After giving birth in 2017, Petya developed painful menstrual cramps and intense PMS symptoms. “I was so emotional and on edge,” says the 41-year-old product manager living in Memphis, Tennessee. (She’s asked us not to share her last name.) “My relationship was suffering and I just felt insane.” Her gynecologist prescribed Prozac, an antidepressant that is sometimes used to treat PMS symptoms—but it caused a range of negative side effects, like poor sleep and cold sweats. Feeling hopeless and misunderstood, Petya stopped taking the pills.

Then, late last year, she discovered seed cycling via an Instagram post.

Petya is originally from Bulgaria, where she says food is commonly treated like medicine. “So I just figured, What’s the downside of trying it?” Petya says over the Zoom between sips of a purple smoothie, which she makes every morning from bananas, frozen berries, nut butter, and a scoop of preground seeds she buys online. “It’s just food, right?”

Seed cycling is a dietary remedy that some people claim is designed for better hormone health. It was allegedly popularized in 2012 by naturopathic practitioner Lindsey Jesswein. Naturopathic medicine uses “natural remedies to help the body heal itself,” according to WebMD. The practice involves eating one tablespoon each of pumpkin seeds and flaxseed during every day of the first half of your menstrual cycle, and one tablespoon each of sesame and sunflower seeds during the second half. The theory—based on Jesswein’s advice—is that these combinations of seeds contain the natural compounds our bodies need to balance estrogen and progesterone levels, which can supposedly help improve period-related symptoms like PMS, acne, and painful cramps.

Scientific evidence around the benefits is limited, yet it’s become popular. Interest in seed cycling has been steadily growing in the past few years, according to Google Trends. And interest in related search topics, like “estrogen dominance” and “irregular menstruation,” are all on the rise too. While plenty of influencers on Instagram and TikTok are peddling the #SeedCycling gospel—and new brands like Beeya and Phasey sell seed mixes in pretty packaging—the modern practice is derived from a hodgepodge of ancient traditions, mostly traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, both of which have long tapped nutrition to support hormonal well-being.

Some dietitians disregard seed cycling as nutritional misinformation based on junk science; classic internet nonsense. Others recommend patients try it, particularly those, like Petya, who have felt disenchanted or let down by modern medicine, which still has much to learn about the menstruating body. The uptick in curiosity around seed cycling among Americans also comes at a time when couples are increasingly relying on technology to conceive, endometriosis affects roughly 10% of people with periods, and the insurance industry still classifies many “women’s issues” as elective.

It’s understandable, then, that we’re hoping the internet can solve our health problems. But does seed cycling actually work?

How is seed cycling supposed to help menstrual issues?

When your hormones are functioning as intended, estrogen rises during your cycle’s follicular phase, which begins on the first day of menstrual bleeding and lasts around 14 days, until ovulation. Then, during the luteal phase, which lasts around 14 more days, from ovulation until the first day of your next period, progesterone levels rise while estrogen slowly declines.

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