Seed Cycling 101

Last Update: May 23, 2024

Seeds are known for packing in a lot of nutrients in a small package, but in recent years they’re making waves for something else: hormones health. That’s right—the practice of eating specific seeds during each phase of your menstrual cycle may help support your body long-term. While formal research is lacking, anecdotal evidence suggests it’s effective. And if you’re wondering why no one ever explained this before, you’re not alone. Seed cycling isn’t part of the core curriculum in health class, but these days the practice has been receiving some much-needed attention thanks to vocal educators, nutritionists, and functional medicine experts.

What Is Seed Cycling?

The idea behind seed cycling is that certain types of seeds—such as pumpkin and sesame—may help regulate the levels of estrogen, progesterone and other hormones that ebb and flow through your body every day. Synchronizing when you eat them is believed to help relieve hormone-related symptoms and increase your overall well-being too.

“Think of seed cycling as the gateway ritual to optimizing hormonal health.”

4 Phases of Your Cycle

A quick cycle primer before we get into all the seed details: Broadly, you can think of your menstrual cycle as expanding and contracting naturally over a period of about four weeks, or 28 days on average. This cycle is governed by a special biological rhythm called the infradian rhythm. In her book In the Flo: Unlock Your Hormonal Advantage and Revolutionize Your Life, functional nutrition and women’s hormone expert Alisa Vitti describes it as a second clock: “This infradian rhythm is tied to your monthly menstrual cycle, which includes four distinct phases—follicular, ovulatory, luteal, and menstrual. The same way your circadian clock plays a role in your daily bodily functions, your 28-day infradian clock influences your brain chemistry and physiology, providing you with unique gifts and strengths at different times of the month.” And what might those gifts be? Keep reading.

Phase 1: Follicular

The follicular phase falls between 7 and 10 days after your period ends. Estrogen begins to rise, the lining of your uterus starts to thicken, and ovaries prep to release an egg during ovulation (coming up next). This hormonal rise cues your brain to plan, brainstorm, and explore new ideas.

Phase 2: Ovulation

In the middle of your cycle, estrogen continues rising and luteinizing hormone (LH) shows up to trigger the release of an egg. You’ll also experience a testosterone surge here, which can leave you feeling extra social, communicative, and ready for important conversations at work and at home.

Phase 3: Luteal

In the 10 to 14 days leading up to your period, estrogen and progesterone continue to rise, peak, then drop to their lowest levels. Your brain is buzzing in what Vitti refers to as “administrative mode,” where you’re primed to focus on details, wrap up projects, and turn towards your inner world.

Phase 4: Menstruation

During your bleeding days, your hormones (progesterone and estrogen) are at their lowest while your uterus works to shed the endometrial lining that’s built up during the luteal phase. Physical energy tends to wane, and you might feel like retreating from the world. Good activities here are journaling, resting, and tapping into inner wisdom.

3 Ways to Optimize Your Hormones

Once you know the basics of your four phases, you can experiment with cycle syncing, the practice of one aligning your lifestyle with the different phases in your menstrual cycle. Here we’re focusing on seed cycling (in the food category), but there are even more ways to do it.

  1. Food: Cycle syncing with food is all about getting the right nutrients into your body based on what’s going on hormonally. For example, the natural sugar of sweet potatoes helps stave off cravings during your luteal phase, and eating seafood during menstruation ups your stores of iron and zinc. Seed cycling is a sub-category, and we’ll get into all the details below.
  2. Exercise: Take advantage of natural energy levels by choosing exercises that compliment your phase. For example, when you’re ovulating, high-impact workouts and group classes are your BFFs.
  3. Productivity: Biohack your work projects with a little help from your hormones. For example, problem solve and brainstorm with co-workers during your follicular phase, and analyze data and evaluate past projects during menstruation.

How to Seed Cycle

Think of seed cycling as the gateway ritual to optimizing hormonal health. If you’re just getting started with cycle syncing, seed cycling is a great way to help build the habit of prioritizing hormonal health on the regular. With this protocol, aim to eat 1 tablespoon daily of the two seeds, for a total of 2 tablespoons.

First half of your cycle: pumpkin seeds & flax seeds

seed cycling 101

The seed emphasis from menstruation to ovulation is about upping phytoestrogens, a plant-based source of estrogen that may help balance hormone levels. Seeds rich in omega-3 fatty acids may also help reduce inflammation and regulate FSH, aka follicle stimulating hormone. Pumpkin seeds and flax seeds both deliver zinc and lignans, which support the body in a number of ways, including stimulating progesterone later in your cycle and clearing excess estrogen from the body.

Second half of your cycle: sesame seeds & sunflower seeds

seed cycling 101

Once ovulation begins, switch your focus to sesame and sunflower seeds, rich in nutrients like selenium, lignas, vitamin E, and omega-6, which may support progesterone production.

Our Best Cycle Syncing Tips

seed cycling 101

When habits are simple it’s a lot easier to maintain them long-term. One way to ensure you’re getting your daily dose of seeds is to portion them into a small bowl. (You can do this the night before, or in the morning while you prep breakfast.) Throughout the day, simply sprinkle seeds onto your meals—no need to eat them all at once unless it works for you. And if 2 tablespoons feels like too much, start with 1 tablespoon of your seed mix and go from there. Here are some more ideas:

Stir seeds into…

  • Yogurt
  • Salad dressing
  • Smoothies
  • Sauces

Sprinkle seeds on…

  • Salads
  • Pasta
  • Oatmeal
  • Grain bowls and taco bowls
  • Avocado or nut butter toast

Purists suggest raw and freshly ground seeds are best. You can grind seeds yourself using a high-powered blender, then put equal amounts together into glass jars and store them in the fridge to preserve freshness.

Stock Your Seed Cycling Pantry

Four seeds are all you need to prep your custom seed cycling mixes.

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Pumpkin Seeds

Our seeds are scooped from organic pumpkins and are rich in nutrients like zinc, vitamin E, and manganese.

Try It: Thrive Market Organic Ground Flaxseeds

This pre-ground bag of flaxseeds makes it even easier to sprinkle over meals. It’s made by cold-milling ripe, dried flaxseed until a fine powder forms, and each serving delivers omega-3s and lignans.

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Sunflower Seeds

Hulled and unsalted, our sunflower seeds are brimming with selenium, magnesium, and vitamin E.

Try it: Thrive Market Organic Sesame Seeds

The origin story of sesame starts in Africa and India, where these seeds are one of the oldest cultivated in the world. For extra nutty flavor, toast them in a dry skillet.

This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before changing your diet or healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

This article is related to:

Healthy Habits, Healthy Ingredients

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Nicole Gulotta

Nicole Gulotta is a writer, author, and tea enthusiast.

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