It’s no secret that I crave chocolate a couple of days before I start bleeding each moon, and while I have zero complaints, the question on my mind is, does it really help to reduce period cramps, or are we all just kidding ourselves?
So many women are plagued with period cramps and pain every time they bleed. Generally, I try to avoid taking drugs and will only resort to things like aspirin and paracetamol if the pain becomes unbearable. But imagine if you’re regularly popping pills every month to alleviate period pain. Think about how many pills that equates to each month, year, and over your lifetime. That can’t be good for us, so I’ve been exploring natural remedies to help with my period cramps.
Why do we get period cramps?
Before we explore whether chocolate does help with period cramps or not, let’s talk about where this pain comes from. Before we bleed, the walls of our uterus contract to help the lining shed, which forms your period. Sometimes these contractions are mild, but other times they can be really intense. The effect of period cramps can be increased by several other factors, including stress, hormone imbalances, heavy periods, and poor diet.
But I believe the number one reason we suffer from physical (and emotional) pain when we bleed is that so many of us are disconnected from our bodies and our sacred cycle.
We’ve learned to link periods with shame, trauma, and burden. We have been taught that our period is something to dread and tolerate each moon rather than celebrate. And if we don’t shed those beliefs and form positive new ones, we pass that shame on to our daughters, and the toxic cycle continues.
Does chocolate really help with period cramps?
Yes! Our bodies are powerful. Cravings are usually just our bodies way of telling us it needs something. When we crave chocolate, it’s because cacao is a powerful plant medicine that can work wonders for our bodies during the bleeding phase of our menstrual cycle.
I’m not big on research and science, especially when we’re talking about women’s health, because modern medicine has actually caused (and continues to cause) women a lot of health problems. But some studies show a link between dark chocolate and period cramps.
One study of 50 teenage girls in Indonesia found those who ate up to 40g of dark chocolate (69% cacao) for the first three days of their bleed experienced significantly lower period pain than those who drank 40g of chocolate milk for the same time. Another study of 40 female students had similar findings.
A third study of 90 female students in India found that the group of students who were given 120g of dark chocolate each day for three days during their period had the most significant reduction in period cramps than those given milk chocolate and no chocolate.
Here are the many ways dark chocolate can help women with period cramps and so many other things.
Relieves bloating & inflammation
Dark chocolate helps reduce period cramps because it contains potassium which stops our muscles from retaining water (which leads to that bloated feeling). It’s also rich in polyphenols which are chemical compounds that help lower inflammation in your body.
This sweet treat is packed with other micronutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties, including vitamins B1, D, E & K, calcium, zinc, boron, and iron.
Boosts your brain function
The flavanol compounds in dark chocolate are bursting with antioxidants which increase nitric oxide production in our blood vessels and help dilate them and ease period cramps. Flavanols also help boost your brain function, which can be super helpful during the bleeding phase when your energy is at its lowest.
Again, one of the main reasons our periods cause us a lot of stress is non-physical and below the surface.
Why do so many of us have insane levels of PMS? Because we don’t honor every phase of our cycle, we bury our emotions and soldier on as if everything is okay. But it’s not.
If we have an unhealthy relationship with our cycle, aren’t able to honor each of the four seasons (e.g., slow down when we’re low-energy and speed up when our energy is abundant), and have to fit into society’s 24-hour sun cycle (which mirrors a man’s body), we are going to feel some stress and dis-ease.
Dark chocolate helps with period cramps and can reduce cortisol levels (the stress hormone) and calm us down.
Improves your mood
Another reason why we might crave chocolate around our period because it makes us feel better. Not only is the sweetness and richness comforting, but it also increases the serotonin, endorphin, and dopamine levels in the brain (those are happy hormones) which boosts your mood.
Gives you more energy
Dark chocolate contains a small amount of caffeine and stimulants, including theobromine and tryptophan, which help energize us. During your period, your energy hits rock bottom, so it makes sense that we reach for things like chocolate to fuel us and give us a little bit more get up and go.
However, I encourage you to not push against your body and exert yourself while bleeding. We need rest during this time, so try to create pockets of rest and stillness (as much as your schedule allows) in your day. I track my cycle using an app called Natural Cycles, which means I can predict when I’m due to start bleeding. I block this into my Google calendar so that I know to not schedule any meetings and take more rest on these days.
Soothes your skin
Many women experience extra spots and pimples on their faces in the lead-up to their period each month. Dark chocolate is enriched with minerals that help regenerate cells and heal the skin.
So as long as you eat the right kind of chocolate (more on that later), you don’t need to worry about it giving you spots. It will actually have the opposite effect and make your skin look good!
Dark chocolate is a source of iron, which we lose a lot of when we bleed each month. And if you suffer from heavier periods like me, you’ll lose even more iron. Plus, if you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may have low iron (if you’re not eating the right foods).
Consuming a healthy amount of dark chocolate (in addition to other foods) can boost your iron levels, which improves your blood hemoglobin levels. This is important from a general health point of view and will reduce fatigue.
Prevents aches and pains
Dark chocolate doesn’t just help with period cramps; it also helps alleviate general muscular aches and pains you may experience while bleeding. This is because it’s rich in magnesium, which is known to relax muscles. Hence why you might add a cup of Epsom salt (also known as magnesium sulfate) to your bath ritual.
Does it matter what kind of chocolate I eat to help reduce period cramps?
Yes! The further away you move from natural cacao and the more processed the chocolate is, the fewer health benefits it will have.
White chocolate is mostly sugar and milk, which only increases period cramps and pain. Milk chocolate still contains a certain amount of cacao, but usually between 20-40%. Plus, it’s also loaded with refined sugar, butter, and milk, which can increase bloating and weight gain.
This is why dark chocolate is the one you want to reach for to help with period cramps. Preferably organic with a minimum of 70% cacao. Chocolate like this contains the richest amount of minerals and compounds that will ease discomfort and boost your mood.
Other methods to reduce period cramps
- Embrace your sacred cycle – learn to be grateful for your bleed
- Track your cycle – use a period tracking app to help you get to know and expect it
- Have a cacao ceremony – delve deeper into the magical properties of this plant
- Use a heat pad – try a hot water bottle or one of those fancy wrap-around-the-abdomen ones
- Take a warm bath – add Epsom salt, essential oils, and herbs to calm and soothe
- Try massage therapy with essential oils
- Have an orgasm – read more about period sex here
- Hydrate your body – drink at least 2 liters of water every day
- Eat clean – green veg, fresh fruit, nuts & seeds, whole grains, and limit alcohol, caffeine, & processed foods
- Sip herbal tea – ginger, hibiscus, chamomile, fennel, cinnamon, raspberry leaf, green tea, turmeric tea
- Increase your iron levels – lentils, chickpeas, beans, tofu, cashew nuts, chia seeds, ground linseed, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, kale, dried apricots and figs, raisins, quinoa
- Increase your calcium intake – plant-based milk, leafy greens, fortified orange juice, salmon, and sardines
- Do some gentle exercise – stretching, yoga, walking
- Try acupuncture and acupressure
Heal your relationship with your cycle
I truly believe that looking at, and healing, your relationship with your menstrual cycle is key to reducing the mental, emotional and physical discomfort we feel each month.
It all starts with recognizing that your body is incredible. Your period allows you to create life. Women have been (and continue to be) shamed for this because men fear this power.
I’d love to know if you’ve tried eating dark chocolate (or any other suggestions on this list) to help reduce period cramps. Has it worked for you? And what’s your favorite brand of dark chocolate? Share your story in the comments below!