Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Neck FAQ

Question:

Have you ever heard of chocolate triggering headaches? My husband is sure he has a chocolate-loving brain tumor causing his headaches. I think I've heard there's something in chocolate that can give some people headaches. Should he see a doctor?

Answer:

Many people suffer from headaches triggered by various food substances. Sometimes the reaction is a delayed food intolerance with a variety of symptoms including headache, joint pain, fatigue, skin rashes, acne, and so on. In other cases, a full-blown migraine can begin. Some detail is known about how and why these triggers bring on a migraine. For example, phenylethylamine in chocolate causes the release of neurotransmitters in the bloodstream that open up blood vessels in the brain (vasodilation). Too much vasodilation puts stretch and tension on the pain receptors of the blood vessels. The result is a vascular migraine. In some people, caffeine in the chocolate is the trigger. Headaches can certainly be caused by other health problems such as tumors, infection, atherosclerosis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, and so on. A medical evaluation is always a good idea to establish the cause of any kind of chronic headache pain. Determining food-related headaches is as simple as keeping a food diary. It may take several months (even several years) to track foods that trigger migraines. That's because the reaction can be delayed by hours to several days -- AND the triggers can change over time. Sometimes it takes a while before the person has been exposed enough times to the substance before the body loses its tolerance and a new food becomes an offending trigger. Once the list is completed, limiting (even gradually eliminating) the suspected foods and beverages is the next step. For those who lack the willpower to do this, there is another option: vitamins and other supplements. Research shows that certain supplements can help prevent (or treat) migraines. Magnesium, Petadolex (Butterbur), Feverfew, CoQ10, vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and alpha lipoic acid head the list of potentially beneficial substances. Nutritional counseling with a specialist is advised when choosing the right supplement and determining the correct dosage. More study is needed but valerian root and ginger may also have beneficial effects. Christina Sun-Edelstein, ME, and Alexander Mauskop, MD. Foods and Supplements in the Management of Migraine Headaches. In The Clinical Journal of Pain. June 2009. Vol. 25. No. 5. Pp. 446-452.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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