Whether you’re a man or a woman, when your hormones go haywire, watch out! If you’re a woman dealing with the hormonal shifts of menstruation or menopause…or a man struggling with prostate problems, your hormones take center stage. So when a friend who had been coping with hormonal imbalances recently asked me what I thought of “seed cycling,” I had not heard of it but was intrigued. “Let me find out,” I told her.

Seed cycling, it turns out, is a relatively new term for a dietary approach that’s most widely used to help balance a woman’s menstrual cycle…but also to ease menopausal symptoms. When used to promote regular periods and help curb PMS, it goes like this: During days 1 to 14 of her menstrual cycle, she eats one to two tablespoons of raw, freshly ground flaxseeds and one to two tablespoons of raw, freshly ground pumpkin seeds daily. During days 15 to 28 of her menstrual cycle, she eats one to two tablespoons per day of freshly ground, raw sesame seeds and the same amount of raw, freshly ground sunflower seeds. According to seed cycling proponents, doing this for three months will provide the nutrition that’s needed for balancing estrogen and progesterone production and the anti-inflammatory compounds that help reduce PMS, hot flashes and breast tenderness.

As a naturopathic physician who has worked for 30 years with women and men on hormone issues, I also know that hormone irregularities, identified by symptoms and lab tests, can often be improved in a few weeks with herbs or bioidentical hormones. Nonetheless, seeds do have tremendous health properties, including hormonal benefits for both men and women, so as I told my friend, including seeds in your diet—in a less calendar-driven manner—is a good idea. 

Here’s why:The seeds recommended in seed cycling—flax, pumpkin, sesame and sunflower—are nutritional powerhouses. They are rich in omega-3 oils, lignans and fiber. All four reduce the risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease. Lignans also show great promise as a food constituent that can help prevent hormone-related cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. The seeds used in seed cycling contain important amino acids, too. Naturopathic physicians have long recommended pumpkin seeds, which are rich in zinc and other nutrients that help balance testosterone, as a healthy snack food for men fighting prostatitis and prostate enlargement. I frequently prescribe a daily heaping tablespoon of freshly ground flaxseed to women suffering from hot flashes and PMS. What to do…

Maximize the nutrition. The seeds are generally more nutritious (and flavorful) if you grind them before eating. Use a coffee grinder or seed mill to grind your own at home…or purchase freshly ground seeds at a store. 

Don’t go overboard. Seeds have a high oil content, so I consider them a “rich” food, meaning small portions are best. Helpful: Start adding seeds slowly to your diet, and gradually work your way up to three tablespoons (total) a day. If you eat more than that, you may experience uncomfortable intestinal gas and diarrhea. 

Bottom Line: Whether you are male or female, it’s not necessary to cycle your seed consumption. Seed constituents are broadly useful for hormonal and general health, so enjoy them without worrying about the calendar!