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Why Can Chocolate Cause Headaches?

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Multiple research studies have found that a small proportion of patients suffering from migraine, consider chocolate to be a trigger factor for migraine. However, as correlation does not equal causation, it is difficult to establish a direct link between chocolate consumption and migraine.

How to get rid of a chocolate headache?

Headaches can happen due to several causes. In some people, headache arises after chocolate consumption.

The American Migraine Foundation (AMF) thinks that chocolate is the second most migraine trigger after alcohol.

About 22% of chronic migraine patients are affected by chocolate consumption, in the remaining 78% of people – chocolate does not act as a trigger.

As chocolate contains both caffeine and beta-phenylethylamine, heavy intake could trigger headaches. Caffeine withdrawal can occur not only from coffee but also from chocolates as they contain caffeine.

The good news is that you can easily deal with headaches or migraine attacks by following some basic hacks. Some of them are:

  • Use a cold pack – If you have a headache, put a cool pack on your forehead. You can wrap up ice cubes in a towel, use a bag of frozen veggies or even experience a cold shower to get relief from headaches.

Make sure to keep the cold pack on top of your forehead for at least 15 minutes for the best results.

  • Applying a heating pad or hot compression – Tension headaches can be effectively mitigated by placing a hot pad on your neck or at the back of your head. In case of a sinus headache, put a warm cloth on top of the area that hurts.

A mildly warm shower can also help in this regard.

  • Releasing pressure from your head or scalp – A tight headgear or even a tight ponytail can cause headaches. Such headaches are a result of external compression and can be caused by putting on a hat, headband, or goggles that are not cozy.
  • Dimming the lights or turning them off – Exposure to bright lights, fluctuating lights, and blue light from TV, smartphones & computer screens can cause migraine headaches.
  • Limiting the chewing process – Chewing gums can increase the intensity of a headache. The same logic goes for chewing fingernails, lips, or handheld items like pencils & pens.

It is best to stay away from hard or crunchy foods. Taking small bites instead of large ones might help as well.

  • Proper hydration – Drinking 2-3 liters of water a day on average can alleviate headaches. Dehydration can cause and even worsen headaches or migraine attacks.
Woman Drinking water

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Some additional tips to deal with headaches:

  • The right amount of caffeine – Having your favorite morning beverage, be it tea or coffee in a moderate amount can reduce headaches. It can also make over-the-counter headache pills more effective.

However, drinking too much caffeine can cause caffeine withdrawal and result in headaches.

  • Relaxation practice – Free-hand mobility exercises, yoga, meditation, mindfulness training, muscle relaxation, etc. can help ease the pain of a headache. If you’re experiencing muscle spasms, see if your doctor recommends physiotherapy.
  • Increasing blood circulation through massage – Massaging your forehead for a few minutes can work wonders. You can also use handheld massage guns in the afflicted area to make things more convenient by applying gentle pressure.
  • Taking some ginger – Studies have found that taking a little bit of ginger along with common headache medicines and pills brings about relief faster. You can also take ginger in form of a supplement or put some in your tea.
  • Using medicines carefully and moderately – Overusing headache pills and medicines can make the condition more severe. Taking liquids in favor of pills is smarter as it gets absorbed quickly in the blood to produce the desired result.

Can chocolate cause headaches and nausea?

Certain foods can induce or even increase the severity of a headache. These foods might contain some specific ingredient e.g. flavanols, that can initiate vasodilation (widening of blood vessels).

Some studies have found a link between vasodilation and migraines, although the link is still unclear.

Chocolate does contain certain kinds of flavanols, so this could be a reason to avoid heavy consumption of chocolates. Chocolates are considered to be the second most common trigger of migraine headaches after alcohol.

So, doctors all around the world advise migraine patients to avoid it.

Serotonin could be another link between headaches and chocolates. During a migraine attack, the levels of serotonin (a neurotransmitter) increase significantly.

Cocoa content with over 80% mark in chocolates contains the highest serotonin level. So, on paper, it seems that chocolate intake can cause headaches.

On the other hand, nausea can be caused by heavy chocolate intake – as it raises the sugar level in your bloodstream and causes hyperglycemia. This physiological state can make you feel sick.

Another reason could be theobromine. Some people are sensitive to this compound and can feel nauseous if a large amount is ingested.

Can dark chocolate give me a headache?

Even though there is no clear scientific evidence that chocolate causes headaches or migraines, it can be true for certain people. Dark chocolate contains more serotonin and this could make it a more potent headache inducer in some people.

Chocolates have over 600 flavor compounds in them so it is hard to pinpoint exactly which compounds trigger headaches. In dark chocolates, there is another compound called – tyramine.

This compound may also act as a migraine trigger, affecting some people more than others.

A high-fat diet, including fat from chocolate, can also cause severe side effects in migraine patients. Another such compound that is present in dark chocolate and can trigger headaches is – Phenylalanine

Dark chololates

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Another headache-inducing compound is caffeine. Caffeine-sensitive people who suffer from migraines should strictly avoid coffee as well as chocolates.

This is because chocolates also contain caffeine. It is recommended that adults should not consume more than 400mg of caffeine a day.

Some studies have also found that eating small portions of dark chocolates can help reduce migraine pain. This could be due to the high volume of magnesium a.k.a the relaxation mineral.

Maintaining a food log is a great way of keeping track of which kinds of chocolate are triggering headaches more than others. This can potentially help you handle small amounts of chocolate without triggering headaches.

Is milk chocolate good for headaches?

Three variety of chololates

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Contrary to popular belief, white chocolate is not even chocolate as it does not contain cocoa particles. It is mainly made up of cocoa butter, and sugar with a little bit of vanilla extract for flavoring.

So, migraine patients who consider certain compounds like caffeine, theobromine, tyramine, etc. as triggers can have white chocolate instead.

Chocolate and headache relief

Interestingly, the caffeine present in chocolates and coffee is not necessarily bad for headaches. However, if someone has become dependent on caffeine and is facing caffeine withdrawal, he can experience headaches because of this.

In normal cases, caffeine helps relieve headache pain by making blood vessels narrow and minimizing pain signals to the brain.

Additionally, cocoa beans provide the benefit of lowering blood pressure, making chocolate a better caffeine source than coffee as it contains only a quarter of the caffeine that coffee has.

Chocolates also have mood-improving properties, and if taken in small amounts can support the healthy functioning of our biological systems. The average person should not worry about consuming chocolates, as only a minority of migraine patients are affected by chocolate intake.

Does white chocolate cause migraines?

Milk chocolate a.k.a white chocolate contains less than 20% cocoa powder and is mainly made of cocoa butter, sugar, and flavoring compounds. It does have more refined sugar which accounts for the sweeter taste.

So, it also does not contain caffeine – a notorious headache inducer.

People who have experienced dark chocolate as a headache trigger can safely consume white chocolates.

Hypoglycemic headaches, which are caused by low blood sugar levels can even be fixed by consuming white chocolates, as they are high in sugar.

Cadbury chocolate headache

If you are developing headaches, even though you don’t suffer from migraine – it could mean that you have developed food intolerance. For example, if you are getting a headache after eating Cadbury chocolate without having a history of headaches or migraines, you may have cocoa intolerance.

This happens in individuals sensitive to certain food chemicals such as salicylates, amines, and glutamate levels in the body. Chocolates have a high amount of amines.

These people can also be more sensitive to preservatives, food colors, and flavorings. Carefully reading and taking note of such additives on the label could help in the long run.

Foods that cause headaches

Some of the foods apart from chocolates that can trigger headaches are as follows:

  • Alcohol – Red wine, beer, scotch, whisky, etc. can cause headaches in susceptible people.
  • Cheese – Certain kinds of cheese such as cheddar, brie, feta, parmesan, etc., can act as headache inducers.
  • Nuts – Almonds, peanuts (including peanut butter), hazelnuts, etc.
  • Tomato & tomato-based products (including pizza).
  • Organ meats – Such as chicken liver, pate, etc.
  • Beans – broad, pole, pinto, snow peas, lentils, dried beans, and other varieties of beans.
  • Beverages such as coffee, tea, or caffeinated colas.
  • Packaged food products containing MSG (Mono-sodium Glutamate).

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