Craving chocolate before you start your period is such textbook PMS behavior; it’s almost cliche, but the reality is, most of us can definitely identify with craving a little extra chocolatey goodness the week before (and the week of) our periods.
We’ve even heard that eating chocolate (and having sex) can help get rid of cramps, which is justification enough for us to keep indulging in both (as if we needed an excuse).
Do we crave chocolate just because we’ve been convinced it’s a “thing,” or does it really have ingredients that help our bodies before we start? Rael investigated the truth behind chocolate cravings and whether or not eating a handful (or two or three) of them can help relieve period cramps and help us feel better.
Why Do We Get Cramps?
Before we can understand whether or not chocolate helps us get rid of cramps, we need to understand why we get them in the first place. Cramps are different for everyone, but almost every person who has a period will experience them from time to time.
Each month that we have a period, our bodies release hormones that help the muscular walls of the uterus contract. These contracts help the uterus shed its lining and prepare for your next monthly cycle. The shedding of the uterine lining is what gives you your monthly period.
Prostaglandins are the hormones responsible for causing the uterine contractions that cause your period. Unfortunately, those contractions can sometimes be really painful, resulting in cramping that can be so uncomfortable you miss work or school.
What Else Is Going On?
In addition to the prostaglandins squeezing your uterus, your hormone levels begin to fluctuate just before your period. Estrogen and progesterone levels are highest just before you start. The rise in these hormones can affect another hormone in your body, called insulin.
Insulin regulates your blood sugar levels, so it can affect the way you feel when insulin falls or rises. Lower insulin may make your blood sugar level rise, while higher insulin levels can make your blood sugar level tank.
The rise or fall in your blood sugar levels can lead to specific food cravings (usually sugar and carbohydrates), so if you find yourself heading for pasta or candy, the reason is probably that your hormones are fluctuating.
Why Do We Crave Chocolate?
So why chocolate and not gummy bears? Chocolate contains ingredients that both your body and brain may actually need when you’re PMSing.
Pasta, chocolate, chips, bread-if you turn into a carboholic just before your period; there’s a scientific reason behind it. Studies show craving carbohydrates is caused by the change in your hormone levels that affect your blood sugar.
This doesn’t mean that a giant bowl of sugary cereal is the answer. In fact, eating junk carbs will actually make you end up feeling worse. Sugar can spike your blood sugar and give you a quick burst of energy and mood elevation, but once your body processes it, your blood sugar level (and your mood) can drop dramatically, making you feel moody.
Calcium is one of the most researched supplements for premenstrual syndrome, and milk chocolate contains it. Studies show calcium is effective in helping alleviate PMS symptoms like cramping, fatigue, and water retention; however, sourcing your calcium from milk chocolate isn’t the wisest option.
You’d have to eat a lot of milk chocolate to get enough calcium to help your body, and you’ll also be eating a lot of sugar and caffeine, two ingredients that can actually make cramps worse.
Comfort food is comforting for a scientific reason! When we eat foods that are comforting to us, like chocolate, dopamine is released in the brain. Dopamine helps us feel relaxed, happy and gives us a sense of well-being.
The comforting aspect of chocolate is likely the fat content, and dark chocolate contains the highest fat levels without as much sugar as milk chocolate.
Chocolate is a go-to craving food for many of us, but how does it affect our cramps? Is it really able to help us get relief?
What About Chocolate and Cramps?
If you’ve got cramps, grab chocolate. There are at least three ingredients in chocolate that can help alleviate cramps and help you feel better, not to mention you’ll get a nice little dopamine release which can help improve your mood, too. It’s a win/win.
Magnesium is a mineral that plays a role in the way our muscles contract and relax. It helps the muscles send messages to the brain that tells it it’s okay to relax the muscle or that the muscle needs to be engaged. Low levels of magnesium are associated with chronic muscle cramping.
Chocolate contains high levels of magnesium (especially dark varieties), which can help your contracting uterus chill out so you can get some relief.
Ever wonder why you get a banana at the end of a 5K? Or why athletes drink pickle juice? It’s because both bananas and pickle juice contain potassium.
Potassium helps regulate your sodium levels, which can alleviate muscle cramping, help with water retention and alleviate bloating. Dark chocolate contains potassium, which will help you eliminate cramps and also reduce water retention.
Flavanols are plant-based compounds found in certain foods. Cocoa flavanol is found in high-quality dark chocolates and has been shown to help boost your brain function and alleviate irritation caused by cellular oxidation.
Cellular oxidation happens when free radicals attack your cells. Free radicals can cause all types of damage to your cells, resulting in pain, fatigue, and even early signs of aging.
Cocoa flavanol is an antioxidant that helps shield your cells against this type of free radical damage. In addition to protecting your cells, it also helps boost serotonin levels in the brain, which can improve your mood and help ease sensations of pain and discomfort.
Is All Chocolate the Same?
Unfortunately, not all chocolate is created equally. If you’re a milk chocolate lover, you might have to join the dark side to get relief from cramps before your period. Milk chocolate doesn’t contain a high enough concentration of cocoa to net you the cramp-relieving benefits you need. It also contains more sugar than dark chocolate, which can make you feel worse.
If you’re craving chocolate before your cycle, pick up dark chocolate varieties that contain at least 70% cocoa. The darker the chocolate and higher the concentration of cocoa, the more beneficial ingredients and cramp relief you’ll get.
You’ll also want to set some personal limits on how much chocolate you eat before your period. While it can definitely help give you a much-needed boost and reduce the cramps you feel, it doesn’t replace eating healthfully and practicing good self-care.
What Else Can I Do for Cramps?
If you’re one of the many people who suffer from cramps before and during your period, you’ve got options that can help you feel better and reduce your pain.
Regular workouts before your period can help reduce your cramps, improve your mood, and help you feel better.
Added Bonus: a great sweat sesh can help reduce bloating, which may give you even more cramp relief.
Loading up on fruits and vegetables when you feel crampy can help you get relief. Fruits and veggies like bananas, spinach, pineapples, and kiwi all contain potassium and magnesium, which can help you kick your cramps and feel better. Leafy greens also contain calcium which can improve your cramps.
Heating patches can help give you long-lasting relief from cramps that just don’t seem to stop. Rael’s heating patches contain natural, plant-based ingredients that combine to help deliver the right amount of warmth just where you need it.
Our patches fit conveniently inside your underwear to keep you comfortable and avoid sticky, irritating adhesives touching your skin. Heating patches deliver heat that helps stimulate blood flow and improve circulation to help you get fast relief that lasts for hours.
Even though your monthly cycle is amazing, cramps can make you feel less than stellar. It’s okay. No matter what your period throws your way, you can handle it with great products from Rael.
At Rael, we’re changing the narrative around periods. Our products are natural, holistic, and designed to help you feel empowered by your period. Every woman deserves amazing period care and relief from cramps when they get them.
Got cramps? It’s not even a problem. Grab your dark chocolate and a Rael heating patch, and have an amazing, cramp-free day.
Menstrual cycle hormones, food intake, and cravings | Wiley Library
Reproductive and Sexual Health | Womens Health Matters.ca
Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind, randomized clinical trial | NCBI
Mood, food, and obesity | NCBI