Does PMS really cause chocolate cravings?

Do you ever blame your chocolate cravings on "that time of the month"? 

It may have more to do with your culture than your actual cravings, research suggests. 

Unusual in rest of the world

While some US and SA women believe they need a dose of chocolate because their period is near, the culture they live in may be key to that impulse, new research suggests.

Chocolate cravings are common among premenstrual American women – but unusual elsewhere in the world, the new study finds.

"Menstrual chocolate cravings may be a culture-bound construct," said study lead author Julia Hormes. She is a psychologist at the University at Albany, State University of New York.

"In a society that emphasises the 'thin ideal' of female beauty, women may view menstruation as a socially acceptable excuse to indulge in otherwise 'taboo' food," she explained.

This might also explain why South African women use their period to as an excuse to indulge their taste for chocolate. 

Role of cultural norms

For the study, the researchers surveyed 275 female undergraduate students who represented a broad range of cultural backgrounds, with 81 born outside of the United States.

The investigators found foreign-born respondents were just as likely to desire chocolate as American-born women. But they were much less likely to attribute the cravings to hormonal fluctuations in their menstrual cycle.

For example, about one-third of the American-born women said they experienced chocolate cravings related to their periods. That figure hit more than 40 percent for second-generation Americans, the findings showed.

But only about 17% of women born in one of 25 other countries linked any chocolate craving they might have experienced to their menstrual cycle.

And "while menstrual chocolate cravings are common in the US, they are rare in other parts of the world," said Hormes. She cited past research showing that only 28 percent of Spanish women experience chocolate cravings around the onset of menstruation.

"These geographic differences hint at the role of cultural norms," she suggested.

The findings were published online in the journal PLOS ONE.

Is there a link?

According to Health24 high hormone levels during the early part of the menstrual cycle cause an increase in insulin. Insulin regulates your blood glucose levels. The high level of insulin in your body then results in low blood sugar, and this is the real reason why most women crave something sweet. 

But contrary to this, experts have previously found that there are no links between PMS and food cravings.

How to control cravings

Whether you crave chocolate or salty chips during PMS, there are some ways you can curb your cravings:

  • Follow a balanced diet.

  • Take B-complex supplements with vitamin B6.
  • Take a calcium supplement.

  • Reduce your intake of caffeine.
  • If you suffer from cravings, try to resist.

  • Take a supplement that contains both omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids.

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