Seeds are one of the lesser utilized tools when it comes to fertility. And I understand why – if you did not grow up eating pumpkin seeds or sprinkling ground flax on your oatmeal, it can be difficult to know how to bring them into your diet. However, these little guys are worth the effort. They are loaded with vitamins, minerals, fats, and plant compounds that can help to support the menstrual cycle and boost fertility. This article will break down the benefits of seeds for our cycle and conception support and a few easy ways to sneak them in.
The Seeds of Truth
There are 4 main seeds that can play a big role in the fertility picture. These include flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds. While each one will have slightly different nutrient levels, generally speaking, they all share similar benefits.
VITAMIN + MINERAL SUPPORT:
Most notably, seeds are rich in minerals, such as selenium and zinc. Selenium plays a crucial role directly in ovulation and fertility, and indirectly, impacting liver detoxification and thyroid hormone production. In fact, low selenium levels have been correlated to difficulty conceiving, along with miscarriage and potential pregnancy complications, making it incredibly important in the fertility picture. And just 1 oz. of sunflower seeds can get you 40% of your daily requirement for this mineral.
Seeds, especially pumpkin and sesame, are also high in a mineral called zinc. Zinc helps to boost progesterone levels, thicken the uterine lining prior to implantation, form the corpus luteum, and play a crucial role in fertility and early pregnancy. Zinc’s anti-inflammatory components have also been shown to assist in ovulation and even skin health.
When it comes to vitamins, seeds are also known for boosting levels of vitamin E. Vitamin E is both a crucial vitamin and antioxidant, meaning it helps to lower inflammation and oxidation in the body, protecting our body’s eggs and supporting ovulation. Since oxidative stress is a major cause of fertility challenges, making sure to have enough antioxidants are key. While all seeds will have some vitamin E, sunflower seeds are one of the richest sources.
PROVIDING HEALTHY FATS:
Outside of vitamins and minerals, seeds also help to provide healthy fats. Fat works as the building block for our hormones, and help our body to absorb essential vitamins like A, D, E, and K that otherwise further support ovulation. Fats are also needed to help with mood and blood sugar levels, both of which are crucial for fertility.
Seeds in particular are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, a type of polyunsaturated fat that plays a role in combating inflammation. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids improve female fertility, with women that have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids having a higher risk of anovulation (i.e. skipped ovulation) and/or fertility challenges. Omega-3s can be hard to come by in our food supply, so getting in on ground flax (and chia seeds!) are a great way to get a dose of EPA, a type of omega-3.
Seeds also play an important role in regulating estrogen levels. Estrogen is the queen bee hormone – meaning it runs the show in the reproductive picture. It is needed for the functioning of the uterus, the growth of the uterine lining, and to signal to other hormones what to do and when to release an egg. However, having too much or too little estrogen can be an issue. And in today’s day and age, due to all the endocrine disrupting chemicals and hormones in our food supply, estrogen dominance is on the rise.
Enter seeds. Seeds are high in lignans, a type of phytoestrogen that has an anti-estrogenic impact in the body, meaning it helps to lower our body’s circulating levels of estrogen. Since excessive estrogen can interfere with ovulation and menstruation, lowering our body’s burden of estrogen can be beneficial for fertility. Flaxseeds are the biggest source of lignans, and their consumption has been shown to increase the luteal phase length and reduce the number of anovulatory cycles.
Seeds also contain a bit of fiber, which can help to move things along. Since our body excretes excess hormones through bowel movements, staying regular is an important piece of hormone health and fertility.
What’s the deal with seed cycling?
We couldn’t do an article on seeds without mentioning seed cycling. Seed cycling is a practice that popped up a few decades ago in the holistic health space. It involves consuming different seeds at different stages of the cycle. The formula goes like this:
- 1 Tbsp ground flax seeds + 1 Tbsp pumpkin seeds during the follicular phase
- 1 Tbsp sesame seeds + 1 Tbsp sunflower seeds during the luteal phase
The belief is that these seeds will help to support the dominating hormones during this time. However, seed cycling has not been shown to be any more advantageous than simply consuming any seeds daily. Since research is limited on seed cycling, it is not generally accepted by conventional or western healthcare practitioners. However, many alternative medicine practitioners recommend it due to anecdotal reports on its efficacy. My take? It’s up to you.
If you want to try seed cycling and you do not find it restrictive or stressful, go for it. However, for most of us, just aiming for a serving of seeds daily can go a long way.
How to include seeds:
It can be difficult to get in seeds, especially if you’re new to the game. So here are my favorite ways to make sure I’m getting in my daily 1-2 Tbsp dose.
- Sprinkle ground flaxseeds into or on top of oatmeal and cereal
- Toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds with salt, pepper, and garlic powder as a crunchy salad topper
- Roast pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds with cinnamon and a little bit of maple for a sweet addition to oatmeals or nut butter toasts
- Coat salmon or tofu in sesame seeds
- Make a homemade seedy granola
- Make a tahini salad dressing or dip
- Top avocado toast with sesame seeds
- Use sunbutter, pumpkin butter, or ground flaxseeds in smoothies
- Mix garlic salt, sesame seeds, and dried onion to create a DIY everything bagel seasoning