Here's a scoop: 'Ice-cream headache' could help search for new painkillers
06:43 GMT, 23 April 2012
If biting into ice cream gives you a headache, blame a rush of blood to the head.
Ice cream headache, the crushing pain experienced when ice cream or another bitterly cold food or drink hits the roof of the mouth, has baffled scientists.
But now they may have it licked, in an advance that could lead to new treatments for other types of headache, including migraine.
Ice cream headache, the crushing pain experienced when ice cream or another bitterly cold food or drink hits the roof of the mouth, has baffled scientists
A major American conference heard that headaches have proved hard to study – partly due to their unpredictable nature.
An ‘ice cream headache’, however, is easy to trigger and so can be studied in the lab from start to finish.
To do this, researchers from Harvard Medical School in the US, tracked blood flow to the brain while people drank iced water or lukewarm water.
Both were drunk through a straw that was pressed against the roof of the mouth and the volunteers signalled when the pain started and when it ended.
Results showed that the pain coincided with an artery called the anterior cerebral artery opening up and flooding the brain with blood.
It then constricted and pain receded, the Experimental Biology conference heard.
Harvard researcher Jorge Serrador said the rush of blood could be a self-defence mechanism, designed to keep the brain warm and working.
However, the sudden flood of blood likely raises pressure inside the skull and so causes pain.
To stop pressure reaching dangerous levels, the artery constricts, bringing pressure back down.
It is hoped that a better understanding of the phenomenon, which is also known as brain freeze will lead to better treatments for migraines and other types of headache.