Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Parenting

Chocolate can trigger migraines; Finds study

  • The Headache Clinic
  • Category Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Parenting

You should think twice before giving that someone special chocolates this Valentine’s day – it may just give them a migraine! And that’s not because they’re not in the mood; a scientific double-blind study shows chocolate can trigger migraines.

The London-based study, published in Cephalalgia, the official journal of the International Headache Society, was conducted on 20 migraine sufferers. Chocolate bars were given to the subjects and bars of carob were used as a placebo. The chocolate bars caused migraine in 8 of the 20 migraine subjects while the carob bars did not induce migraine in a single sufferer.

Dr Elliot Shevel, Medical Director of The Headache Clinic, and South Africa’s internationally recognized Migraine expert and pioneer in the field of Migraine Surgery, says the study clearly shows individuals who are prone to getting migraines should be careful when eating chocolates. 

“The reason for this is chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine which is thought to trigger migraines by affecting the arteries in the scalp which are the source of the pain. Unfortunately phenylethylamine is found in the cocoa bean which is what chocolate is made from,” he says. 

“Carob bars, available from your local health store may drastically improve your chances of getting lucky this Valentine’s Day!” 

What other items can trigger migraines?


Migraine sufferers should try not to drink liquor since this can be a regular trigger of migraines. If you can’t resist, have one glass of champagne or white wine, as it is generally the dark alcoholic beverages that trigger migraines. 


Hay fever headaches are triggered by flowers and cause a dull, deep, throbbing pain. Some of the symptoms of hay fever headaches are pain in one specific area of your face or head (for example, behind your eyes) or the face is tender to the touch. Rather don’t buy your partner flowers if they are prone to getting migraines. 


People who are sensitive to fragrances and/ other odors should bear this in mind when shopping for a Valentine’s Day gift. Seek those that are fragrance free and ask a pharmacist for advice if necessary.

When do I consult with a medical professional about my migraines?

“People should not leave a migraine untreated,” says Dr. Shevel. “It is imperative that you undergo a multidisciplinary investigation to diagnose the specific factors behind the recurring headache. 

“There are a number of healthier treatment options than medication available right here in South Africa. It is possible to get to the bottom of the problem and resolve the pain permanently without medication so that you can enjoy the quality of life you deserve.” He has the guidelines for when it is possible time to consult a medical professional:

• If you are unable to manage your headache on your own.

• If a headache persist or if you frequently get them.

• If in interferes with your day-to-day activities.

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