Some women have found themselves keeping up with their menstrual cycle with candy bars instead of calendars. But according to pharmacist Marla Ahlgrimm, monthly cravings might actually be good for you. When you crave something, your body is telling you what it needs. Just make sure that when you eat what you want, you do it in moderation.
Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is not a medical doctor; she is a licensed pharmacist and entrepreneur. Her research into PMS as a bona fide medical issue has made headlines nationwide. One aspect of her research delves into food cravings and the monthly menstrual cycle. Food cravings, according to Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm, are more about a women’s body telling her what it needs than her brain expressing what it wants. Women often deprive themselves of foods they have been told their entire lives are off-limits, like chocolate. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm says that it’s perfectly acceptable to eat the foods you want, but in limited quantities.
According to Marla Ahlgrimm, women crave chocolate and fatty foods before their periods because serotonin in the brain dips after ovulation, which produces low energy levels and mood, swings. A vital brain chemical, serotonin helps to stabilize the mood, says Marla Ahlgrimm. Sugary foods increase levels of serotonin. Ahlgrimm points out that the inner urge to eat sugary foods is the body’s way of compensating for the dip in serotonin levels. In addition to the premenstrual serotonin dip, the body’s endorphin levels also plummet. Marla Ahlgrimm points out that endorphins are also associated with higher energy levels and lifted spirits. At ovulation there is a surge of endorphins that lasts about two days, and for about 14 days afterwards your body is trying to replenish the endorphin levels that were lost. Chocolate is the perfect combination of fat and sugar to increase both serotonin and endorphin levels, says Marla Ahlgrimm.
Pharmacist Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm does not have a degree in medicine but has been helping women deal with PMS for three decades. She points out that while there are many negative effects of PMS, fighting food cravings does not have to be one of them. Women with PMS usually crave chocolate and it seems there’s good reason. There is a time during the menstrual cycle that the endorphin levels drop. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm says that chocolate contains just the right amount of sugar to help the body stabilize endorphin levels. The point is, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm; the body knows what it needs.
In generations past, food cravings were looked upon as something to fight. For women with PMS, hearing that the occasional piece of chocolate is not forbidden seems contradictory to what has been the advice of physicians for years, acknowledges Marla Ahlgrimm. However, there is a marked difference in craving chocolate and just wanting sugar in general, points out Ahlgrimm. Women who just have sugar cravings need to graze on foods throughout the day rather than eat large meals. She continues, “When a woman says clearly, ‘I want chocolate’, we may be looking at someone who, in fact, needs more magnesium in their diet.” The relationship between endocrine glands, neurotransmitters like serotonin, and hormones has not been explored in its entirety. Marla Ahlgrimm agrees that the relationship is deserving of more respect, as well as attention, by the medical community.
Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is a Wisconsin pharmacist and author; she is not a medical doctor, although for her expertise in women’s health she is often referred to as “doctor” by patients and in the press. In the late 1970s, she personally witnessed how many women were viewed as over-emotional when they presented with PMS symptoms. Most medical professionals of that era thought PMS was psychosomatic. They were wrong. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm noticed a pattern with many women presenting the same symptoms. One common occurrence with PMS patients, she says, was food cravings, states Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm. She taught patients that food cravings should not be fought, but instead embraced as the body’s way of knowing what it needs.
According to Marla Ahlgrimm, research studies have shown that a “dose response” may also be beneficial when dealing with food cravings. She points out that a small amount of candy may be just as satisfactory as an entire bag of chocolates. Citing that a “dose” of potato chips has a manageable amount of calories and fat – 150 cal/9 g of fat, Ahlgrimm points out that a small amount of calories and fat isn‘t going to deeply impact a diet. However, sitting sedentary in front of the television or on the computer with a bag of chips or candy, says Marla Ahlgrimm, is a dangerous habit.
While Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is not a PhD, her extensive background in pharmaceuticals often encourages patients to refer to her as “doctor.” At one point she was considered radical among her peers for her honest belief that patients presenting with recurring symptoms prior to their periods were not crazy. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, she broke away from a job at a pharmacy because management was not concerned with women with PMS. Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm says that PMS is real, and one way to help alleviate symptoms is to eat small, frequent meals to manage food cravings. This, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm, levels blood sugar and helps to manage many PMS symptoms.
Marla Ahlgrimm holds the belief that women have cravings for specific reasons, and their bodies may be telling them what they need. Ahlgrimm doesn‘t try to discourage her patients if they have the willpower to only consume small amounts of chocolate. She does point out, however, that other foods, such as complex carbohydrates, will produce a similar effect on the brain as chocolate. Generally speaking, says Marla Ahlgrimm, a woman with PMS should avoid large amount of chocolate or sweets. On days when craving seems especially strong, eating six small meals will keep energy, as well as blood sugar levels, stabilized. Marla Ahlgrimm encourages patients to be lenient on themselves when dealing with extra strong cravings for chocolate. Getting back on track with a healthy PMS diet of high-carb, low-fat meals will make a woman feel better than any other form of calorie-cutting, concludes Marla Ahlgrimm.
Not a medical doctor, Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm is a licensed pharmacist, entrepreneur and women’s healthcare advocate. Thirty years ago, before PMS was a household word, she saw the importance of helping women manage the condition. She insists that craving certain foods during the premenstrual phase is very common. One common theme among women with PMS, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm, is craving for chocolate. The cravings can be strong and she encourages women that it’s okay to give into the cravings but only in moderation. Overindulging does no one any favors, but portion controlled amounts of chocolate may be beneficial to the mind and body, says Dr. Marla Ahlgrimm.