A headache can be one of life’s great miseries. Those of us who get them infrequently, and whose symptoms are easily chased by a couple of over-the-counter pain relievers, have no idea what our peers who regularly suffer from migraines or sinus headaches go through. Migraine headaches have been described as the worst pain that people can go through, and for those whose symptoms take days to abate, the suffering is intense. So imagine how you would feel if you were one of the approximately one in ten people who go through these painful, throbbing episodes on a regular basis, and during the course of a visit with your physician she oh-so-reluctantly tells you that you might be able to eliminate a lot of your episodes if you cut out chocolate.
What? No!!! Say it ain’t so!
The sad truth is that there are a fair number of studies that indicate that chocolate – or one of several different ingredients found in chocolate – may in fact contribute to headaches, or at the very least make them worse. Two of those ingredients are caffeine and phenylethylamine; both constrict the blood vessels. Another that has been pointed to as a possible culprit is an amino acid called tyramine. But here’s the rub – there are also a good number of studies that have been done that indicate that the relationship between chocolate and headaches is strictly anecdotal; other studies say that it’s not the chocolate itself that caused the headache, but the stress and hormones that made you want to eat the chocolate in the first place that may be to blame. Still other studies (and these are our favorite) have indicated that chocolate can actually help relieve the symptoms of migraine headaches due to the presence of magnesium, riboflavin and a pain-relieving ingredient also found in marijuana.
So what is a chocolate lover who is prone to headaches to do? Although the obvious choice is to favor the studies that have pointed to chocolate as a cure-all rather than a culprit, that may not be the wisest option. The best thing you can do if you think that there is any relationship between your chocolate consumption and the occurrence of your headaches is to start keeping a food diary. Don’t go out of your way to inflict pain on yourself by gorging on Godiva, but if you keep track of what you’re eating and when your headaches occur, you may be able to detect a pattern. And if you do find that chocolate is a trigger for you, you may still be able to partake, but just in smaller quantities.