Chocolate Craving and the Menstrual Cycle

Chocolate craving

About chocolate craving:

  • Research suggests that up to 97% of women and 68% of men experience food cravings. Chocolate is the most common one of the craved foods, typically high calorie.
  • A number of situations have been shown to experimentally increase cravings of chocolate consumption. For example,chocolate abstinence, stress and exposure to chocolate cues increase urges to eat chocolate.
  • A 15 min bout of brisk walking, equivalent to ‘fairly light’ intensity exercise, reduces chocolate cravings, with moderate effect sizes, during and for at least 10 min following exercise cessation.
  • Higher intensity or longer bouts of physical activity may lead to compensatory dietary behavior and/or chocolate cravings.
  • Cravings are generally more prevalent in women than men and decrease somewhat with age, with 100% of young women and 70% of young men craving any food or drink, compared to 66% of older women and 62% of older men.
  • In American women, about half of cravings for chocolate occur perimenstrually with a marked increase in craving beginning a few days before and extending into the first few days of menses.
  • Chocolate craving is not uniquely associated with the menstrual cycle, compared to a range of other sweet and savory foods.
  • There is no significant link between levels of estradiol and the number, frequency, or types of cravings.
  • Exogenous administration of progesterone does not significantly reduce perimenstrual cravings.
  • Reduction of chocolate craving when chocolate is ingested results from the sensory experience of chocolate, and not of pharmacological origine.

From these observations it can be concluded that instead of it’s sensory characteristics responsible for chocolate craving, the hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle could possibly play an important role in chocolate craving.
A recent study investigated the chocolate craving in women post menopause to assess the presence, prevalence, temporal patterns, and perceived triggers for chocolate craving. Previous research has shown that there is no direct link between perimenstrual hormone levels and chocolate craving in women. Another factor linking chocolate craving and menstruation could be the stress during this period or an:

a socially sanctioned ‘‘excuse’’ to indulge in a highly calorically dense food, and thus comes to be used by women as a plausible and acceptable reason to consume chocolate.

The researchers randomly selected alumnae from the University of Pennsylvania from three cohorts (’46/’47, ’62/’63, and ’84/’85). They were sent anonymous questionnaires of which 35% were returned (n=280). The participants provided demographic information, regularity of periods, menopause status, use of hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy, liking for chocolate, craving for chocolate and it’s temporal pattern.

chocolate craving

Pre-menopausal women reported a significant but small decrease in prevalence of chocolate cravings compared to postmenopausal women. The decrease is only 13.4% and thereby much smaller than a 38% drop predicted by a purely hormonal explanation. Of post-menopausal women very few reported of prior, pre-menopause chocolate cravings that were thought to be related to the menstrual cycle. This could be due to a lack of recall of any perimenstrual cravings premenopausally.

The latter assumption is supported by the fact that reports of past perimenstrual cravings are low in the 65-year-old women but absent entirely in the 80-year-old women.

Since hormonal changes don’t explain a minor drop in chocolate craving in women over the life cycle the authors sugest another explantion for the perimenstrual chocolate craving:

a major effect of low perimenstrual hormone levels may be to produce mood changes or dysphoria, which may prompt chocolate consumption as a reward or a means of coping.

What do you think?
Hormes, J., & Rozin, P. (2009). Perimenstrual chocolate craving. What happens after menopause? Appetite, 53 (2), 256-259 DOI: 10.1016/j.appet.2009.07.003