Chances are if you’ve ever googled tips on how to improve fertility you’ve heard of seed cycling. It pops up on Pinterest right next to pictures of happy smiling women kissing their babies. It’s cute and all, but does it work? Here I want to share what we know about seed cycling so far and whether it’s something you should actually bother with.
What is Seed Cycling?
Seed cycling is the practice of incorporating certain seeds during different phases of a woman’s cycle to reportedly help balance hormones and improve fertility, mood, and energy. It’s actually very simple (see the lovely infograph below).
During the follicular phase of a woman’s cycle (first day of period until ovulation) include 1 tbsp each of ground, raw flax and pumpkin seeds. Pumpkin seeds are high in zinc, an important mineral for progesterone production and flax seeds may help bind excess estrogen to promote estrogen/progesterone balance. During the luteal phase of a woman’s cycle (ovulation until period starts) include 1 tbsp each of ground sunflower and sesame seeds for a boost of liver cleansing selenium. Seed cycling also offers a boost of omega-3 fatty acids which have numerous health benefits including reducing inflammation, promoting healthy hormone metabolism, and improving cervical mucous production.
Will it Actually Work?
The Truth: We don’t know for sure. Sorry! There have been a few studies that looked at the effects of individual seeds but none on the full seed cycling regimen and its impact on fertility.
Flaxseed has the most research to back it up with studies showing a positive effect on ovulatory cycles, longer luteal phases, and reduction in stress response (Phipps, et al., 1993; Spence, et al., 2003). This research may be of particular interest for my PCOS ladies struggling with shorter luteal phases and anovulatory cycles.
There is little human research on pumpkin, sesame, and sunflower seeds. One study suggested pumpkin and sunflower seeds may reduce estrogen-positive breast cancer risk and another demonstrated an improvement in cholesterol, sex hormone status, and antioxidant stress for post-menopausal women (Zaineddin, et al., 2012; Wen-Huey, et al., 2005).
If you like to geek out on all the research definitely check out this article. Nicola did an amazing job detailing these studies!
Should I Bother?
While I’m huge supporter of evidenced-based practice; there are still so many foods, habits, supplements, etc. that we still don’t have enough research on. Especially if the outcome of that research isn’t going to make anyone money (hello pharma…), I’ll save that topic for a different rant though.
The most effective treatments are rarely black and white but rather, reside somewhere in the gray area between conventional and traditional medicine. Where we take advantage of modern science while honoring ancient practices that got us this far in the first place.
So my opinion on seed cycling: Let’s give it a try! Unless you are allergic to any of the above foods, it’s not going to harm you. We know that flax, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds are all wonderful sources of healthy fats, fiber, and nutrients and are therefore good foods to add to your diet regardless of hormonal benefit. If you are using seed cycling for fertility, remember that it takes around 3 months for an egg to fully mature into a follicle so I encourage clients to give it at least 3 months before making decisions about whether it’s working for them.
Here are My Fav Seed Cycling Tips:
Try to include fresh ground, raw seeds if possible for maximum nutrient density. You might want to invest a good grinder such as this one
Add seeds to anything! On top of oatmeal, in salads, salad dressings, or smoothies. As long as you aren’t cooking them you’re good!
Keep ground seeds in the refrigerator to prevent spoiling.
Seeds contain an extra boost of fiber so make sure you stay hydrated! Extra fiber + dehydration = constipation which is definitely not going to put you in the baby-making mood!