Chocolate cravings and the menstrual cycle

Photo by Flickr user ulterior epicure. Click for sourceI’ve just found a remarkable study on how female chocolate cravings vary throughout the hormone cycle and drop off after menopause. While the cravings are not solely explained by hormone changes, some of the effect does seem to be linked.

Perimenstrual Chocolate Craving: What Happens after Menopause?

Appetite. 2009 Jul 9. [Epub ahead of print]

Hormes JM, Rozin P.

About half of American women crave chocolate, and approximately half of the cravers crave it specifically around the onset of menstruation. This study examines whether the primary cause of this “perimenstrual” craving is a direct effect of hormonal changes around the perimenstrum, or rather if the craving is a general response in some individuals to stress or other notable events. Insofar as there is a direct hormonal effect, one would predict a substantial decrease of 38% in total chocolate craving in women post-menopause, corresponding to the proportion of women pre-menopause who report craving chocolate exclusively perimenstrually. Based on a survey of pre- and postmenopausal alumnae of the same University, we report a significant but small decrease in prevalence of chocolate cravings post-menopause. The decrease is only 13.4% and thereby much smaller than a 38% drop predicted by a purely hormonal explanation, suggesting that female reproductive hormones are not the principal cause of perimenstrual chocolate craving.

Last time I posted something about the menstrual cycle, with reference to the effect on race bias, the post attracted some remarkably acerbic comments.

The comment on racism being a “typical British trait” was pure comedy gold, but one asked the question “Why are hormone fluctuations in men not studied as closely or publicized as widely?”.

I did have a look, but as far as I know, men don’t have hormone cycles. If you know different, do let us know as I’d love to know if there is any good evidence for them.

However, the point was that these studies often focus on stereotypes of female behaviour. So this post is offered as food for thought.

Link to PubMed entry for study.

8 thoughts on “Chocolate cravings and the menstrual cycle”

  1. I’ve often wondered how much of the PM chocolate craving is cultural. It’s only fairly recently that humans have had ready access to inexpensive chocolate, so women of 150 or 1500 years ago (or presently in countries that don’t consume chocolate) would have obviously reported craving something else
    In my own experience, PM cravings can be non-specific – so I’m craving something, but it’s not a particular type of food. When the cultural expectation is that the craving will be chocolate, it’s natural to eat some chocolate to fulfill the craving – and thus it becomes a habit. I usually find that a handful of crackers is just as fulfilling, but I may be in the minority.

  2. Of course men have hormone cycles, but different from women. Remember circadian rhythms (rythms that last near a day) that involves melatonin, cortisol and many others.
    Greetings from Argentina,

  3. Here’s the scoop. Eating chocolate is lovely anytime. So of course post-menopausal women do so. What–you think women become idiots after menopause? Not so. Quite the contrary. If there is a drop, I’d imagine that it’s because people get more health conscious as they age. Not because of hormonal changes. Chocolate is yummy whether someone ovulates or not.

  4. I don’t like chocolate, sugar and all the other stuff people are supposed to find so appealing – didn’t crave it before menopause, don’t crave it now. On the other hand, my husband can’t live without it for a single day, but it’s not a cyclical craving – it’s a permanent one*. Go figure.
    *anecdotal evidence there.

  5. Studies like this are patronizing to chocolate-eaters, a typical British trait. I’m a historian of chocolate and when I see studies like these I feel like I’m in a time warp.

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