Does Chocolate Irritate the Stomach?

Chocolate pralines
A box of assorted chocolates. (Image: jamais_vu/iStock/Getty Images)

Most people can enjoy chocolate in moderation without experiencing any unpleasant health effects. However, some people are sensitive to one or more ingredients in chocolate. If you experience gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach ache, abdominal cramps, gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea or vomiting after eating chocolate, you may have any underlying health condition. Your doctor can help you determine what causes your symptoms.

Lactose Intolerance

If you have lactose intolerance, your body does not produce sufficient amounts of the lactase enzyme that breaks down milk sugar. Instead, lactose sugar moves from your stomach into the colon where it interacts with naturally occurring bacteria. Gas, stomach pain and bloating are the primary signs and usually begin within 30 minutes to two hours after eating foods that contain milk. You may be able to enjoy dark chocolate that contains no added milk solids. Depending on the severity of your condition, you may be able to tolerate smaller portions of chocolate. Some people are able to eliminate their symptoms by taking lactase tablets before a meal. This over-the-counter medication replaces the missing lactase enzyme and helps your body digest milk.

Ulcers and Gastritis

Ulcers and gastritis, an inflammation of the stomach lining, may cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. If you have an ulcer that is bleeding, you may also experience black stools and vomit that contains blood or black color. Call your doctor if you experience these symptoms, since medication can help treat these conditions. You will need to eat a bland diet. Chocolate may aggravate your condition as may spicy foods, caffeine, sodas and fruits and vegetables that are high in acid.

Allergy

A food allergy may produce symptoms that affect your stomach and gastrointestinal system. In some people, food allergies cause cramps, stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea or vomiting. These symptoms can occur alone or in combination with skin effects, such as rash or hives, and respiratory symptoms. An allergy to milk protein may cause stomach problems and most chocolate contains milk solids. Your doctor can perform an allergy test to determine if you have a milk allergy. If so, you may be able to enjoy dairy-free chocolate.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

The main symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are abdominal pain accompanied by chronic diarrhea, constipation or a combination of both. In people with irritable bowel syndrome the muscles and nerves of the digestive tract seem to be especially sensitive. The colon muscles contract too much after you eat and this causes pain and cramping. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are exacerbated by certain foods including chocolate. Other foods that may trigger the condition include caffeine, milk, alcohol, sodas and fatty foods. Talk to your doctor if you have signs of irritable bowel syndrome. Dietary changes, stress relief and medication can help you manage the condition.

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