When it comes to claims about balancing hormones, seed cycling seems to come up a lot on wellness sites. Claims behind this eating pattern include reducing PCOS issues, improving fertility and alleviating the symptoms of the menopause and menstrual cycle.
Seed cycling is the practice of eating different types of seeds based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. During the follicular stage of your cycle or just before you ovulate -seed cycling recommends you eat pumpkin and flaxseeds. The follicular stage runs from the first day of your period until roughly day 13. During the luteal phase, from roughly day 14 until the last day before your next period, you’re supposed to consume sesame and sunflower seeds. In most articles promoting seed cycling, 1 tablespoon of each of the seeds seems to be the recommended dose. The theory behind seed cycling is that it can increase oestrogen levels to support your follicular stage, and progesterone for your luteal stage.
In the body, oestrogen levels rise from the first day of your period, peaking at roughly day 13. This increase is driven by the production of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which causes your eggs to mature ready for ovulation. Oestrogen levels then drop off when FSH is replaced by a large in luteinising hormone (LH). This marks the end of the follicular stage.
Progesterone then rises from after you ovulate, and doesn’t reach baseline levels until right before your next period. This complex rise and fall of these hormones within each cycle are driven to provide the best chance of getting pregnant, and creating an optimal environment for any fertilised egg to develop in.
Flaxseeds contain phytoestrogens, compounds close to our own oestrogen, and can have a similar effect in the body (1). Specifically, the phytoestrogen lignan is found in flaxseeds a concentration of 295mg per 100g flaxseeds (2). When oestrogen levels in the body are low, phytoestrogens can help to essentially “top up” levels. When oestrogen levels are too high, phytoestrogens may lower levels by competing with oestrogen to bind to oestrogen receptors, and having a less potent effect.
Lignans are also found in sesame seeds but at a higher concentration of 834mg per 100g (2). At these higher levels, sesame seeds are thought to compete with oestrogen, rather than enhance its effects. Vitamin E in sunflowers seeds may increase progesterone production.
The current evidence for lignans is pretty limited in terms of oestrogen promoting and inhibiting. It seems unlikely that the amount of lignans in seeds is not high, or potent enough to facilitate oestrogen levels. In fact, a five week study on postmenopausal women found no change in oestrogen levels after consuming 50g sesame seeds each day (3).
Most of the research looking at seeds on the menstrual cycle has been on flaxseeds. Some small studies have linked flaxseed to improved cycle regularity and hormone levels (4, 5).
Even without any clear scientific evidence behind seed cycling, many report benefits. Seeds are nutrient dense foods, and a source of healthy fats and fibre. If seed cycling means that you start eating two tablespoons of seeds, the benefits likely come from from just having seeds, regardless of the type.
Focusing on one aspect of health can usually mean you pick up healthier habits, whether deliberately or subconsciously. This can make it hard to work out what the reason for any change is.
Seed cycling is unlikely to cause any harm if you do want to try it. Plus, including these seeds can be a great addition to your diet. However, remembering to cycle between different seed types can be unnecessarily complicated for minimal benefit.
Most people don’t need additional supplements for hormone regulation, but if you do feel like you need support, speak to a healthcare professional.
If you want support looking at your diet, and finding solutions for you more effective than seed cycling then get in touch for a free 15 minute discovery call.