you're reading...
Biology, Psychology, Uncategorized

Dark chocolate, caffeine, and migraines

I don’t like dark chocolate and I don’t really suffer from migraines. But, I have heard enough people make the connection between chocolate and migraines and caffeine and migraines that I decided to do some investigation.

What intrigued me from the start is that a number of headache medications use caffeine as an active ingredient. It is not unheard of for something to be a trigger in some people and a treatment in others but what does caffeine do and how does that relate to migraines?

Apparently, caffeine increases the effectiveness of many common pain relievers by up to 40%. The reason caffeine is added to medications then is to reduce the amount of medication an individual has to take. This reduces the chance of habitual or addictive use. It also reduces the likelihood of side effects. (Cleveland Clinic).

At the same time, there are indications that excessive caffeine, or caffeine withdrawal can both lead to migraines. High caffeine consumption is moderately linked to the likelihood of daily headaches of all kinds in adults (Scher, Stewart, & Lipton, 2004) and children (Hering-Hanit & Gadoth, 2003).

So don’t drink too much caffeine, but it can be an effective treatment in small doses, with other pain killers. What about dark chocolate?

People will swear that chocolate, and particularly dark chocolate, can be blamed for at least some migraines, but the research is quite controversial. Marcus, Scharff, Turk, and Gourley (1997) tried to replicate a study that found a significant difference in the ability of chocolate and carob to trigger migraines. They found that there was no statistical difference between the two substances. Kelishadi (2010) also reported mixed findings regarding cocoa and headaches, highlighting the possible placebo effect – where something that is inactive has an effect because the person expects it to – as a potential cause.

Of course, there is some caffeine in dark chocolate, but it is generally less than a cup of coffee. So, as long as you are not spending your day consuming dark chocolate and other caffeinated products there should not be a biological link. Of course, psychology is powerful so if you believe there is a link there may be one, for you.

Hering-Hanit, R. & Gadoth, N. (2003). Caffeine-induced headache in children and adolescents. Cephalalgia, 23(5): 332-335.

Kelishadi, R. (2010) Cacao to cocoa to chocolate: Healthy food? ARYA Atherosclerosis, 1(1): 28-34.

Marcus, D., Scharff, L., Turk, D., & Gourley, L. (1997) A double-blind provocative study of chocolate as a trigger of headache. Cephalalgia, 17(8): 855-862.

Scher, A., Stewart, W., & Lipton, R. (2004). Caffeine as a risk factor for chronic daily headache: A population-based study. Neurology, 63(11): 2022-2027.

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


6 thoughts on “Dark chocolate, caffeine, and migraines

  1. Interesting. I have heard that there is a link between wheat and migraines. But dark chocolate not so much!


    Posted by thehomemakerslife | December 15, 2015, 4:51 pm
  2. Thank goodness for someone out there in the world (AKA YOU!) who thinks rationally. People really don’t think to look at caffeine charts when talking about the amount of caffeine products have. Most charts I’ve seen show that BREWED COFFEE has the most caffeine.

    Coffee & Tea comparison (for caffeine): http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372

    Soda, Energy drinks, Meds & Chocolate comparison (for caffeine): http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20049372?pg=2

    In the above comparison chart with chocolate … the dark chocolate chips is measured in ONE CUP! Who in their right mind, is going to go, “Yum, I think I’ll eat a WHOLE cup of chocolate chips!” Nobody! They need to rethink the portions in this comparison.


    Posted by elizabetcetera | December 15, 2015, 8:06 pm
    • Thanks for the comment and the links. I definitely notice the difference in caffeine. Caffeine and I don’t really get along and I can eat chocolate for the most part but any of the drinks are definitely off limits from my experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      Posted by Peyto | December 16, 2015, 8:29 am
      • Don’t forget that some of the drinks (or food) also contain OTHER chemicals that can also enhance the negative effects of caffeine, or just have crappy side effects themselves.

        Just like people are also blaming “those tannins” for their problems with red wine when it’s actually a more complex issue that that!


        Posted by elizabetcetera | December 16, 2015, 8:52 am
  3. Interesting post! I love dark chocolate and need my coffee in the morning, but luckily I had only twice a migraine.



    Posted by afortnightaway | March 12, 2016, 2:53 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,073 other subscribers

Follow me on Twitter


%d bloggers like this: