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A possibility that has not been systematically considered is that the attraction of chocolate in the premenstrual stage reflects an attempt to increase the intake of magnesium. It has been found that the level of plasma (88) and erythrocyte (89, 90) magnesium is lower in those suffering with PMS.
In a double-blind trial, women who suffered with premenstrual problems took either magnesium or a placebo (91). In the second, but not the first, cycle the taking of magnesium was associated with fewer symptoms. Given such evidence, some have suggested that the craving for chocolate is an attempt to self-medicate. Although chocolate is a good source of magnesium, the explanation is not convincing. A 50 g bar of milk chocolate supplies 26 mg of magnesium whereas plain chocolate would offer 50 mg. Those on the trial (91), in contrast, took 360 mg of magnesium, three times a day, for the second half of the menstrual cycle. Even then, the improvement did not occur until the procedure had been followed for two cycles. The much smaller amount of magnesium offered by chocolate, and the time-scale involved, make it improbable that the eating of chocolate reduces craving by supplying magnesium.
It might be argued that chocolate can contribute to the US recommended daily allowance of 280 mg of magnesium for an adult female; indeed, if eaten regularly chocolate may help to prevent a deficiency. However, the evidence of Michener and Rozin (92) was that a capsule of cocoa powder that supplied the same amount of magnesium as milk chocolate lacked the ability to satisfy chocolate craving (see below). There is no evidence that an acute intake of magnesium relieves chocolate craving.
A Psychological or Physiological Reaction?
Only one study has attempted to compare the relative contributions of the psychological and physiological mechanisms that underlie chocolate craving (92). The approach taken was to see which of the various constituents of chocolate satisfy craving. Cocoa butter is the fat that, when removed from chocolate liquor, leaves cocoa powder. The known pharmacological ingredients are all in the cocoa powder. Therefore, if you eat white chocolate made from the cocoa butter you have the fat and sugar intake of chocolate but not the pharmacological constituents. If you consume cocoa powder you take the pharmacological ingredients but not the fat and sugar.
Michener and Rozin (92) studied subjects who reported cravings for chocolate at least once a week. They were given boxes containing one of six treatments:
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