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Getting to the Bottom of Brain Freeze

Jun 06, 2013 11:03PM ● By Anonymous

It may surprise you to learn that scientists have been studying the causes of this annoying hot weather hazard. Experts at Harvard Medical School and the War Related Illness and Injury Study Center of the Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System, who jointly conducted a study, think it is a condition that warrants further examination.

The testing consisted of monitoring the blood flow in subjects’ brains by using diagnostic imaging as they sipped ice water through a straw pressing on the upper palate, and then while sipping room-temperature water. The results showed that blood flow increased rapidly in one of the arteries of the brain at the onset of brain freeze; as the blood flow lessened, so did the pain. Researchers suggest the pain sensation might stem from the excess pressure generated by this quick burst of blood into the closed skull cavity.

This study was not undertaken frivolously—it was conducted because some scientists believe there is a correlation between brain freeze and migraine headaches. (For one thing, migraine sufferers are more likely to get brain freeze than people who don’t get migraines.)

As you might imagine, however, it is very difficult to induce a migraine in order to study the physiology. Brain freeze, on the other hand, as many of us know, can be all too easily achieved. It is hoped that further research might supply treatment options for migraine sufferers. Drugs that prevent that sudden arterial dilation could potentially be an effective remedy for debilitating headaches.

Dr. Teshamae Monteith, director of the headache program at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, told ABC reporter Kim Carollo that “we have known for decades that migraine is caused by nerve dysfunction. There may be vascular changes, but they are only secondary.”

The research does seem to support one theory this non-scientific piña colada drinker has long suspected: the straw is the real culprit. Frozen drinks wouldn’t make such a direct hit at that most vulnerable spot on the roof of our mouths without the efficient delivery system of that straw. Perhaps the researchers might consider that hypothesis in their next round of experiments.