhaps worth attempting for some individuals, the scientific evidence to back up these claims are lacking.

Anecdotally, seed cycling can have a positive impact on hormones, but it may not be for everyone. It's a lot of work to commit to the habit. Incorporating vitamin-packed seeds into your diet is a great place to start, whether or not you're fully committing to seed cycling.

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7 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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