Brain Freeze: Swollen vessels in the brain acting as a defense mechanism against cold may lead to a migraine cure
There may be new hope on the horizon for migraine sufferers. A recent study into the cause of ‘brain freeze’ has revealed a basic defense mechanism in the head designed to protect the brain from a sudden decrease in temperature. Scientists involved with the study hope it is the missing link between unpredictable migraines and a cure.
A test group of 13 people were observed in a laboratory. Diagnostic imaging was used to monitor brain function as each individual sipped ice water through a straw. The participants were instructed to direct the flow of the cold water over the roof of their mouth until a ‘brain freeze’ or ‘ice cream headache’ occurred. Onset was always quick and painful, dissipating after a few moments.
For years, no one really knew the cause of this particular, universal type of head pain. It was widely speculated to be soft palate pain rather than actual head pain, but the study has dis-proven the soft palate theory.
Brain imaging clearly showed a change in the anterior cerebral artery, a blood vessel that runs directly behind the eyes in the middle of the brain. When the too-cold water entered the mouth, the vessel dilated, allowing warm blood to flow into the skull, preventing a drop in temperature that might damage the brain. This sudden increase of pressure from the influx of blood triggered the ‘brain freeze’. Because the artery was unable to shrink at as fast a rate as it swelled, the headache lingered for a few moments until the pressure normalized.
Brain Freeze: Essentially, the ‘ice cream headache’ is a survival mechanism.
Researcher Jorge Serrador, of Harvard Medical School, said in a statement reported by Live Science, “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.