Self-Inflicted Brain Freeze May Offer Migraine Relief

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Migraines are tricky; once they begin, it can be near impossible to get them to stop or go away. Many people have learned tricks, however, that help them to control their migraines. Using essential oils, placing an ice pack on the head or back of the neck, and massaging the neck or scalp are just a few examples. But perhaps the strangest home remedy for migraine is the brain freeze technique.

A brain freeze is generally something we avoid. The instantaneous pain in the head that happens after eating ice cream or slurping an ice-cold drink through a straw is a common experience, and it doesn’t feel very good. But making yourself get a brain freeze, what some people call an “ice cream headache,” can actually stop a migraine for some people.

Brain Freeze: Does It Actually Work as a Home Remedy for Migraine Headaches?

You can find all kinds of anecdotal reports that intentionally causing a brain freeze works to stop a migraine in its tracks and relieves pain. Many people find that eating ice cream, drinking ice-cold water, slurping a slushy drink, or holding cold water on their upper palate is effective.

Even people who find no relief from medications and other common migraine treatment recommendations have reported migraine relief from this seemingly strange yet simple strategy. But how could it possibly work?

The Science of a Brain Freeze

Until fairly recently, brain freezes were a mysterious phenomenon. But researchers are finally beginning to understand what actually happens in the body during a brain freeze.

In one study, 13 adults drank both ice water and room temperature water and the researchers evaluated blood flow in the brain while they did so.[1] The participants were asked to drink the ice water through a straw held against their upper palate until the pain of a brain freeze occurred. The researchers found that pain increased when an artery called the arterial cerebral artery swelled and blood flow increased. The pain went away when the artery constricted again and blood flow decreased.

Similar changes in blood flow are linked to migraine headaches. While there is still more to be learned about what causes migraines, and even though there is some disagreement among experts, there’s a link between the dilation of blood vessels (when they enlarge to increase blood flow) and migraine pain. Some headache drugs work by blocking this dilation.

A Home Remedy Worth a Try

Researchers have still not studied the effects of inducing brain freeze to treat headaches, but the study above suggests that there is a possible scientific link between brain freezes and migraine pain. So while a brain freeze may seem like a strange home remedy for migraine, some may consider it to be worth a try. It doesn’t seem to work for everyone, but it’s easy to experiment for yourself to see if whether it helps.

Brain freezes are often associated with ice cream, but there are healthier alternatives; all you’ll need is water and ice. Try drinking ice-cold water through a straw and holding it against your upper palate until a brain freeze occurs. Blending ice into a slushy may also help. Give it a try and, using the Comments section below, let us know whether it’s effective for you.

[1] FASEB J. April 2012 26 (Meeting Abstract Supplement) 685.4

Originally published in 2015, this post has been updated.

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