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Ask Dr. Casey – Seed Cycling

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various seeds on a counter

Ask Dr. Casey – Seed Cycling

By: Dr. Casey Carr, Naturopathic Medical Doctor

Hi Dr. Casey,

What’s the deal with seed cycling for menstrual health? Does it actually work, and what is the easiest way to incorporate it into my health routine?

– Lena H

Hi Lena,

I love that you are thinking about food as medicine! While there is not a ton of evidenced-based research backing seed cycling, some exists. In combination with some of my patients successfully implementing it, seed cycling is something that I do talk about with menstruating females who have PCOS, irregular periods or PMS.

Let’s start with a bit on the background of the menstrual cycle, first, though. The menstrual cycle, also called “moon cycle” in some circles, can follow a similar flow to the lunar cycle. Just as the moon controls the pull of ocean tides, it can also be connected with the internal ebb and flow of menstrual cycle tide. Traditionally, it was thought that day one of the menstrual cycle, which is denoted as the first day of bleeding, began with the new moon. Onset of bleeding signifies the follicular, or first phase, of the menstrual cycle. The follicular phase, which is more predominated by the hormone estrogen, focuses on the growth of follicles in the ovaries that house immature eggs, waiting to be released. The follicle releases the egg around day fourteen, known as ovulation, and may possibly be synched with the full moon. The time surrounding ovulation, a few days prior and post, is the time for an egg to become fertilized with sperm (and the light from the full moon = perfect to well, hubba hubba). Following ovulation, the second phase of the menstrual cycle is initiated: the luteal phase. The luteal phase is dominated more so by the hormone progesterone, which focuses on building up of the uterine lining for successful implantation of the egg. The corpus luteum, a part left over from the follicle’s egg release, provides the hormones necessary for building up the lining to create a nourished home for a possibly fertilized egg in this luteal phase. If the egg is not fertilized, progesterone levels drop off, causing shedding of the vascularized lining, which is the flow part of the menstrual cycle (and also day 1). If an egg is fertilized, it sets off a different milieu of hormones that signals for progesterone to stay high to keep the nutritive lining for the growing embryo.

When I stop to think about this miraculous dance that can happen each month in premenopausal women, I get a “whoa” moment. The wisdom and beauty in this monthly coordination, while oftentimes annoying, is actually quite impressive. Cycles can of course vary from 24-35 days (“normal”), and do not have to be synched with the moon. A variety of factors can influence “normal” vs. “abnormal” cycles, including excess light exposure, chemicals, plastics, pesticides that change our hormonal balance with xenoestrogens, stress, sickness, etc. I do consider a regular menstrual cycle an additional vital sign for women.

So … back to your question of seed cycling, Lena. This means using different foods to support the two phases of the menstrual cycle. Flaxseed and pumpkin seed are thought to support the follicular phase, while sesame and sunflower – the luteal phase. While there are no studies to my knowledge of a direct correlation of any of these seeds to hormone levels, their micronutrient profile of vitamins, minerals and fatty acids have been linked to hormone modulation as a whole.

A 2023 article from the journal Food Science & Nutrition followed women diagnosed with PCOS for ninety days while seed cycling and tracked hormones levels, ultrasound of the ovaries and as well as body mass index (BMI). The authors found that fewer cysts were found on ultrasound, BMI dropped and hormones came back more to mid-range in those women who ate 15 g of each seed designated for its time in the cycle (1). Other, more anecdotal papers, find that PMS symptoms, including cramping, decreased with following a seed cycling regimen (2).

So whether it is the magic of the seeds themselves, or in fact the added nutrients that the seeds contain, I do support the addition of mineral-rich and nutrient-dense seeds as a regular part of daily dietary patterns. For me, I add ground seeds based on my cycle to my morning breakfast for optimal absorption. The best way to absorb these tiny seeds is through ground form (ie, flax meal vs flaxseed). There are also a number of protein power bite recipes online that you can find that incorporate seeds for the cycle, as well. Some of my patients have also included them into waffle or pancake mixes.

If anything else, I think seed cycling encourages menstruating women to be a bit more in-tune with their body’s cues and monthly cycle. This in itself is a form of medicine: slowing down enough to notice body and emotional signals, and also nourishing with whole foods. Slowing down and nourishing are two things I don’t see many female patients having the opportunity to prioritize easily, which I believe in part contributes to the intense cramping, PMS and irregular cycling. I encourage you to explore not only seed cycling, but the wonder of your own menstrual cycle through this process. It’s nice to recognize yourself for what you are: a walking miracle.

    1. Rasheed N, Ahmed A, Nosheen F, Imran A, Islam F, Noreen R, Chauhan A, Shah MA, Amer Ali Y. Effectiveness of combined seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, flaxseed): As adjacent therapy to treat polycystic ovary syndrome in females. Food Sci Nutr. 2023 Mar 25;11(6):3385-3393. doi: 10.1002/fsn3.3328. PMID: 37324929; PMCID: PMC10261760.

You can check out more of Dr. Casey’s writings through the local Natural Wellness magazine publication and sign up for newsletters at her website,