squares of dark chocolate

Q. My wife loves chocolate, but she read that it can trigger headaches. Now she won’t eat it, even on special occasions. I used to buy her great chocolate for Valentine’s day and her birthday and she really enjoyed it.

I never remember her getting a headache right after eating chocolate, but she does occasionally suffer from migraines. Can you tell me why chocolate is a problem?

A. Chocolate has long been blamed for triggering headaches because it is high in tyramine. This substance is thought to release serotonin and make blood vessels contract and expand. But a double-blind study years ago at the University of Pittsburgh finds that many headache sufferers may not be susceptible to chocolate (Cephalalgia, Dec. 1997).

In a carefully designed study, 63 female headache sufferers were given either carob or chocolate bars (mint flavored to cover the obvious difference). There was no significant association of headaches with chocolate bar consumption.

Your wife might wish to perform her own experiment to see if she really is sensitive to chocolate. She may be depriving herself needlessly. And since cocoa flavonoids have health benefits, that would be a double shame. She might also be interested in our Guide to Headaches & Migraines, for more information about triggers and treatments.

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  1. saul

    Regarding chocolate and migraines, I had them too. I now eat the white chocolate made from fat, with out the migraines.

  2. R E S

    What about eating chocolate (I love it)….if you are a Type 2 Diabetic?
    Is it possible for a Type 2 Diabetic to enjoy a Hershey Bar???

  3. kaf

    I get headaches from chocolate too. Not right away, but if I have more than an ounce, 24 hours later, I will have a migraine. I have eaten lots of chocolate in my past, especially as a young adult. Alas, just a bit now and then is all I can do, and no, it is not the sugar that gives me a problem.

  4. MJW

    Might sugar be the villain?

  5. Soozi

    Why don’t you just give her flowers, or a lovely walk in the park, or do some chores around the house for her, or take her to a ballet, or… ?
    There are so many other things way better than a simple gift of chocolate. I wish all the men in my life knew how much I would prefer other things to chocolate. Even when I tell them that, they just don’t seem to hear me. Yes, it can be a delightful little treat once in awhile, and I’m Swiss… so we just love chocolate in my family, but honestly, almost ANYTHING is better than chocolate as a loving gift.
    The gifts I like best are those that make me feel better in the long run. A great hike on the hilly coast or in a forrest along a stream with loved ones… that’s way better than chocolate.
    Just saying, some alternatives might be good to consider in this woman’s opinion.

  6. Maria

    We can’t eat dark chocolate at my house for the same reason — it triggers headaches in the family. We don’t have a problem with regular chocolate, but dark chocolate is a definite trigger, which is too bad because it’s the dark chocolate that’s considered healthy.

  7. DS

    I too get migraines from eating chocolate. I was suffering from headaches for many years and had no idea of the cause. A few years ago, when the publicity of health benefits for cocoa/chocolate become well advertised I bought some cocoa to mix with milk. I began having migraines on a regular basis and looked into my diet to see what was different. I did go back and forth with consuming chocolate and determined it caused my migraines. No more headaches now but also no chocolate.

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