squares of dark chocolate, improve your health with chocolate

Migraines are horrible headaches, so it is no wonder that people who suffer from recurrent migraines will go to great lengths to avoid one. Chocolate has a reputation for triggering migraines; is it deserved? That is what this reader wonders.

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?

Chocolate as a Migraine Trigger?

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.

There are some indications of an association between migraine headaches and either chocolate or cheese, both of which are rich in tyramine. One study found that about 16 percent of migraine sufferers reported a connection with these foods and their subsequent headaches (Headache, June 1995). In another study, about one-third of the patients questioned reported reacting to foods, particularly cheese or chocolate (Panminerva Medica, Mar. 2002).

Other researchers have found that women who experience migraines tend to avoid chocolate, ice cream, hot dogs and processed meats (Cephalalgia, Aug. 2015). It is not clear whether they do so because they believe, like your wife, that this is prudent or because they have found that this helps reduce the number of headaches they suffer.

Double-Blind Study Cast Doubt on Chocolate:

A double-blind study years ago at the University of Pittsburgh found 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 taste 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 flavanols 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. Caitlin

    Cocoa processed with alkali absolutely, 100% triggers migraines for me. This is some candies, all chocolate milks or hot cocoas, chocolate ice cream, chocolate syrups. I can eat ANY chocolate that is not process with alkali just fine. Anything with chocolate I just read the lables. And yes I have tested this 3 times. It is an absolute for my case.

  2. David

    I can eat a small amount of chocolate but more than an ounce or so gives me a normal-like headache. It is the same headache I get whenever I ingest even small amounts of caffeine. Even a cup of decaf can give me a headache…or a cup of hot chocolate, too.
    –No caffeine for me…

  3. JohnB

    I don’t seem to like chocolate flavour in things although coffee and tea and diet cola or pepsi I do. I dont drink pop for the most part because I know it isnt the healthiest of the 3 although I do consume tea and coffee I have doubts about espresso for a silly reason

  4. Linda

    I eat sugar-free chocolate candy that i get from the Amish Farmers Market and i do not have any problems with migraines anymore. I would usually have a migraine headache for 2 or 3 days.I have not had a bad migraine now for about 3 months.

  5. Ron

    I also began having migraines every week years ago when I began eating dark chocolate several times a week. Prior to that, I had a migraine maybe once or twice a year.

    I figured out a way to continue eating some chocolate however. I finally realized after some researching that it was tyramine in the chocolate. I was also eating honey everyday which also has tyramine. You just have to work it so you don’t too many “tyramine foods” in one day. Red meat, cheese, and blueberries are also tyramine rich. Once you catch on it’s not too hard, it just takes some discipline. I can have a tyramine food everyday, but not too many.

  6. Rosemarie
    Appleton, wi

    To avoid migraines, try taking magnesium, about 250 to 400 mg. This has eliminated all my migraines. Feverfew also works but has the side effect of thinning the blood, (a concern if you need surgery).

  7. Diane
    Washington state

    I am able to eat SOME chocolate and I think it has to do with other ingredients within, or perhaps how it is processed. And some chocolate will always cause an aura-about 24 hours later.
    It does pay to try and connect the dots between headaches and foods, perfumes, medications, heat and cold and in my case barometric pressure.

  8. Spock

    After being diagnosed with a number of food sensitivities, I also believed that chocolate was the source migraines. But, after receiving a gift of expensive chocolate, I ate a great deal of it over several hours. Surprisingly, no sign of headache followed. The ingredient list was very short: chocolate, sugar, butter, vanilla. Then I read ingredients for a popular chocolate/cream cookie, that always gave me migraines. The main ingredient: Cocoa processed with Alkali. I’m convinced that avoiding that ingredient is critical for me. And it’s in most cocoa drink mixes, choc cookies/candy. READ THE INGREDIENTS. I eat pure chocolate and never eat cocoa-processed-with-alkali products. Totally avoid migraines “from chocolate” following that plan. Be awarded excess sugar can cause severe headaches too.

  9. Carla M
    Sarasota FL

    Chocolate was giving me hives! Chocolate is my favorite food!

    I was also getting palpitations after drinking decaf teas–including spice tea–it was impossible to get to sleep because of it–and awoke with severe leg cramps and electric shock sensations in my leg muscles.

    I researched all this and found that I have Histamine Intolerance–Google this for more information–probably because of some strong antibiotics that I recently had to take.

    After educating myself, I find that I can eat higher histamine–usually aged–foods that I love (red wine, cheese, chocolate, cinnamon, strawberries, etc) by ridding my diet of high histamine foods I don’t love (homemade sauerkraut, all black and green tea) and adding Quercetin with Bromelein, Magnesium supplementation, improving my hydration and drinking Nettle Tea instead. These are all anti-histamine interventions–I’ve not had a problem since implementing these steps.

    The anti-histamine chef site was particularly helpful to me.

    Hope you can cover this diagnosis in a future program. It think it would be the missing piece for a lot of people who have weird symptoms they can’t identify the source of.
    Hope this helps someone else.

  10. Carolyn

    Chocolate definitely causes migraines for me. Even just a little causes some sort of a headache. I finally gave up chocolate all together, and I have felt better than I have in a long time. It’s not sugar. It’s not caffeine. It’s chocolate! Sad!

  11. Jane

    I had to give up all theobromine containing products (chocolate/caffeine/decaf) because even a little caused my heart to pound and race for hours afterward!

  12. saul

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

  13. 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???

  14. 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.

  15. MJW

    Might sugar be the villain?

    • Jane
      Salem, Oregon

      I used to get migraines when I ate even a small amount of chocolate, but always a couple of days later. I assume that was a “withdrawal” headache? Coffee affected me similarly. Since menopause I no longer have migraines at all (although rarely I have a few minutes of visual aura). I eat chocolate now, but only occasionally. I drink coffee daily and love it.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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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