Excessive Consumption of Caffeine, Chocolate May Trigger Migraine Headaches


Lifestyle-related factors, including food consumption, may significantly increase the chance of triggering a migraine headache.

Excessive consumption of caffeine and chocolate may be a trigger for headache attacks among a significant proportion of young adults with migraine, according to a study published in Cureus.

The research, conducted among a cohort of female students and employees of King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences (KSAU-HS) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, sought to evaluate an association between migraine attacks and the available dietary items served on campus. The study authors noted that lifestyle-related factors can significantly increase the chance of developing migraine, as some components of food items may induce the release of vasoactive substances that lead to dilating blood vessels that result in migraine episodes.

They noted that a recent change in dietary habits in this community trending toward excessive consumption of coffee and other tyramine-rich foods may have a potentially negative impact on productivity as a result of increased migraine attacks. In Saudi Arabia, the prevalence of migraine is 26.9% with a male to female ratio of 1:2.9, according to the study authors.

They added that a study (DOI: 10.4103/0972-2327.112472) of medical students with chronic headaches lasting for more than 1 year showed approximately one-third had daily migraine attacks that increased in intensity and led to fainting and neck stiffness. In that study, significant triggers of migraine included poor sleeping habits, changes in environment, sedentary lifestyle, and mental stress, which indicate that lifestyle factors may significantly increase the chances of developing migraine.

The researchers used a pair of questionnaires for the study, the first of which surveyed participants about the characteristics of headaches to estimate the prevalence of migraine among female students and employees of KSAU-HS. Among these participants, individuals who met the International Classification of Headache Disorders (ICDH-III) criteria for migraine were given a second questionnaire to analyze the characteristics of the migraine headaches as well as aggravating factors related to lifestyle and diet.

The final survey population included 352 students and 58 faculty members. The results showed that 165 (40.24%) participants among the KSAU-HS female population achieved the criteria for migraine. Two (2.2%) participants reported an association between chocolate consumption and headaches and 7 (7.8%) reported a significant association between caffeine and headaches.

The survey showed that the university employees had a higher prevalence of migraine at 48.28% versus 38.92% of students, which the authors said may be attributed to increased responsibilities and work-related stressors.

The survey showed that the only food items reported to be triggers of migraine were chocolate and caffeinated beverages, with approximately 10% indicating a link between chocolate and caffeine consumption. Only 2.2% of participants indicated that chocolate triggered a headache, whereas 7.8% indicated that caffeine caused them to develop headaches. There was no specific association observed between migraine attacks and foods such as citrus fruits, pickles, cheese, and other dairy products.

“Migraine may represent underrated social and economical burdens entailing absenteeism, excessive medical costs, and impaired quality of life. Our study revealed that the widespread trends for excessive consumption of coffee and caffeinated beverages at food outlets within the educational institution are occult triggers for headache attacks in a significant portion of students with migraine,” the study authors wrote. “The recent shift in dietary habits in our community for excessive consumption of coffee and other tyramine-rich food items has negative consequences on productivity and the economy. Our results can be conceivably extrapolated to reflect the effect of dietary habits on other streams of society, including companies, firms, schools, and workplaces that are consumed by the new dietary trends.


Aladdin Y S, Alsharif R, Mattar W, et al. (May 09, 2022) Migraine Prevalence and Analysis of Dietary Habits in Relation to Headache in the Female Population: A Single-Center Study From Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Cureus 14(5): e24848. doi:10.7759/cureus.24848.

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