young woman enjoying an ice cream bar

Q. Ice cream works very well against my migraines. I have suffered from these headaches for ten years and nothing has offered relief, not even strong painkillers.
After reading that ice cream could help, I tried it. It relieves a migraine within five minutes.

A. Triggering “brain freeze” with ice cream or a cold beverage may help some people stop a migraine headache in its tracks. Scientists reported at the Experimental Biology meeting in 2012 that head pain triggered by ice water changes blood flow in the brain. This may account for the effect you have experienced.
You can learn about more approaches to headache treatments at, where you can learn from others about possible triggers and potential treatments for your headaches or migraine.
We also offer other ways to stop a migraine quickly in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. One approach that some readers have found helpful is the exact opposite of eating ice cream: sipping a hot, spicy soup such as gumbo or Chinese sour and hot soup. Here are a few stories:

“I was fascinated to read the letter linking spicy gumbo to relief for migraine headaches. I have a similar history of migraines which occur in clusters or cycles. Over the past 40 years doctors have given me a variety of medications, many with side affects more debilitating than the headaches. Between headaches during these cycles, most of the medications kept me feeling drugged or “hung-over.”
“Several years ago I was in the middle of a migraine cycle, feeling as if my head was under water. I had a bowl of Chinese Hot and Sour soup and my head instantly cleared. In addition, the cycle of headaches ended.
“Since then I have used this soup to halt migraines–and the cycle–in mid-stream. I order the soup extra hot and my favorite restaurant provides a small container of extra red pepper in oil. The best part of the soup is that there is no drugged feeling afterwards.”

Another spicy flavor, ginger, has also been found helpful:

“Someone was asking about natural migraine remedies and you mentioned spicy hot and sour soup, among other things. I’ve had migraines since before I was in kindergarten (I’m 58 now), and the best thing I’ve found is ginger. Jamaican-style ginger beer (stronger than ginger ale) is good, though rather sweet. The pickled ginger sold with sushi is a godsend. It also helps with the nausea.”

Here is another reader who agrees that your ice cream approach is helpful:

“Every few months I wake up with a headache that makes me ill for about five days. The headache gets progressively worse and by the third day there is no comfortable position. I have to sit in a hot shower. Nothing relieves the pain, although cold medicines help me sleep despite the nagging headache in the background.
“Last week, I woke up with the headache. On the second day I suddenly craved some ice cream cones called ‘Drumsticks.’ I bought a box of them, and the second I bit into the ice cream, my headache went away. I was afraid the relief might be temporary, but it never came back. I did not progress through the usual illness.
“My personal theory is it is the cold that works. I am going to try just plain ice on the roof of my mouth the next time I get one of these headaches, but I’ll gladly eat ice cream if ice alone doesn’t work.”

One last testimonial:

“I am a middle aged male and suffer from headaches all of my life! I always get the pain over my forehead. During the last couple of years, they got worse; I cannot drink alcohol anymore. When I go out to eat, I do not order a drink; people must think I was a former alcoholic! After reading about the ice cream and the brain freeze stories on the People’s Pharmacy, I developed two solutions of my own, as follows:
“1. Ice Cold Shower – when I have a bad headache, I take an ice cold shower! I first take a quick shower at around 75 degrees ( 1 setting above the coldest) to cool off my entire body (Tip: start the shower when you are in the shower stall). Then, I lower the temperature to the coldest setting and put the shower on the back of my head and neck (1 minute total); I alternate and put the shower on the top of my head (2 minutes total). I do this for a total of 3 minutes. My headache goes away within an half hour.
“2. Drink Ice Cold Water – when I am at the office or at dinner – and cannot take a shower – I drink a few glasses of ice cold water. This usually reduces my headache pain until I can get home at night and take an ice cold shower.
“I bought “The People’s Pharmacy Home Remedies” and they mention taking butterbur.
“3. Butterbur – Prior to taking the butterbur, I would take Ibuprofen about 2 to 3 times per week. I started taking 100mg of butterbur per day during the last 45 days. I have noticed a big improvement in my headaches. Since taking the butterbur, I have not taken any painkillers!”

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  1. L

    My daughter and her friends appreciated this hint. It works for them. Fast and easy. (And Mom, 2500 miles away, appreciated being able to help :-)

  2. Judy

    I have been on Topamax and now topiramate for 12 years. Has not controlled my headaches. I tried going off of it, but the doctor keeps putting me back on it. Have had migraines since I was 16 and am now 70. Will definitely try the ice drink next time to see if that works along with the ice pack on the back of the head and neck. Have also had the combination of cortisone and lydocaine injected into occipital nerve several times. Also found that I now have to totally stay away from chocolate. Am so tired of losing days.

  3. Tammy

    Just read this article after having been up since 4am with a migraine. Vomiting passed but still had the residual killer headache. Read this and ate an ice cream bar, and the headache has definitely lessened. I think the next time I’ll try plain ice earlier in the ordeal (wouldn’t be able to eat ice cream with the nausea and vomiting.) Thanks so much for the idea….love you guys!!

  4. Anna

    I always appreciate what others may find useful for relieving headaches and migraines. I crave salt. It doesn’t help the headache but it’s a very strong craving. But I do find that sometimes McDonald’s french fries help. Strange, I know. That makes me wonder what might be in them!

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