Chocolate is a derivative of the cacao tree, native to tropical South and Central America. Chocolate contains alkaloids such as theobromine and phenylethylamine. These have been linked to serotonin levels in the brain.
Whether or not chocolate causes headaches is a matter of considerable debate.
Present theories of migraine suggest that the nervous system reacts to headache triggers. These release chemicals that cause blood vessels in the brain to expand and contract, increasing brain blood flow. As the blood vessels expand, other chemical signals send pain messages to the brain, resulting in headache. So, headache sufferers are often told they can reduce headache frequency by limiting their exposure to triggers.
Headache sufferers have identified a wide variety of headache triggers. Stress is the most common trigger (75 percent), with menstruation, odors, sleep irregularities, weather, fasting, and exertion as the next most commonly listed suspects. Certain foods are also known to contain substances that act as triggers. Chocolate is one such food that studies have indicated cause is a trigger in 22 percent of chronic headache sufferers.
Chocolate is reputedly a natural mood lifter, stress reliever and memory enhancer. It is rich in antioxidants polyphenols and flavonoids, and is a good source of folic acid, copper, and magnesium. In reasonable quantities, chocolate is said to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Chocolate also contains tannins that may trigger headaches in some migraine sufferers. Because of the theobromine content, chocolate is a mild stimulant which also accounts for its mood enhancing properties. In excess, chocolate raises cholesterol and is a risk factor for obesity.
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