Seed Cycling Chart

Seed cycling is the practice of consuming a daily intake of particular seeds during different parts of the menstrual cycle with the intention of balancing hormones and thus alleviating the symptoms women often have during their periods (cramping, fatigue, headaches, etc.). Our seed cycling chart below demonstrates how this works: for the first half of your menstrual cycle (beginning on the first day of the period to about the 15th day) consume approximately two tablespoons of flax seeds and pumpkin seeds daily; for the second half, sesame and sunflower.

Table of Contents

What is seed cycling?

Seed cycling is a natural method to help regulate hormones throughout the menstrual cycle. This method involves taking 1-2 Tbsp of pumpkin and/or flax seeds during the first half of the cycle and the same amount of sesame and/or sunflower during the second half. Dr. Lindsey Jesswein proposed this idea in 2017 on her blog. She reasoned that flax and pumpkin seeds balance the omega-3 pathway and sesame and sunflower seeds balance the omega-6 pathway.

Here, we dive into the practice of seed cycling and discuss the benefits of these seeds. For example, flax, pumpkin, and sesame function contain phytoestrogens. This means they may help balance estrogen in the body.

Seed Cycling Chart

What are the phases in seed cycling?

Seed cycling follows the menstrual cycle (see the seed cycling chart), which has two phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase. The flax, pumpkin, and sesame seeds consumed during seed cycling are all rich sources of lignans, which help to balance hormones by regulating estrogen.

Seed cycling is believed to work because the pumpkin and flaxseeds consumed during the first half of the cycle, the follicular phase, help balance estrogen in the body (which is elevated during this phase). The sesame and sunflower seeds consumed during the second half, the luteal phase, help balance progesterone (which is elevated in this phase).

The hormonal balance in the body shifts throughout the cycle. Estrogen levels rise midway through the follicular phase, drop at ovulation, and experience a secondary rise midway through the luteal phase. As estrogen levels rise for the second time, they are joined by rising levels of progesterone and hydroxyprogesterone (an endogenous progestogen steroid hormone related to progesterone).

Follicular phase

The follicular phase is the first half of the menstrual cycle, from the first day of the period until ovulation. Estrogen levels rise midway through the follicular phase and continue to rise until ovulation.

The follicular phase (the second half in the seed cycling chart) begins on the first day of menstruation. Its primary focus is to prepare the body for pregnancy. It starts by prompting the body to release the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which stimulates the ovaries into producing follicles (about 5-20), each containing an immature egg. As the ovarian follicles grow, serum estradiol levels rise and the number of estrogen-producing cells (granulosa cells) increases. FSH stimulates these cells to convert other sex hormones into estrogens.*

As the cycle progresses, the follicles on the ovaries grow and the granulosa cells produce more estrogen. This increase in estrogen creates a surge in yet another hormone, the luteinizing hormone (LH), which spurs ovulation. The granulosa cells, in the presence of estradiol (one hormone in the estrogen family), are stimulated by FSH to form LH receptors. These receptors then make it so the granulosa cells start to secrete small quantities of progesterone. This creates a positive feedback cycle which raises estrogen levels halfway through the follicular phase. The cycle ends at ovulation, which occurs at about 10–12 hours after the peak LH levels (Reed, 2018).

*Although often referred to in the singular (as estrogen), estrogens are actually a group of hormones which regulate the female reproductive system and female sex characteristics (or secondary sex characteristics).

The luteal phase and its hormones

The luteal phase is the second half of the menstrual cycle, starting at ovulation and ending at the next period. Estrogen levels drop at ovulation. Then, both estrogen and progesterone rise midway through the luteal phase.

About halfway through the menstrual cycle, approximately day 15 for a 30-day cycle, ovulation occurs. By now, some of the granulosa cells in the ovaries have been released in reproductive processing but some still remain. The remaining granulosa cells become luteinized, meaning they’ve developed a yellow pigment known as lutein. These, along with another class of cells (theca-lutein cells) and supporting tissue in the ovaries, form the corpus luteum (“yellow body” in Latin). The corpus luteum is a temporary organ that secretes progesterone and prepares the uterus lining for implantation, assuming there is a fertilized ovum present. If no pregnancy occurs, the cells of the corpus luteum undergo cell death. As we know, when no pregnancy occurs, the cycle continues onto the next period and back to the follicular phase to once again prepare the body for pregnancy (Reed, 2018).

What are the benefits of seed cycling?

Proponents of seed cycling believe it may help balance hormones and reduce menstrual cramps. No clinical trials have yet evaluated the effects of seed cycling, so these benefits are still theoretical. These seeds do contain different bioactive ingredients which promote certain health benefits. The omega-3s in flax and pumpkin seeds, the omega-6s in sesame seeds, and the lignans in all three may help balance hormones and decrease side-effects like bloating and cramps. Sunflower seeds may also help alleviate menstrual cramps and bloating because of their high vitamin E content.

The seeds in the seed cycling practice are rich sources of several key nourishing compounds: lignans, omega-3s, omega-6s, and vitamin E. Each of these may help support menstrual health and minimize side effects in different ways.

Note: the original article on seed cycling actually recommended pumpkin, flax, or chia seeds for the first half of the cycle. For simplicity, we just focus on pumpkin and flax, but keep in mind that chia seeds have many of the same benefits including being a rich source of lignans and omega-3s.

Seed cycling for hormones

Flax, pumpkin, and sesame seeds are all rich sources of lignans, a major class of phytoestrogens which can help regulate estrogen throughout the cycle. The omega-3s and omega-6s in these seeds may also play a role.

Flax, pumpkin, and sesame: phytoestrogens

Flax and pumpkin seeds are phytoestrogens, meaning they have a weak estrogen-like effect in the body (Obermeyer, 1995). Both seeds contain uncommonly high concentrations of secoisolariciresinol (SECO), a particular type of lignan. Lignans are one of the major classes of phytoestrogens, plant compounds that are chemically similar to mammalian estrogens and therefore mimic its actions in the body (Oseni, 2008Patisaul, 2010). Phytoestrogens are observed to be estrogenic and anti-estrogenic (Sicilia, 2003). The latter implies they act like selective estrogen receptor modulators, so that they they ‘turn down’ estrogen production when the levels are too high.

Flax and pumpkin seeds have the highest concentration of lignans (as measured by SECO) by several orders of magnitude when compared to dozens of other plant products (beans, grains, seeds, etc.). The crushed and defatted flaxseed SECO measure is ten thousand times greater than most other plant products, including a variety of whole grain breads, oats, and soy products. Even the non-crushed flaxseeds still rank higher than any non-flax food. Pumpkin seeds feature the second-highest measure to flax seeds for SECO, and are still thousands of times greater than the remaining food items examined (Ososki, 2003Adlercreutz, 1997).

As is the case with pumpkin and flax seeds, sesame seeds are also a rich source of lignans. In fact, sesame and flax seeds have the highest concentrations of lignans across all plant sources (Landete, 2012). Sesame seeds are also rich sources of omega-6 fatty acids (Pusadkar, 2015). Omega-6 is essential for overall health, in the right balance with omega-3s. Sesame seeds are a natural source of arachidonic acid (polyunsaturated omega-6 fatty acid) (Tallima, 2018).

Omega-3s in pumpkin and flax seeds

The omega-3 fatty acids in pumpkin and flax seeds may also contribute to hormonal balance. One study found that omega-3s from fish oil helped to decrease FSH in women (Bauer, 2019). FSH is the follicle stimulating hormone which drives estrogen levels during the follicular phase.

Seed cycling for period cramps

The omega-3 fatty acids in pumpkin and flax seeds and the vitamin E in sunflower seeds may help to alleviate period cramps. Vitamin E may also help to reduce excessive bleeding and improve other symptoms like headaches and emotional stress.

The omega-3s in pumpkin and flax seeds may help to alleviate period cramps. One study of 356 young women found that those with a higher consumption of fish, eggs, and fruit (and a lower alcohol intake) were less likely to experience painful cramps during their period (Balbi, 2000). The authors attributed this to the omega-3s in their diets. Another study comparing two groups of women over 2 months found those that consumed daily omega-3 supplements had a reduction in their period cramps (Harel, 1996).

The vitamin E in sunflower seeds may also help to reduce cramping, as well as other menstrual difficulties like menorrhagia (excessive bleeding). A 2009 study examined the effect of 400 IU of vitamin E (and 50 mg ferrous sulfate) versus placebo for 62 women with menorrhagia. They examined the women starting two days before the period and for three days after starting menstruation (Manizheh, 2009). Vitamin E did not impact menstrual blood loss but did reduce symptoms like cramps, headaches, and emotional stress. An older study found that vitamin E treatment reduced menstrual blood loss for women with menorrhagia (Dasgupta, 1983). Vitamin E may alleviate cramps because it inhibits the release of arachidonic acid, from which prostaglandins are derived . Prostaglandins constrict blood vessels in the uterus, making muscles contract and thus causing cramps (Pakniat, 2019).

Seed cycling for fertility

The seeds consumed in the first half of the seed cycling practice are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids, and getting enough omega-3s from food sources is beneficial for fertility.

Pumpkin and flax seeds are both rich sources of omega-3 and getting enough omega-3 fatty acids is critical for reproductive health. From this perspective, it’s these seeds in the seed cycling method which are beneficial for fertility.

Plenty of studies exist which elucidate the importance of omega-3 fatty acids for healthy pregnancies and neonatal growth (Elhardallou, 2014). For women with decreased fertility, omega-3s may be especially important. Women treated with omega-3s during the follicular phase had a significant reduction in their follicle stimulating hormone levels (Bauer, 2019; Al-Safi, 2016). This goes to show how impactful omega-3s are on hormone levels. Additionally, diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids restored fertility in aged mice. From this study, researchers concluded that sufficient supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids may be an effective strategy to delay ovarian aging and to improve oocyte quality as women age (Nehra, 2012).

Seed cycling for depression

The omega-3 rich seeds in seed cycling may be beneficial to mental health and in decreasing the risk of depression.

Hormonal balance is critical to mental health. When women face fluctuations in their ovarian hormone levels (the same hormones that affect menstruation), they face a higher risk of major depression (Deecher, 2008). Additionally, suicidal behavior is more common during the phases of the menstrual cycle when estrogen is lowest, the late luteal and follicular phases (Saunders, 2006).

Practices and remedies which seek to balance ovarian hormones may be particularly influential in these hormonal-based depressive episodes in women. Ovarian hormones furthermore regulate the biosynthesis of DHA* from alpha-linolenic acid. In fact, healthy women are significantly better at getting DHA from alpha-linolenic acid compared to men. Plus, ovarian hormones regulate brain DHA composition (McNamara, 2008).

Not to mention, just a deficiency of omega-3s alone may contribute to depression. That’s why its vital to get enough in your diet (Parker, 2006; McNamara, 2008).

If you’re interested in treating depression naturally, check out Lion’s Mane, a medicinal mushroom that may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

*Note: DHA is an omega-3. It’s the kind in fish oil supplements.

How to seed cycle

Follow the seed cycling chart

  • For the first half of your cycle, beginning on the first day of the period to about the 15th day: consume 1-2 Tbsp of flax seeds and pumpkin seeds daily
  • For the second half of your cycle, until the next period: consume 1-2Tbsp sesame and sunflower seeds daily

Keep in mind that the omega-3s in flaxseeds are only bioavailable after the seeds are ground (or in the oil), although eating them in their whole form still provides lignans and fiber.

There does not seem to be any obvious reasoning behind why this particular amount is recommended. The original blog article on seed cycling recommended 1-2 Tbsp of ground flax, pumpkin, or chia seeds for the first half and 1-2 Tbsp per day of ground sesame or sunflower seeds for the second half. Conceivably, you can easily consume more.

recommended daily serving size of pumpkin seeds is a quarter of a cup (or 4 Tbsp). For flaxseeds, 1-2 Tbsp. For sunflower seeds, a quarter of a cup. In fact, we know sunflower seeds in this amount, even up to nine ounces a week (about 4 Tbsp a day) are safe (Reeves, 2001). For sesame seeds, anywhere from 1-3 Tbsp is recommended. Studies evaluating sesame seeds to alleviate pain from osteoarthritis use 40g/day, or about three tablespoons (Sadat, 2013).

Ultimately, you can determine precisely how many seeds to incorporate into your diet. This will likely be a balance between your overall calorie intake and the recommended portions.


Seed cycling promotes the consumption of certain seeds, many of which are associated with a range of health benefits, including the capability to potentially alleviate menstrual cramps and other side-effects during menstruation. Consuming seeds rich in omega-3s for half the cycle (see the seed cycling chart) may help reduce your risk from omega-3 deficiency, increase your fertility, and balance your hormones. The seeds in the second half of the cycle focus on increasing your consumption of omega-6s and vitamin E.

Altogether, eating more seeds is an easy way to support your menstrual health and overall wellbeing. Even if you don’t get the dates according to the seed cycling chart exactly right, you may still derive the health benefits. After all, no studies exist validating that seed cycling works. We can only say that each of these seeds independently contribute to reproductive and overall health.

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