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.