Seed Cycling: What Is It, And Does It Really Improve Your Periods?

As if being a person with a uterus wasn't difficult enough in today's post-Roe v. Wade world, we also have to deal with period cramps. Gah! The pain feels like our ovaries are trying to eat their way out of our bodies. And don't get us started on the mood swings. It's like once a month, our bodies accidentally hit ALL CAPS on our emotions. #RealTalk

The medical community calls menstrual cramps "dysmenorrhea," which includes those pesky aches and contractions, but according to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there is another form of dysmenorrhea that can cause much more serious symptoms. Called "secondary dysmenorrhea," it involves severe period cramps that can be associated with PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, or other inflammatory conditions.

Enter seeds. Yes, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds, and the like. We know that adding seeds to our diet will always be a good thing: "They have lots of monounsaturated fats, and they have some protein and some fiber, and they're good for us," registered dietitian Abby Langer told The Cut. But there is a prevailing theory that consuming seeds has an effect on the severity of your PMS and menstrual cramps. Might they be the secret-super, all-natural cure our ovaries have been begging for? Let's investigate.

Ingesting seeds could regulate our hormones

To help mitigate, or even cure, the pain that comes with dysmenorrhea, there is a theory called "seed cycling," which senior science editor Denise John, who holds a Ph.D. in neuroscience, describes via Goop as "eating four types of seeds throughout your menstrual cycle to help stabilize your hormones." She recommends eating flax and pumpkin during the follicular phase of your cycle, and sesame and sunflower seeds during the luteal phase. John also spoke with Dr. Danica Thornberry, who founded a program called Seed Fertility, who says that "within one to two months is the window where we see the seed cycling really stabilizing women's hormones." Thornberry told John she has seen those who practice seed cycling experience relief from PMS symptoms, perimenopause symptoms, fertility problems, and cycle irregularity.

Sure, this info comes from Goop, which has been accused of peddling pseudoscience, but seed cycling isn't just some esoteric claptrap. Dietitian Jessica Bippen tells Bon Appetit that during the first phase of our menstrual cycle, flaxseeds offer phytoestrogens which could ease PMS. During the second phase, sesame seeds promote progesterone production, while sunflower seeds, "have a hormone balancing effect."

Seed cycling isn't new. The Cut reports that a graduate of the National College of Natural Medicine, Lindsey Jesswein, first promoted the idea in a 2012 blog post, and today the topic has more than 20 million views on TikTok, and almost 39,000 posts about it on Instagram.

More research is needed

While seed cycling might sound like the all-natural way to ease our period cramps, experts warn that the links between seeds and hormones seem logical, but not exactly based on clinical or scientific research. Author and registered dietitian Desiree Nielsen tells Bon Appetit that there's no data or research backing up the practice, rather it is based on anecdotal and personal stories. "There is always a kernel of truth in internet wellness, but it's a giant leap to say that eating these four seeds in a specific cycle does anything," she told the outlet. 

However, there is research investigating which foods do actually aggravate your period cramps. "I found diets high in inflammatory foods such as animal meats, oil, sugars, salts, and coffee contribute to an increased risk of pain during a woman's period," Serah Sannoh, researcher and medical student at Temple University's Lewis Katz School of Medicine, tells CNN. Dr. Monica Christmas agrees, telling the outlet that foods high in sugars and trans fats, like deli meats, are major culprits, advising, "If you go on an anti-inflammatory diet — fruit, vegetables, olive oil, like the Mediterranean diet — you'll get less cramping."

So there's nothing wrong or dangerous about trying seed cycling for yourself, but as always, when it comes to "internet wellness" as Nielsen calls it, manage your expectations.