Seed Cycling and PCOS – What Does Research Say?

By Kate Morton, MS, RDN

Seed Cycling and PCOS what does the research say, and how do I do it?

What is Seed Cycling? 

Seed cycling syncs organic seeds with certain phases of your menstrual cycle to support your hormones. Flax + pumpkin seeds support the estrogen-dominant stage of your cycle, and sesame + sunflower seeds help the progesterone dominant phase of your cycle.  

Understanding the 4 Phases:

When you look at the menstrual cycle there are 4 key phases.  The first phase in menstruation which is the physical bleed time where the uterine lining is shedding.  In this phase hormones are low, the body can have more inflammation and energy can be overall low.  Once bleeding has stopped the follicular phase begins, in this phase estrogen is rising along with Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).  In the follicular phase the body is preparing for the main event of the cycle, ovulation.  Once Luteinizing Hormone (LH) spikes the egg is released and ovulation occurs.  While ovulation is only a 24 hour period we classify it as a phase as hormones can stay elevated for a few days and the fertile window is roughly 3-6 days due to the pH change in the vagina that allows sperm to live.  After ovulation progesterone takes over and this brings us to our longest phase of the cycle, the luteal phase.  In this phase body temperature rises and is bringing an extra 100-300 kcals per day. 

Nutritional Deep Dive Into Each Seed:

Flax: Flax seeds contain lignans, which aid in estrogen release, meaning they bind excess estrogen & help eliminate it to support estrogen levels. Both flax & pumpkin seeds are rich in omega-3 fats, which supports uterine blood flow & maintains healthy cell membranes.  Additionally a 2015 study found regular ingestion of flax seeds over three months caused a significant reduction in the number of ovarian cysts, as well as the size of the ovaries in women with PCOS

Pumpkin: Pumpkin seeds are rich in zinc, which aids in progesterone production & supports testosterone levels. They’re also rich in antioxidants, which help protect your ovaries, eggs, & reproductive system as a whole.

Sesame: Sesame seeds are rich in zinc, which aids in progesterone production as listed above and zinc has also been found to support dysmenorrhea/painful periods. They also contain lignans and omega 2 fatty acids (like flax), which help block excess estrogen, & they have a slew of other benefits, including the ability to potentially lower inflammation.

Sunflower: Sunflower seeds contain selenium, which helps improve liver function and remove excess estrogen. They also contain Vitamin E, which may help support progesterone production and overall antioxidant protection.  There is new research also showing that the combination of selenium and Vitamin E together may be beneficial for improving ovarian reserves and fertility. 

What does the research say on PCOS and seed cycling?

PCOS can cause an irregular menstrual cycle, male-patterned hair growth, hair loss, acne, mood swings, intense cravings, and insulin resistance. When it comes to PCOS management, diet and lifestyle can be critical tools to help manage symptoms. While seed cycling does not have many peer-reviewed studies, a promising review was published in January 2021. The following sections outline the key findings in recent research regarding PCOS and Seed Cycling.  It is also important, when thinking about seed cycling and PCOS, to reference the research that has been conducted on the impact that food based interventions can have on PCOS symptoms. 

Insulin Sensitivity: 

When you have PCOS, keeping your blood sugar at an optimal level can be difficult due to decreased insulin sensitivity. That means that your cells are less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that helps bring nutrients into the cell and keep blood sugar stable. Diet and exercise can play an essential role in blood sugar balance. According to a 2020 study, regular flaxseed supplementation for 12 weeks was associated with increased insulin sensitivity and weight loss with patients with PCOS due to the combination of hormone imbalance, insulin resistance and inflammation.  It is important to recognize that weight loss is not an overall indicator of health but it can be difficult for anyone with PCOS.  Additionally, a 2021 study found that phytoestrogens in flaxseed bind to 17- beta-estradiol receptors, which may have anti-diabetic effects. This same study noted that both pumpkin seed and flax seed are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that support cholesterol and insulin sensitivity. 

Menstrual Regularity + Ovulation Quality:

One of the most common symptoms of PCOS is an absent, irregular, or anovulatory cycle (no ovulation). A “regular” cycle comes every 21-35 days, lasts 3-7 days with little to no spotting between cycles, and has minimal pain or PMS symptoms. Researchers and doctors believe PCOS is linked to anovulatory cycles because excess androgens can prevent an egg from being released. Zinc-rich foods have been found to support androgen levels and ovulation. The seeds used in seed cycling provide a rich source of zinc combined with fiber which research has found may support regular ovulation in people with PCOS. 

Chronic Inflammation:  

While scientists haven’t pinpointed exactly how or why PCOS is linked to chronic low-grade inflammation, data suggests that this inflammation is common in people with PCOS. When researchers examined how diet impacted this chronic inflammation in people with PCOS, regular intake of seeds containing omega-3 fatty acids such as pumpkin and flax seed could be beneficial. There is also additional research that indicates regular flax seed consumption may be protective against certain breast cancers. 

Another interesting finding in the review study was that regular intake of these seeds might support improved cholesterol levels and support weight loss. 

So, how do you do it?

Period – Ovulation: You eat a tablespoon of organic pumpkin + flax seeds from the first day of your period until you ovulate.

Ovulation – Period: Once you confirm ovulation until you start your next period, you eat organic sesame + sunflower seeds.

Conclusion: 

While there isn’t a ton of research directly on seed cycling and PCOS, what we do have shows there are potential benefits and due to the food-based nature of the practice, it’s generally recognized as safe to try. Additionally there is ample research on the benefits of each individual seed for hormone and general health support. 

*Side Note*

How do you use seed cycling with an irregular cycle? 

While this approach isn’t backed by research, many people successfully use moon phases to guide seed cycling since the moon cycle is 28 days. From the new moon to the full moon, you eat pumpkin + flax seeds, and from the full moon to the new moon, you eat sesame + sunflower seeds.

Want to learn more about seed cycling or give it a try?  Check out https://funkitwellness.com/

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