Chocolate - Friend or Foe?
Chocolate gets a lot of bad press as a headache trigger. Is it really as bad as it’s made out to be? Actually, it's not.
A 1995 study found that 22% of chronic headache sufferers reported chocolate to be headache trigger. In an interview, one of the researchers, Dr. Lisa Scharff, indicated that many of the women who responded positively on a trigger questionnaire to chocolate did so because they had heard about other people getting headaches from chocolate, or discovered that their personal experience with chocolate as a headache trigger occurred premenstrually, casting some doubt on whether the chocolate was the actual trigger.
Dr. Scharff, Dr. Dawn Marcus, and others studied sixty women with chronic headache in 1997. The women were asked to follow a restricted diet, and were then tested with four candy bars, two of which were chocolate, and two of which were carob. All four bars were flavored with mint to prevent identification. Even the women who believed their headaches were triggered by chocolate did not develop headaches, regardless of whether they had eaten the carob or the chocolate.
Wöber and colleagues at the Medical University of Vienna recently reported similar findings—that headache sufferers theoretical understanding of headache triggers differed from their actual experience.
Chocolate has been blamed as a migraine trigger in the past because it was thought to contain tyramine, but more recent chemical analyses have found it to contain minimal levels of tyramine. It does, however, contain things that are good for you: flavonoids and stearic acid. The stearic acid is part of the fat in chocolate, and most of the studies done to date suggest that it is “cholesterol-neutral.” In other words, it doesn’t affect your cholesterol in a negative way. And the flavonoids act as anti-oxidants, and may have anti-platelet (anti-clotting) effects.
Studies of cocoa and dark chocolate found evidence that chemicals in cocoa reduced inflammation, and that chemicals in chocolate lowered blood pressure, increased HDL (good cholesterol), lowered LDL (bad cholesterol), prevented platelets from clumping together (like aspirin does, only not as strongly as aspirin does), improved endothelial function (the inside of blood vessels), and improved insulin sensitivity.
Dark chocolate has five times the amount of flavonoids of blueberries. Finally, chocolate is high in magnesium. And there is some evidence that chocolate results in a release of serotonin and endorphins.
I'd say chocolate is your friend. Unless, of course, it really is one of your migraine triggers. It is for some people.