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Olwen Anderson's Blog

How the Easter Bunny can also deliver migraines and hot flushes.

Saturday, April 15, 2017
Aah, chocolate. It’s the ultimate comfort food; not just because it stimulates production of some happiness-inducing neurotransmitters. In the Western world it’s a symbolic Easter gift. But chocolate has another, darker side (no pun intended) that can make people who experience migraines or menopausal hot flushes pause before scoffing any chocolate Easter eggs.

You see, chocolate belongs in a food family known as vasoactive amines* – along with other delicious foods like red wine, cheese, bananas, coffee, and tea. Even clearly healthy foods like fava beans and tuna, celery, potato, licorice and nutmeg are in this group. As are chillis. 

‘Vasoactive amines’, in layman’s terms just means protein molecules (that’s the ‘amines’ part of the term) that affect your blood vessels (that’s the ‘vasoactive’ part of the term). This means if you happen to be susceptible to vasoactive amines, and you’ve eaten enough of them, you may quickly feel hot, perhaps look red, and maybe even break out into a sweat.

What vasoactive amines do is cause your blood vessels to widen, and to become more permeable (sieve-like). This increases blood supply to the surface of your skin, which makes you feel warmer, perhaps even break out in a sweat. It usually passes quickly; because while you’re throwing off your jumper and wiping your brow your body is already compensating with a whole new cascade of biochemical reactions to hose down what the vasoactive amines did.

Vasoactive amines aren’t bad for you as such. But science has found certain foods produce chemical reactions in the body: Some helpful, some unhelpful. Some create obvious reactions, some are silent. A Google search for ‘pharmacologic food reactions’ can be the launching point to find out more about how our bodies can react even to foods that are good for us.

If you’re susceptible to migraines, however, a big enough dose of vasoactive amines could be enough to trigger one of these awful headaches. Migraine sufferers especially seem to learn through trial and error which foods can trigger migraines, and just avoid them. Some women, however, have to experience many hot flushes before making the connection that vasoactive amines in foods are causing even more frequent and more powerful hot flushes.

I hope you have a wonderful Easter break, and that the Easter Bunny leaves you many delicious chocolate eggs to enjoy – even if you can only eat a little at a time.

*Franxman, Timothy J., and James L. Baldwin. "Pharmacologic Food Reactions." Food Allergy: Adverse Reactions to Foods and Food Additives, Fifth Edition: 437-451.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy "How to Stay Healthy During Menopause"

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