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Seed cycling for PCOS: do seeds really balance hormones?

Seed cycling is a daily routine where people are encouraged to match their menstrual cycle to the seeds they consume. In theory, seed cycling is supposed to help with hormone production and reproductive health but is there really any evidence for seed cycling? And what about seed cycling for PCOS? Let’s dive into the research (or lack thereof!) of seed cycling on hormone health.

What is PCOS?

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common endocrine disorder that impacts 1 in 10 people living with PCOS. Common symptoms of PCOS include acne, oily skin, hirsutism, hair loss on the head, irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, fatigue, difficulty getting pregnant and more.

PCOS is characterised by hormonal imbalance; cortisol, insulin and androgen hormones (like testosterone) are often at higher levels than “normal”. 

Although PCOS cannot be cured, PCOS management aims to alleviate symptoms, improve quality of life and reduce the likelihood of other conditions developing. This may involve medication, supplements, nutrition changes, exercise changes, sleep hygiene rituals and stress management techniques.

One wellness trend that claims to contribute to hormone balance is seed cycling – but does seed cycling work for PCOS?

What is seed cycling?

Seed cycling is the simple practice of rotating different edible seeds into the diet at different times during the menstrual cycle. It is believed that as the consumption of some seeds promotes oestrogen production and others promote progesterone production, eating these seeds at the “correct” time during a menstrual cycle will contribute to balanced hormone levels.

This seed rotation diet supposedly matches the phases of your menstrual cycle to different ground seeds in other to improve reproductive heath.

How does seed cycling “work”?

Seed cycling is synced to the four stages of the menstrual cycle: menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation and luteal phase.

Practitioners suggest consuming flax seeds or pumpkin seeds daily during days 1-13 (menstrual cycle and follicular phase) to boost oestrogen levels. Days 14-28 represent the ovulatory phase and luteal phase with ovulation at approximately day 14. During this phase, practitioners recommend consuming sesame seeds or sunflower seeds to boost progesterone levels.

Practitioners suggest grinding up the specific seeds they recommended to increase the surface area to enhance the absorption of the beneficial nutrients in the seeds.

As you can tell, the practice of seed cycling relies on a normal menstrual cycle of 28-30 days even though only approximately 10% of menstruating people have “average” cycles. For those with irregular cycles practitioners suggest starting the cycle with any two weeks and then rotating.

Many practitioners also like the menstrual cycle to the moon and recommend matching the phases of the moon like a new moon or full moon to seed consumption…shall we take a look at the evidence?!

What does the evidence say for seed cycling for PCOS?

There is currently a huge lack of evidence for seed cycling and its impact on hormonal health.

2023 study from Pakistan investigated the impact of seed cycling alongside a portion-controlled diet in 20 people with PCOS compared to a control group and a group who were also given a portion-controlled diet and Metformin. They found that seed cycling for twelve weeks reduced follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinising hormone (LH) levels in the seed cycling group.

It is important to note how small this study was, how short it was and also that two things were being changed – the group was not only seed cycling but also changing their diet to a “portion controlled” diet. This makes it really challenging to see what actually impacted hormone levels.

The researchers also appeared to have already made their mind up about seed cycling stating “seed cycling is powerful in the treatment of PCOS” in their introduction!

​Why is seed cycling touted as so beneficial?

It is difficult to say why this particular wellness trend has been picked up and spread so widely across the wellbeing world. As with pretty much all things, there is a placebo effect. Some people will believe their hormones are becoming more balanced as a result of seed cycling.

People are also often drawn to a “natural way” to manage their health conditions.

Can seeds be beneficial for PCOS?

Although we are (clearly!) sceptical about the idea of seed cycling we are not against consuming seeds for PCOS – in fact, quite the opposite!

Seeds can have so many benefits for overall health and in particular for PCOS as they are often a great source of fibre and vitamins and minerals like zinc, selenium and vitamin E – all of which can support hormonal health and have general health benefits.

Omega-3 and Omega-6

Omega-3s can help regulate hormone production and maintain a balance, particularly important for menstrual health and reducing symptoms of PMS. These essential fatty acids have anti-inflammatory properties, beneficial for conditions like PCOS and endometriosis where inflammation affects hormone health. Flaxseeds, chia seeds, and hemp seeds are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-6s are essential for creating prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that play a role in inflammation and pain regulation. Seeds like sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds are rich in omega-6 fatty acids.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E acts as an antioxidant, protecting cells from damage and supporting hormonal balance. Sunflower seeds are high in vitamin E.

Zinc

Zinc plays a vital role in immune system function and hormone production, especially testosterone. Pumpkin seeds are a great source of zinc.

Selenium

Selenium is essential for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland, which regulates hormones. Sunflower seeds contain moderate amounts of selenium but Brazil nuts are a great source.

Lignans

Lignans are phytoestrogens that can help balance oestrogen levels in the body. Flaxseeds are one of the best sources of lignans.

Fibre

Fibre supports digestive health, which is crucial for proper hormone excretion and balance. It also helps in regulating blood sugar levels, which in turn affects hormone levels. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and hemp seeds are all high in dietary fibre.

Are there any side effects of seed cycling?

Despite our scepticism and urge to debunk wellness trends like seed cycling, one redeeming feature of this practice is its lack of side effects. Consuming a tablespoon of different seeds daily is unlikely to be linked to many side effects.

If you are not used to consuming much fibre then boosting your intake of different types of seeds may lead to feeling more gassy or bloated. Also, you must be conscious of whether you are allergic to any type of seeds and avoid consuming them.

​Key takeaways: seed cycling for PCOS

​As there is little research to back up seed cycling, plenty of additional research is required to understand the potential benefits of this practice on hormone levels. Incorporating seeds into your diet may be beneficial because of their rich nutrient profile though, so consider boosting your seed intake as part of your varied, balanced diet.

Alex Okell ANutr Founder and Editor

Founder and Editor | Registered Associate Nutritionist

 

Founder of Be The Collective LTD [The PCOS Collective & The Endo Collective] Alex Okell ANutr is a London-based reproductive health nutritionist with experience in research, private practice and digital media. She holds a Master’s degree in Nutrition from King’s College London and has co-authored papers with the University of Cambridge, King’s College London, The Food Foundation and the Food Standards Agency. Alex offers 1:1 PCOS support in our virtual PCOS clinic.

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