why-you-have-period-food-cravings

Why you have Period Food Cravings

September 21, 2023
Clinically reviewed by Dr. Mary Oleksowicz

Essential Takeaways

  • Recent research highlights a connection between the menstrual cycle and changes in brain insulin sensitivity, potentially explaining heightened food cravings during specific menstrual phases.
  • The study reveals that insulin sensitivity in the brain is higher during the follicular phase (beginning with menstruation) and decreases during the luteal phase (post-ovulation), suggesting a shift towards insulin resistance.
  • Although the study offers promising insights, larger-scale research is necessary to confirm these findings and explore the intricate mechanisms that govern hunger and food cravings during menstruation.

Decoding Period Food Cravings: Unraveling the Role of Insulin Sensitivity

Period cravings are no joke, especially when that insatiable desire for carbs and sweets hits. The science behind these cravings has remained somewhat elusive, leaving many women wondering why they suddenly yearn for certain foods during their menstrual cycle. However, recent research, as reported in a study published in Nature Metabolism, has uncovered a fascinating link between insulin sensitivity in the brain and menstrual cravings. While the study did not directly investigate food cravings, it provides intriguing insights into why appetite might skyrocket during certain phases of the menstrual cycle.

Insulin Sensitivity and the Brain: A New Connection

Insulin, a hormone responsible for regulating glucose levels, metabolism, and food intake, plays a crucial role in our bodies. It's primarily produced in the pancreas but can cross the blood-brain barrier, allowing it to influence various brain regions that govern bodily processes. Previous research had already highlighted insulin's role in suppressing glucose production and stimulating glucose uptake in muscle tissue. However, this connection had only been explored in young men until now.

The Challenge of Menstrual Cycle Hormone Fluctuations:

Studying insulin changes in individuals who menstruate proved challenging due to the fluctuation of sex hormones across the menstrual cycle. However, this research sought to address this gap by recruiting 11 women with regular menstrual cycles. These participants underwent two phases of the menstrual cycle for study: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.

The follicular phase, which begins with menstruation and ends at ovulation, exhibited higher insulin sensitivity in the brain. However, this sensitivity waned as women transitioned into the luteal phase, marked by egg travel to the uterus after ovulation.

Good To Know

Implications of Brain Insulin Resistance: The study's findings hint at a potential link between insulin resistance in the brain and difficulties in regulating energy production for the rest of the body. It's also plausible that this resistance might interfere with insulin's ability to control appetite. Past studies on conditions like obesity and diabetes have correlated heightened insulin and increased insulin sensitivity with feelings of fullness and reduced appetite. Conversely, insulin resistance is associated with heightened food cravings.

While the study didn't directly measure food intake, it provides a plausible explanation for the increase in food cravings experienced during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle.

Further Insight through Neuroimaging:

A second experiment used neuroimaging to delve deeper into brain activity during the menstrual cycle. This part of the study involved 15 women and revealed a similar pattern of insulin sensitivity, particularly in the hypothalamus, a key brain area that regulates food intake and metabolism.

Challenges and Future Research:

It's worth noting that the study's small sample size poses limitations, potentially impacting the results. Nonetheless, the changes in brain insulin sensitivity observed within each participant were significant, indicating the need for larger-scale studies in the future. These larger trials should also consider other factors that could influence energy metabolism, including obesity, birth control usage, or endocrine diseases like polycystic ovary syndrome, which is linked to insulin resistance.

The Promise of Future Research:

This research offers a potential neural mechanism that may explain period cravings, involving hypothalamic circuits responsible for energy metabolism and motivation. These circuits could intertwine with those governing food-seeking behavior, shedding light on changes that have previously eluded scientific explanation.

The connection between the menstrual cycle and brain-promoted food cravings is a complex one, likely influenced by various variables and processes. While the release of the pleasure-inducing hormone dopamine has long been associated with cravings, this study suggests that menstrual cycle-related changes may have a more significant impact than previously thought. Further research is necessary to unlock the intricate mechanisms behind hunger and food cravings during menstruation.

Conclusion

The study's revelations on insulin sensitivity in the brain and its correlation with the menstrual cycle provide a valuable glimpse into the science behind period food cravings. While more extensive research is needed to confirm these findings and explore potential links to food cravings, this study represents a significant step forward in understanding why many women experience heightened appetite during certain menstrual phases. The menstrual cycle's intricate interplay with brain activity and insulin sensitivity continues to be a subject of fascination for researchers, promising deeper insights into the complexities of appetite regulation.