Cramps are an uncomfortable side effect of periods for many people. If you get painful menstrual (period) cramps, then you’ve probably searched for ways to ease them.
Chocolate is often touted as a cure for period cramps. Some claim that its ability to lessen the severity of cramps is the reason that many people crave it during their periods. But some think its benefits are more fiction than fact.
This article reviews whether chocolate can help relieve period cramps and suggests other foods and remedies that may help, too.
For some people, chocolate may very well help relieve period cramps.
A few small studies have found that dark chocolate, in particular, may reduce cramps and associated pain (1, 2, 3).
One study among 50 menstruating teenagers at a boarding school in Indonesia analyzed the effects of dark versus milk chocolate on period cramps (1).
The results found that those who ate up to 40 grams of a 69% dark chocolate bar daily for the first 3 days after menstruation had significantly less menstrual pain compared with those who drank 40 grams of chocolate milk daily for the same amount of time (1).
Another study, conducted among 40 menstruating students at a university in Indonesia, found that dark chocolate significantly reduced menstrual pain (2).
Finally, researchers at a university in India divided 90 students into three groups: those who ate 120 grams of dark chocolate per day for 3 days after menstruation, those who drank 120 grams of milk chocolate per day during this time, and those who drank no chocolate.
The results concluded that the milk chocolate group had mild improvements in menstrual pain, but the dark chocolate group had the best improvement (3).
Still, since these studies were small, we need more research into whether and how dark chocolate helps cramps.
A few small studies have shown that dark chocolate may reduce pain associated with period cramps. It appears to be better at easing pain than milk chocolate.
Certain nutrients in dark chocolate are thought to affect the process that causes cramps.
A period occurs when the uterus sheds its lining. To do this, hormone-like lipids called prostaglandins are released to cause the uterus to contract. These contractions are the cause of painful period cramps (
Magnesium, a mineral found in dark chocolate, is known to help relax muscles and, therefore, may ease uterine contractions and pain. It’s also possible that magnesium can inhibit the production of prostaglandins, which stimulate contractions (
Some studies support this theory and even suggest that lower blood levels of magnesium are associated with more painful periods (7,
Dark chocolate is higher in magnesium than milk chocolate, which may explain why it seems more effective at reducing period pain.
An ounce (28 grams) of 70–85% dark chocolate contains 15% of the daily value (DV) of magnesium, while the same amount of milk chocolate only provides 4% of the DV (
The same amount of dark chocolate also provides 56% of the DV of the mineral copper.
The potential role of copper in reducing period pain is less clear than the role of magnesium. Some researchers speculate that since copper is used by the body to create pain-relieving chemicals known as endorphins, it may help ease menstrual cramps (2).
Dark chocolate may help ease menstrual cramps due to its high magnesium content. Magnesium helps relax muscles and may stop the production of compounds that signal cramps. Copper, another nutrient found in dark chocolate, may also play a role.
In addition to magnesium and copper in dark chocolate, other micronutrients may help with period pain.
Based on a review of 16 clinical studies, vitamins B1, D, E, and K, calcium, zinc, and boron appear to exhibit anti-inflammatory and other properties that help ease painful periods (
For many of these nutrients, only the supplement versions have been assessed. Nevertheless, it likely won’t hurt to eat foods containing them to see if they help your period cramps. Although, avoid any of these foods if you’re allergic or sensitive to them.
Here are some foods that are rich in nutrients that may ease menstrual cramps:
- green leafy vegetables
- whole grains like brown rice and farro
- legumes like black beans and lentils
- nuts and seeds like almonds and sunflower seeds
- yogurt (fortified with vitamin D)
Eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant foods, nutritious fats, and protein will keep you energized during times of period pain.
Staying hydrated and limiting foods that can zap your energy, like refined carbohydrates and alcohol — even if you feel like they give you a quick, short-term boost — can also help.
It’s normal to experience some pain during your period.
However, if you’re experiencing pain that feels excessive, that keeps you from participating in daily activities or responsibilities, or is accompanied by bleeding that’s very heavy and hard to manage, speak with a healthcare professional.
Painful periods — aka dysmenorrhea — can signify underlying health conditions, such as endometriosis. These conditions may improve with treatment or lifestyle changes that a professional can talk you through.
Aside from those found in dark chocolate, many crucial micronutrients have the potential to help ease period cramps. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are often the best sources of these nutrients.
In addition to enjoying some dark chocolate, there are many other remedies that may help relieve period cramps.
- taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil)
- applying a heating pad or warm towel to your abdomen and lower back
- undergoing massage therapy
- sipping on warm beverages, like chamomile, ginger, or turmeric tea
- walking and doing other moderate aerobic activity
- doing light yoga
Other remedies for menstrual cramps include heating pads, over-the-counter medications, light exercise, and massage.
Dark chocolate appears to live up to the hype when it comes to relieving period cramps.
Studies suggest that eating between 40–120 grams of dark chocolate daily during your period may help reduce pain. This is probably because dark chocolate is rich in magnesium, which can relax muscles and ease aches.
If you’re interested in trying this remedy, choose dark chocolate that’s at least 70% cocoa over milk chocolate. For additional foods and remedies for period cramps, check out the other recommendations in this article.
Just one thing
Just one thing: Do you want to try dark chocolate for period cramps but don’t love its bitter taste? Try combining it with dried fruit, unsweetened shredded coconut, or nuts for a healthy snack.
You can even shave a couple of squares of dark chocolate to sprinkle on peanut butter toast.