This article originally appeared in the health section of the San Francisco Chronicle on October 10, 2012.
Myth: Women’s craving for chocolate is related to their menstrual cycle.
Fact: Many women would like to credit “that time of the month” for their insatiable desire to eat brownies, but University of Pennsylvania researchers say they may need to come up with another excuse. Chocolate cravings in women who had reached menopause were nearly as common as they were in menstruating women – and they were even common in men.
Chocolate is reported to be the most craved food in the United States, and 90 percent of women and 60 percent of men say they’ve craved it at some point, according to another study out of Cornell University in 2006.
But back to the 2009 study at Penn, where researchers theorized that if chocolate cravings were linked to the menstrual cycle, the cravings would significantly decrease after women reached menopause. Cravings decreased some, but not nearly as much as the researchers thought they would.
They surveyed 280 women aged 45-80, about one-third of whom were still menstruating. Of those who were past menopause, 77 percent reported craving chocolate compared with 90 percent of women who were menstruating.
About half of the premenopausal women told researchers that they thought their chocolate cravings were tied to the onset of their monthly periods, but fewer than 10 percent of the postmenopausal women said they thought those cravings had ever been linked to menstruation.
So, what are some other explanations for chocolate cravings?
Besides the fact that most people think it tastes good, studies indicate that chocolate – particularly dark chocolate – boosts serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. Endorphins, which are also released during exercise and sex, can decrease pain and elevate a person’s mood. Serotonin promotes relaxation and also has mood-brightening effects – it’s found in many antidepressants.