Don’t gift your Valentine a migraine

Migraines don’t stop to celebrate holidays. However, it is always heartwarming to know that someone is acknowledging their affection for you.

Some of the most common Valentine’s Day gifts can be treacherous triggers for migraine patients. It’s nice to be mindful of this when selecting just the right item for your Valentine.

Whether you’re newly getting to know one another, or been married for 30-plus years, this holiday sets the perfect tone and opportunity to acknowledge the needs of your new honey or something that has shifted in your partner’s health.

I suggest to begin your thought process by listening carefully to which items your partner may be struggling with when trying to control migraines. Does he or she mention that the aroma of fresh orange really turns his or her stomach or that a certain seasoning gives them a migraine?

If you know your partner has a peanut allergy, then steer clear of chocolate almond nutclusters. Does he or she suffer from photophobia and feel overwhelmed in loud environments?  You may want to swap the virtual electronic lights show or loud rock and roll concert for a backyard movie night under the stars with string lights. To sum it up: Don’t gift your Valentine a migraine.

A glass of bubbly, everything coated in chocolate, and roses – the Valentine’s Day staples… The stores are overflowing with these.

Champagne – the glistening bubbly that is sipped with ease, yet can levy a surprise the next morning. Hangover headaches are not unusual with champagne consumption. So, why is that?

David Meadows, CEO and co-founder of PureWine, lends his expertise saying, “It is typically the sweet champagnes that cause people to have significant hangovers/headaches.” He said that a classic champagne is “typically made out of Chardonnay or Pinot Noir grapes and are grown in Northern France where it is quite cool.”

Little did I know that there are so many classifications of champagne, i.e. extra brut, brut, extra dry, sec, demi sec, and doux. With these varying classifications comes varying symptoms for the consumer. Meadows explained, “Extra brut has very little sugar remaining after fermentation, it does not need as much sulfate preservative added into it [for purposes of shelf life].” Comparing this to doux, a high sugar content champagne, “will require much more sulfites in order to ensure good quality during storage,” Meadows said.

We should be concerned by sulfites. Headache is so prevalent in some of our lives and alcohol has the ability to bring it on and exacerbate it. As with most things, the more educated we can be, the more opportunities we have to gain answers and find practical solutions.

Meadows explained that the culprit in champagne is very likely the signature effervescence itself.

“In the presence of carbon dioxide bubbles, the evaporation of sulfites is very rapid and will be absorbed in the nasal passages as you drink the champagne,” said Meadows. “Sulfites are volatile and evaporate rapidly out of wine if left exposed to the atmosphere.”

Simply put, Meadows said, “You are effectively snorting sulfites, so the response in [the] body will be almost immediate.”

So, when drinking champagne, we are “snorting sulfites,” potentially consuming high levels of sugar, yet the alcohol/ethanol content of champagne parallels that of other wines (12 to 15 percent).

Meadows explained that these factors make the consumer “feel tipsy much more quickly than other wines.” I certainly would have benefitted over the years from knowing this.

Then there’s chocolate. One of my favorite topics. I’ve read a plethora of content identifying it as a migraine “trigger.” Yet in reality, the research and findings seem to be relatively split on it. Let’s put it in perspective, the most frequent migraine precipitating factors are stress, fatigue, lack of sleep, and weather.

However, for 20 percent of people, chocolate is regarded as one of the most common food-based triggers.

Chocolate consists of cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar and milk powder (in the case of milk chocolate). It has been said that the highest concentration of flavonoids and minerals is found in dark chocolate. Many people prefer dark chocolate over milk and white chocolate (confection).

What is in chocolate that can induce a migraine attack? “One possible explanation is that flavanols stimulate eNOS activity (reactions in blood vessels and heart), leading to increased NO (nitrate-nitrite) generation, which may lead to vasodilatation (dilation of blood vessels).”*

So, let’s dive into what flavanols are and how they can benefit you and me.

“Flavanols are a type of plant nutrient found in many foods and drinks” (apples, blueberries, peanuts, tea). Flavanols “are particularly abundant in the seeds of the cacao tree,” which yield cocoa powder and is used to make chocolate.**

“Dark chocolate has more cocoa and more flavanols than milk chocolate. The amount in dark chocolate can range from 100 mg in 100 grams of chocolate (~3 ounces) to 2,000 mg.”**

After learning this, I went on a search for finding easily accessible chocolates that listed the percentage of cocoa solids and/or mg of flavanols per serving.

The first five chocolate bars I pulled off the shelf at the grocery store did not identify flavanols so then I grabbed a brand I buy regularly and like – Navitas Organics. Its products’ nutrition is clear cut and easy to locate.

The table below shows three of Navitas Organics’ products followed by a simple recipe you can devour if you and yours are chocolate-friendly!

*A serving equals 2.5 tbsp, 3 tbsp, and 1 tbsp respectively.

Navitas Organics’ website shares a simple to follow, delicious recipe of mini chocolate peanut butter cups:

If chocolate is a “no” in your Valentine wish book, let’s make a quick u-turn to find migraine-friendly alternatives.

What about whipping up another sweet treat that is a bit healthier? Try freezing fresh yogurt covered with blueberries.

For a main dish with flair, try cooking zoodles topped with sauteed shrimp, parmesan and fresh basil.

If certain plants or flowers aren’t an allergy trigger, consider a beautiful floral gift for your Valentine.  The helpful designers at florist shops are very good at designing fresh bouquets or arrangements, eliminating any flowers or greenery your loved one must avoid.

Looking for an original idea? I get you. I love surprises and better yet, new traditions. Try filling a room with festive, colorful balloons (unless there’s a latex allergy), a handwritten card (seriously, you can’t go wrong putting your feelings in writing), or preparing a freshly cooked breakfast for your love. Things like that are guaranteed to start the day off on the right foot.

It truly is the simple gestures and loving thoughts that brings out the biggest smiles in most of us.

The perfect day can be described differently by each and every one of us. Perhaps your Valentine would enjoy a few hours to his or herself – no chores, no errands, no overthinking – then, gift that! Or, their favorite is to aimlessly wander at the mall or kick off a new season of a TV show on Netflix. Whatever it is, I encourage you to make the effort to find out what would be the most enjoyable gift for him or her. For me, I just want to spend the day with my special person, doing simple things.  Quality time is indispensable – I’ll never forget or regret the extra time we spend together, just enjoying ourselves.

I encourage you to think about Valentine’s Day prior to the night before. As a planner, I know I started slowing down, taking note of the likes/dislikes and zeroed in on what is most important to my Valentine. I’m ready to celebrate!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I’m sending healthy, migraine-free vibes to you and yours.

*Source: “To eat or not to eat: A review of the relationship between chocolate and migraines,” Jan. 26, 2020,

**Cocoa: A sweet treat for the brain,

Coming next: Veterans with toxin exposure have another battle after war

Please consider sharing this article with family, friends, neighbors, coworkers.  Let’s help each other reach optimal health.  


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