The list of offbeat treatments people are willing to use in the name of period relief range from using essential oils, to sitting on a vaginal steamer, and wearing a special energy-healing pad. So, it's no surprise that "seed cycling," a method of eating certain seeds during the various phases of your menstrual cycle, has appealed to people looking to regulate their periods or manage the accompanying symptoms.
The whole crux of seed cycling is that you add different types of seeds — flax, pumpkin, sesame, sunflower — to your diet during different phases of your cycle. Seeds that are believed to raise estrogen are eaten at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, then other seeds that are thought to inhibit estrogen and raise progesterone are introduced in the next phase. Seed cycling became popular among people with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) who were looking for ways to manage symptoms and regulate periods.
Those who seed cycle (it's super popular amongst certain wellness bloggers) claim it reduces period symptoms, "balance hormones," and even helps with fertility issues. Huge if true. But besides these anecdotal results, there's no research that proves that seed cycling does anything. (Although, this is not surprising given the lack of PCOS research in general.) So, we asked registered dietitians who specialize in PCOS to give us the lowdown on the trend.
How big of a role does diet play in managing PCOS?
"Nutrition plays an essential role in managing hormone issues like PCOS," says Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian and founder of the PCOS Nutrition Center. "You can take all the medicine and supplements in the world but if you don't modify what you eat, you won't be able to fully manage PCOS." That said, "the diet industry preys on the vulnerability of people with PCOS trying so hard to feel better and/or ovulate," says Julie Duffy Dillon, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian who specializes in treating people with polycystic ovarian syndrome. So, you have to be wary of any diet or program that makes lofty promises of PCOS remission.
Even if you don't have PCOS, can food impact your hormones?
Broadly speaking, yes, certain ways of eating can alter hormone levels and affect your menstrual cycle, Grassi says. "Hormones are dependent on dietary fat," she says. "Sometimes if a woman doesn't eat enough fat, for example, it can alter or stop her menstrual cycle." On the flip side, eating a diet that is predominately from high-glycemic index foods may interfere with your cycle regularity, she says. While diet is one factor to consider if you're managing hormonal issues, there's not one diet or food that's ideal for everyone. If you have questions about your own concerns, it's best to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before trying anything.
Does eating seeds do literally anything to your hormones?
Seeds contain fats and antioxidants like zinc which are believed to affect hormone levels, but there is no good scientific evidence to support seed cycling for hormone balance, Grassi says. "Seeds are a great food for women with PCOS to have and a great source of fat," she says. If you enjoy eating seeds, then you absolutely should! "But there are so many other factors that can affect the menstrual cycle each month like stress, sleep, exercise and nutrition, that just adding in one or two tablespoons of seeds each day is not going to cure," she says.