A Gut Feeling About Chocolate

A few months ago, I had to babysit a kid named Alan; his mother – a close cousin of mine – had a Parents-Teachers Association meeting of some sort at the school she worked in, and I had to take care of him from morning until early evening.

I had done babysitting jobs before, and a number of times, I’d taken care of two year-old Alan at least twice the month before then. I expected this time to be just as uneventful and for the most part, it was; at least, up until around three in the afternoon.

Twice an hour, Alan started calling for my attention, asking for me to help him on his Disney Cars kiddie potty. He kept making grumpy faces, was nearly crying, and looked extremely uncomfortable as he kept trying to let loose a load that just didn’t want to deliver nature’s call. Worried for him, I called his mother up on her phone and asked if Alan was allergic to anything, or if I might have fed him anything that might have caused toddler constipation. She replied with “chocolate.”

My cousin’s side of the family has this rather uncomfortable reaction to chocolate and caffeine. They could eat and enjoy it well enough, and it didn’t really cause bad allergic reactions like anaphylactic shock. In large quantities however, it seemed to mess with their digestion a lot. One time, Alan’s mother suffered from bad bouts of diarrhea during pregnancy after drinking a cup of hot chocolate. Her brother also had the same reaction with some chocolate bars his girlfriend bought him on their anniversary. It didn’t surprise Alan’s mom therefore, that the boy had a bad reaction to a large chocolate chip cookie I baked.

What was strange however, was how the chocolate had the reverse effect on Alan. So, while it wasn’t anything that seemed too serious, Alan’s mother decided to have him visit a pediatrician, while I did some background research.

I later found out the same thing the doctor told Alan’s mother; nobody is exactly sure what happens to chocolate as it goes down the digestive tract when it causes indigestion, only that the effects can range from loose bowels to constipation and bloating. One theory is that the cocoa in chocolate can remove water content from bowels, causing constipation, or act as the stimulant that it is, causing diarrhea. It just so happens that in Alan’s side of the family, the effects of cocoa on the digestive system are much stronger than normal. In addition, the amount of chocolate needed to trigger adverse effects varies from person to person, meaning just because my cousin could take a few cups of hot chocolate doesn’t mean Alan can do the same.

For all the discomfort the family went through though, a bit of silver lining we found out was that they weren’t alone. Chocolate allergies do exist, though they are rare. Apparently, they dodged a bullet too, as other people who are allergic to cocoa can suffer symptoms ranging from hives, to headaches, to rashes, and extreme confusion and dizziness. Thankfully, like all good parents, my cousin learned quickly from the experience, and thanks to a few precautions, Alan hasn’t had to deal with the discomfort of his allergies since then. In the end, I guess we all ended the event all the wiser. I’ll be taking care of Alan again when they visit in a couple of months too so I’ll have some time to consider a couple of new cookie recipes that might agree with his tummy. At the very least, it’s something that I can add to my skill set with regards to babysitting.