Have you heard about seed cycling for PCOS and now you’re wondering if this holistic intervention might actually help? Let’s talk about it!
Hi, I’m Alyssa, a registered dietitian and I specialize in helping women with PCOS to minimize their symptoms to maximize their enjoyment for the rest of their lives. I support my clients with my professional training and my personal experience with PCOS; I’m walking in your shoes!
I’ve had several clients ask me about seed cycling lately, so let’s talk about what this system is and if it might actually be a useful tool in your PCOS management tool kit.
Let’s start this blog post off with a quick overview of PCOS before we dive into seed cycling.
This post contains affiliate links.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that affects many women, with estimates ranging from 5-20% of all women having it (1). Symptoms can vary and not all women with PCOS will feel the same symptoms.
Common symptoms of PCOS include:
It is also associated with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease (2).
Many women with PCOS are searching for a more natural way to manage their symptoms and might prioritize solutions that feel more natural. Physicians tend to only recommend medications for treatment. And while pharmaceutical options are a great tool, they might not provide full relief.
Good news: there are more options available to manage those frustrating symptoms; that’s where seed cycling comes in.
There’s no shortage of anecdotal reports about the benefits of seed cycling for hormonal imbalances. Women report that it can fix irregular menstrual cycles, boost fertility, and reduce PMS symptoms such as mood swings, menstrual cramps, and painful periods.
So what is seed cycling?
Seed cycling involves eating a rotating schedule of four different seeds – every day – throughout the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
The goal is that the natural compounds in the seeds will support hormonal balance and therefore reduce the symptoms of PCOS
There are two phases to seed cycling:
Phase 1 (Days 1-14 or first half of your menstrual cycle): Flax seeds and pumpkin seeds are consumed daily to support estrogen production prior to ovulation.
Phase 2 (Days 15-28 or second half of the menstrual cycle): Sesame seeds and sunflower seeds are consumed daily to support progesterone production after ovulation has occurred.
The idea is that by consuming the specific seeds during the appropriate phase of your cycle, you can help regulate your hormones, reduce inflammation, and generally feel better.
If you have irregular periods though, you may be wondering if seed cycling is even a possibility for you since you never know when your next period is going to show up…yes, it can still be a possibility and we’ll talk about that later.
But first, does seed cycling actually work? Let’s take a closer look.
Unfortunately, there is limited research to support the claims about seed cycling specifically for managing PCOS symptoms.
A study published this year explored seed cycling with a group of 90 women with PCOS. The researchers found that seed cycling did have a beneficial effect on hormone imbalances, seeing a decrease in elevated FSH and LH levels (3).
And, a review article from 2021 explored seed cycling as well and focused on the many benefits of the omega-3 fatty acids in all four of the seeds (4).
But no matter what, seeds are incredibly healthy. And even if the research on using seeds in this specific way for PCOS is limited, there is a LOT of research on the benefits of eating seeds in general.
While we don’t know exactly why some people develop PCOS, nutritional deficiencies and inflammation may play a big part for most. This means that carefully chosen supplements may be quite helpful to reduce symptoms (5).
All seeds, including the four seeds recommended for seed cycling, are great sources of many nutrients that are especially helpful for women with PCOS. These include fiber, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, and magnesium as well as calcium and iron (6).
The individual makeup of each seed is a bit different, each with their own unique benefits to bring to the table.
P.S. Seeds are one of several anti-inflammatory foods that help to keep our body feeling its best. Check out my post with other foods that can help lower inflammation: Anti-Inflammatory Foods List (PDF Included).
Flax seeds are full of vitamins, minerals, and other nourishing compounds, including omega-3 fatty acids and something called lignans. Lignans bind to estrogen, which help to maintain healthy estrogen levels (7).
Regular intake of flax seeds can do everything from reducing cholesterol and lowering the risk of depression to reducing inflammation, and more (8).
Pumpkin seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are known to help regulate increased insulin and cholesterol levels linked to PCOS.
Additionally, these seeds contain zinc and beta-sitosterol, compounds that can lower excessive androgen levels and alleviate symptoms of PCOS such as hirsutism, which is the growth of male-pattern hair on the face, chest, and back (9).
Sunflower seeds are packed with magnesium, selenium, and vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin with antioxidant properties. Plus, the high content of plant sterols in sunflower seeds contributes to heart health by helping to reduce cholesterol levels (10).
Sesame seeds are packed with essential nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
They are also known for their ability to reduce cholesterol levels, thanks to the presence of plant sterols called sesamin and sesamolin.
There are currently no known risks associated with seed cycling, as the seeds used in this practice are generally considered safe and nutritious for consumption.
However, it is important to note that seed cycling should not be used as a replacement for medical treatment or advice from a healthcare professional.
And, as certain seeds may interact with certain medications or conditions, it is always best to chat with your healthcare provider before trying seed cycling, especially if you are on any prescription medications at the moment (12).
If you are interested in trying seed cycling, it is always important to consult with your healthcare provider first. They can help ensure that this practice is safe for you and may even be able to provide additional support or recommendations.
While there is currently little scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of seed cycling for managing PCOS symptoms, many women have reported positive results. And as the seeds are full of anti-inflammatory nutrients, it’s a simple practice with minimal risks!
If you have decided to start seed cycling, here are some tips on how to get started:
Keep track of your cycle: It’s important to know when your menstrual cycle begins so that you can eat the right seeds during the different phases of your cycle.
Phase 1 begins with the first day of your period, the follicular phase of your period. You’ll eat 1-2 tablespoons of flax seeds and 1-2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds for two weeks. Then, you switch to phase two.
Phase 2 supports the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. The luteal phase takes place from when you ovulate until your period begins. In phase 2, you’ll eat 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds and 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds each day.
Once your period starts, you’ll be back in the follicular phase of seed cycling so you would switch back to pumpkin and flax seeds.
Use ground seeds, not whole, to get the most of the nutrient benefits.
The fatty acids in seeds can go rancid quickly when exposed to the air. I recommend using freshly ground seeds and storing them in the fridge or freezer to keep them fresh as long as possible.
And then how do you eat the seeds? Here are a few ideas:
P.S. If you’re looking for a simpler way to seed cycle, check out Funk It Wellness, a company that makes their own ground seed cycling blend you can order online.
As a woman with PCOS, it is unlikely that your menstrual cycle is on a predictable 28-day schedule: that’s ok.
If your cycle is irregular, you can still seed cycle!
You’ll want to follow the phases of the moon. This may seem wild to you, but, the phases of the moon follow roughly a 28 day cycle and the average length of a normal menstrual cycle is about 28 days also. The idea is that by following the moon’s phases, your hormone levels will become more in balance and your cycle will become more regular.
So it will look like this:
Days 1-14 (start on the day of the new moon for 14 days until the full moon). You’ll eat 1-2 tablespoons of flax seeds and 1-2 tablespoons of pumpkin seeds for two weeks. Then, you switch to the next phase.
Days 15-28 (start on the day of the full moon for 14 days until the new moon). You’ll eat 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower seeds and 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds each day.
While the published research studies to investigate seed cycling are limited, they do show promise. However, incorporating a variety of seeds into a well-rounded and balanced diet can have numerous health benefits. It may be worth adding some of these nutrient-rich seeds to your meals.
For a done-for-you, convenient option to get pre-ground seeds delivered right to your door, check out Funk It Wellness.
If you’re ready to have a solution-oriented guide to managing your PCOS without stress, check out The PCOS Playbook. With this guide, you will feel confident in your food choices, reduce your symptoms, and no longer feel like you’re choosing between feeling good and “being good” on your diet that was too restrictive and unrealistic. As a dietitian with PCOS, I have a TON of strategies to help you feel your best and I included them in the playbook for you to use, starting today!
Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be substituted for medical advice for health conditions including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Always consult with your healthcare provider for personalized medical care and recommendations.
Learn the most common nutrition mistakes I see women with PCOS making and what to do instead!