Ice cream is one of the undeniable pleasures of summer, but it is also the source of one of the biggest headaches of the warm months—literally speaking. I am talking “brain freeze,” aka “ice cream headache.”
You’ve probably heard all the supposed remedies for the excruciating, if fleeting, pain associated with eating icy foods or sipping ice-cold drinks too rapidly. These include holding the tongue against the palate (roof of the mouth) or drinking something hot. For most victims, however, the solution is just waiting it out.
But that may all change, thanks to a new study that was unveiled in San Diego last week at this year’s Experimental Biology meeting. CBS News reports that a group of researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston induced brain freeze in 13 healthy adults by having them sip ice cold water with a straw directed at their palate. According to the article:
The researchers monitored participants’ blood flow in their brains with a ‘transcranial Doppler test,’ and found the sudden headache seems to be triggered by an abrupt increase in blood flow on the brain’s anterior cerebral artery. The pain disappears when that artery constricts, an effect researchers reproduced by having participants drink warm water.
(Well, maybe drinking warm water works for some people, but it seems to me the researchers still have a ways to go!)
But the really good news to come out of the research is the promise it holds for sufferers of migraine, who are more prone to brain freeze than most people. If further research confirms that these and other types of debilitating headache are caused by blood flow changes, then drugs that block the widening of the blood vessels—called vasodilators—could improve treatment.
Dr. Jorge Serrador, one of the study’s co-authors, states:
The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time. It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.
This sudden influx, he adds, could raise blood pressure, resulting in pain.
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