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Pregnancy cravings: the science behind it

Oh pregnancy cravings, how you meddle. Cravings are all but a guarantee for most pregnant women, and have been since the days of the Cave-moms, but just because we know that they exist doesn’t mean researchers are any closer to determining what exactly causes cravings, though there are a few possible explanations.

Possible explanations for cravings

  • Nutrient deficiencies: Some scientists believe women may develop a craving for a food that is high in a certain nutrient if they themselves have a deficiency. For instance, a woman who needs more protein in her diet may get quite the hankering for red meat. Although this theory makes sense, it has not been proven.
  • Change in brain activity: It’s known that a pregnant woman may often notice a heightened sense of smell or metallic taste in her mouth, and some scientists believe that changes in brain activity that cause the other taste-interferences may also result in cravings.
  • Leptin resistance: Pregnant women are resistant to leptin, a hormone that helps control appetite, so women are naturally more hungry and prone to cravings when they are pregnant.
  • Less scientific versions: Many cultures have believed in different explanations for cravings throughout history, but many of these involve spirits, deities, and other not-so-scientific explanations, and are difficult/impossible to prove.

The bottom line

Though we may never know exactly what causes pregnancy cravings, scientists will surely continue to explore, if only to engineer all cravings to be for broccoli and quinoa. The one thing we can be sure about is that cravings are real - very real.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. "What are the symptoms of anemia during pregnancy?." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12/24/2014. Web.
  • Anna Graves. "The Mystery of Pregnancy Cravings." Boston University, July 2010. Web. Accessed 12/6/17. Available at 
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