Ice Cream ‘Brain Freeze' Could Lead To Breakthrough Migraine Treatment

The Huffington Post UK  |  By Posted: 23/04/2012 12:35 Updated: 23/04/2012 12:48

The ‘brain freeze’ many people get after slurping an ice cold drink too quickly could be the key to preventing migraines, claim a team of American researchers.

The near-instantaneous headache brought on by ice cream, a frosted drink or ice cubes is an unexplained phenomenon that has, so far, left scientists baffled.

According to researchers from the Harvard Medical School, ice-induced headaches could pave the way for advanced painkiller treatment as they believe that ‘brain freeze’ and migraines share a common blood flow mechanism.

The study authors decided to ‘bring on’ a series of brain freeze attacks in participants, whilst keeping track of the blood flow in the anterior cerebral artery, which causes the ice headache.

Scientists enlisted the help of 13 healthy participants, monitoring their blood flow while they sipped on ice cold water with the straw pressed against their upper palate (which helps trigger a brain freeze attack).

Volunteers were asked to raise their hand when they started to feel pain in their head and again when the pain dissipated. Scientists discovered that the anterior cerebral artery rapidly dilated and flooded the brain with blood when volunteers said they felt pain.

This pain is caused by the sudden influx of blood in the brain, which raises pressure and therefore induces pain. The constriction process that follows is the brains way of lowering the pressure in the brain before it reaches dangerous levels.

The study authors that the sudden change between dilation and quick constriction may be a type of self-defence for the brain.

Scientists are hoping that this in-depth study into brain freeze could help them create migraine treatment which controls blood flow to the brain by blocking vasodilation (sudden artery dilation).

"The brain is an important organ, and it needs to be working all the time," explains study author Jorge Serrador. "It's fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm."

Joanna Hamilton-Colclough, Director of Migraine Action, told HuffPost Lifestyle: “It is already understood that migraine attacks are linked to blood vessels in the brain expanding and therefore, although this is small scale research with only 13 participants, it is interesting. Further research could prove useful in providing a greater understanding of the mechanics of different headache types, including migraine, and their treatment in the future.”

Harvard medical researchers presented their findings at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference.

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  • How To Ease, Treat And Prevent Migraines

  • Prescribed Medication

    If you suffer from regular migraines, your doctor might prescribe you acute (treatment) and prophylactic (prevention) medicine. You may be given the following: <strong>Anticonvulsant</strong>, such as divaloproex sodium (sodium valproate), topiramate or gabapentin <strong>Antidepressant</strong>, such as amitriptyline <strong>Antihistimine</strong>, such as cyproheptadine <strong>Beta-blockers</strong>, such as propranolol, metoprolol, timolol, nadolol <strong>Anti-inflammatory drug</strong>, such as pizotefen Not all medication has to be prescibred as you can get the following non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) over-the-counter: Apisrin Ibuprofen Paracetamol Codeine

  • Self-Help

    If you don't want to take medication and prefer to treat the problem mechanically, you can try the following at home: <strong>Change your temperature.</strong> Try applying an icepack, or a hot water bottle, to the painful area. Hot or cold showers and a long soak in the bath does help some sufferers, or try soaking the hands and feet in hot or cold water. <strong>Apply pressure.</strong> Try applying pressure to the pulse points on the side of the forehead or neck to relieve the headache. <strong>Moderate exercise.</strong> Experts claim that easy exercise, like swimming and brisk walking, can have a therapeutic effect on migraines. <strong>Keep a diary.</strong> Note down symptoms, date and time of attacks and what you've eaten and drunk. This will help you identify possible triggers.

  • Salt Supply

    Lack of sodium can be pinpointed as a cause of migraines and could explain why migraine sufferers crave a salty snack after an attack. In moderation, salt can have health benefits, so if you feel the onset of a migraine developing, add a tiny amount of salt into a glass of water and sip slowly.

  • Complementary Therapy

    Some migraine sufferers swear by complementary treatments like the following: <strong>Acupuncture.</strong> A type of alternative medicine that treats patients by insertion and manipulation of thin needles in the body, stimulating the anatomical locations under the skin called acupuncture points. <strong>Chiropractic.</strong> Helps treat and prevent neuromusculoskeletal condition by manipulating the spine, joints and soft tissue. <strong> Homoeopathy.</strong> A form of alternative natural medicine that treats patients with liquid 'remedies' that apparently help relieve pain. <strong>Herbalism.</strong> An old traditional form of medicine made entirely of plants and plant extracts which help relieve pain and discomfort from within.

  • Drink More

    It sounds obvious, but a big cause of migraines is down to dehydration. It's currently recommended that people drink between six to eight glasses of water a drink to help keep the body functioning properly.

  • Botox

    Botox injections were licensed in 2010 to be used on people suffering from severe headaches and migraines. Although the evidence surrounding this treatment is still inconclusive, previous clinical trials have proved that it makes a difference if administered regularly. The treatment is currently available privately and costs between £400 to £600.