Is “Brain Freeze” the Key to Migraine Treatment?

By: Bel Marra Health | Headaches | Friday, May 18, 2012 - 01:08 AM

Migraines involve periodic attacks of headaches, which produce unbearable, sharp pain on one or both sides of the head. As if migraine pain weren’t bad enough, many migraine sufferers also have to deal with nausea, vomiting, intense sensitivity to light and sound, dizziness, blurred vision, auras, and cognitive disturbances, amongst other symptoms.  Worse still, migraine pain can last anywhere from 4 hours to several days, and it is estimated that more than one in ten Americans suffer with this debilitating disorder.

Helping Migraine Pain Can Be Near Impossible

Unfortunately, scientists have been unable to come-up with a permanent cure for migraines, and the best that conventional medicine has to offer is temporary pain elimination via drugs, many of which come with a slew of troublesome side-effects.  According to a new study led by Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care, inducing brain freeze, may be the key to discovering what causes migraine pain and consequently, it may help scientists to produce an effective treatment for it.

Almost everyone has experienced brain freeze, which is often experienced as a sharp pain in the head, brought on suddenly by a bite of ice cream or a sip of an ice-cold beverage.  Despite the universality of brain freeze, scientists have been unable to explain this phenomenon. Due to the fact that migraine sufferers are more prone to experiencing brain freeze then non-sufferers, scientists speculate that brain freeze may share a common mechanism or cause with migraines.  Previous studies on migraines have been limited because researchers and study participants can’t wait around in a lab for a migraine to appear, so researchers were unable to study the crucial investigatory time period when the headache actual forms.  The most recent study however, was able to induce headaches inside the lab using a purposefully induced brain freeze. This ground-breaking technique finally allowed scientists to study the headache process from start to finish.

Brain Freeze Theory and What it Does for Migraine Pain

The study involved 13 healthy adults, who were instructed to sip ice water with a straw pressed against their upper palate in order to bring on brain freeze. The study participants were instructed to raise their hands when they first experienced the sharp pain associated with brain freeze and then to raise their hands again when they experienced pain elimination. The researchers monitored the participants throughout the process using a transcranial Doppler. Serrador and his colleagues found that the anterior cerebral artery (located in the middle of the brain behind the eyes), rapidly dilated and flooded the brain with blood at the moment that the participants first experienced the pain.  As the anterior cerebral artery constricted, the participants experienced simultaneous pain elimination.

The researchers of this study hypothesize that the dilation and subsequent constriction of the artery may be a self-defense mechanism for the brain. “The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time,” states Serrador.  “It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.” Serrador speculates that due to the closed structure of the brain, the rapid influx of blood may raise pressure and consequently, cause pain. Serrador and his colleagues believe that similar changes in blood flow may be responsible for migraine pain, and if this is true, a treatment method that controls blood flow may be the answer to effectively treating migraines and other types of headaches.

Related Reading: Tyramine rich foods can trigger migraines

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