Cocoa May be Beneficial for Migraines


A new animal study presented at the International Headache Society’s 14th International Congress provided evidence that Theobroma cacao may be an appropriate dietary supplement for those suffering with migraine headaches. The ingredient is thought to repress inflammatory responses in the brain that are associated with pain.

Approximately 30 million Americans suffer with migraine headaches. A migraine is a severe, painful headache that can last for hours or even days. During the headache, the temporal artery enlarges, producing a release of chemicals that cause inflammation and pain.

Theobroma cacoa is the botanical name for the cocoa plant, and it has long been used in folk medicine as an antiseptic and diuretic. The seeds are used to make chocolate – which is often indicted as a trigger food for migraine headaches because of its caffeine and tyramine content, ingredients thought to restrict blood flow.

Pure cocoa alone has been shown in some studies to have other positive effects on health, including improving hypertension and glucose metabolism. Cocoa also contains phenylethylamine, which has anti-depressant properties and can cause the brain to release chemicals that fight pain.


Dietary intervention is one of the methods of treatment for migraine headaches, as some foods are thought to be trigger foods for attacks. The foods thought to exacerbate symptoms are cheese, chocolate, citrus fruits, meats with high nitrate content (ie: hot dogs), MSG, aspartame, and alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, avoiding these trigger foods does not always prevent migraine headaches from occurring.

According to WebMD, food triggers often act in combination with other factors such as stress and hormonal changes. The amount of food eaten that can trigger an attack is also a consideration. Small amounts may not cause a migraine, but eating large quantities can induce symptoms.

Another natural treatment for migraine headaches is exercise. A study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain, researchers found that the frequency of headaches decreased with a regular aerobic exercise program. Headache intensity and amount of medications taken also decreased. Exercise reduces stress, which is often a factor in migraine headaches.

Medical experts will not likely soon promote eating chocolate as a method to reduce the pain of headaches, as most chocolate products are low in actual cocoa and the processing of cocoa into chocolate reduces its beneficial phytochemical properties. However, there are currently manufacturers of cocoa extract dietary supplements, which are often not regulated and may not be as beneficial to health.

Sources: Medical News Today and WebMD.


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