Researchers recently discovered the cause of brain freeze, that instantaneous and debilitating pain sometimes experienced after consuming something frozen, after deciding to use brain freeze in order to study migraines.
While migraines can be induced by administering drugs to a patient, the side effects have the potential to interfere with the results. When this is taken into account alongside the unpredictable nature of migraines, it is difficult for researchers to study a migraine from start to finish.
Brain freeze, on the other hand, can be utilized to quickly initiate a headache in a controlled laboratory environment, and it ends rather quickly, which makes monitoring the event in its entirety relatively easy.
Researchers had thirteen healthy volunteers sip on ice water using straws pressed up against the roof their mouths, as this action induces brain freeze, and had the volunteers raise their hands once they felt the onset of brain freeze, and again once the pain had subsided.
By monitoring circulation within the volunteers via a process which is similar to shooting ultrasound waves on the skull, researchers were able to determine increased blood flow to the brain through the anterior cerebral artery located behind the eyes and in the middle of the brain. As the artery constricts in response to the enhanced blood flow, the pain no longer exists. Researcher Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School was quoted by Y! News having said in a statement:
“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 [the widening of the blood vessels] might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.”
The sudden influx of blood into the brain can’t be cleared at the rate it’s coming in during the occurrence of brain freeze, which has potential to increase pressure inside of the skull and subsequently inflict pain. As the brain’s pressure and temperature rise, the blood vessel constricts and relieves pressure prior to dangerous levels being reached within the brain.
Researchers hypothesized that were other headaches to work the same, drugs could potentially be used to either prevent these blood vessels from opening or constricting them in order to treat headaches such as migraines.
Have you ever experienced brain freeze?