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Why ice cream gives you brain freeze

As every child knows, eating ice cream too quickly can cause a painful headache, commonly known as brain freeze.

Now scientists have finally revealed why the phenomenon occurs.

The ice cream headache is brought on by a rapid increase in blood flow through a major blood vessel in the brain, the anterior cerebral artery.

The ache subsided again once blood flow was restricted.

They hope to use the discovery to develop new treatments for migraine.

The instant headache brought on by ice cold food and drinks is the bane of the summer, with ice cream lovers often seen clutching their foreheads waiting for the gripping pain to ease.

Scientists have noticed that migraine sufferers are more prone to brain freeze and wondered if the phenomenon could be turned to their advantage.

In experiments carried by a researchers at the National University of Ireland in Galway and Harvard Medical School, a team of 13 healthy volunteers deliberately induced the brain freeze so the effects could be studied.

The findings were presented at the meeting Experimental Biology 2012 in San Diego.

By bringing on brain freeze in the laboratory the researchers were able to study a headache from beginning to end without the need for drugs that would mask the causes and symptoms of the pain.


The volunteers drank iced water through a straw that was pressed against their palate and then drank water at room temperature.

Blood flow was monitored using a hand-held Doppler. It was found that the anterior cerebral artery dilated rapidly and flooded the brain with blood in conjunction to when the volunteers felt pain.

Finding ways to control blood flow could offer new treatments for conditions such as migraines and post traumatic headaches.