According to an article in Psychology Today, around half of American women surveyed report intensified chocolate cravings leading up to their menstrual bleed. It can be assumed that a similar number of Australian women are also likely to experience this particular symptom of Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS).
Chocolate cravings fit into the sub-type of PMS-C (cravings), for which some women identify with more so than the other subtypes: PMS-A (anxiety); PMS-D (depression); PMS-H (hyper-hydration); and PMS-P (pain). The cravings are specifically associated with an increased desire for carbohydrates and sweets which may be followed by hypoglycaemic states experienced after consumption of larger than normal amounts of sugar.
According to a research paper published in 1992, the link between carbohydrate craving and PMS may be due to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, such as low serotonin levels. When we eat carbohydrates our plasma tryptophan rises and serotonin synthesis in the brain is increased, which suggests that these cravings are the body’s attempt to achieve serotonin homeostasis. Cacao also contains magnesium which effects serotonin levels and there is some evidence suggesting that a large proportion of women who experience PMS symptoms, are low or deficient in magnesium.
Another common symptom of women who suffer from PMS symptoms is a loss of libido, which may be contributed to the drop in oestrogen hormones at this stage in the cycle, as well as the mental and emotional impacts of coping with symptomatic menstrual cycles every month. Historically, chocolate has been viewed as a fertility tonic by the Aztecs and an aphrodisiac by French royalty when it was first introduced in the 1600s. Recent scientific studies have somewhat solidified these claims due to the cacao plant’s ability to increase serotonin and phenylethylamine release in the body.
The power of self-care should also not be discounted during this time and for some women, indulging in a food that is rich in sugar and fat and that smells and tastes delicious, the ritual of consuming chocolate during this phase of her cycle is a way of nourishing herself from a sensory perspective.