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.