Chocolate as Migraine trigger - cacao content?

Health Professional

Full Question:

I have had migraines for over 15 years, with headaches, moving in and out of migraine strength, nearly every day for over 10 years. No medications worked, so I went looking for other answers. Four years ago, I found out that milk (casein) kept me in constant headaches while other factors (stress, weather, allergies, triggers) pushed my headaches into migraines. By going milk-free, I went from over 20 migraines per month to about 5 per year. Now I am learning about some of my migraine triggers. Chocolate appears to be a problem, sometimes, but I'm not sure what component of chocolate triggers my headaches.

I purchased two types of chocolate from the same company, semi-sweet chocolate chips (46% cacao) and a dark chocolate bar (72% cacao), each with the same ingredients (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla). The dark chocolate had no ill effects, but only 5 semi-sweet chocolate chips caused a massive headache. Each chocolate is processed the same way with chocolate originating from the same location. The only difference is the cacao content. I have also previously used dark chocolate chips with a 63% cacao content from another company without noticing any headaches.

Could the difference in cacao content trigger my headaches? Could the problem be another ingredient that is lessened by higher cacao content? Do you know of any other reason why I am seeing this difference? Erin.

Full Answer:

Dear Erin;

With some of the trigger foods, we're still not sure exactly what it is about them that triggers Migraines. With chocolate, it could be the cacao content, as you theorize, or it could be another ingredient entirely. If it's not the cacao content, the next most likely ingredient to cause a problem would be a preservative.

Something else you said should be addressed too. You talked about your "headaches" moving in and out of "Migraine strength." Whether an episode is a headache or a Migraine really isn't dependent upon the "strength" or intensity. The intensity of the pain of a Migraine attack can range from mild to severe, and one Migraine can vary from the next. Migraines aren't exactly headaches. Migraine is a genetic neurological disease, and the headache is only one symptoms of the Migraine attack. In fact, a Migraine can occur with no headache at all. For a diagnosis of Migraine, there must be additional symptoms.

Good luck,
John Claude Krusz and Teri Robert

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