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Brain Freeze Breaks Migraine Cycle

Eating ice cream to induce brain freeze may stop a migraine cold. We think it is working through TRP channels on nerves that sense cool temperatures.

Could an ice cream headache help interrupt a migraine or a cycle of migraines? For years, doctors thought there was no relationship whatsoever between the two types of headaches (Bird, MacGregor & Wilkinson, Headache, Jan. 1992). Nonetheless, readers kept telling us that suffering an ice cream headache or brain freeze could often stop a migraine in its tracks. Could there be a scientific explanation for this phenomenon?

Ice Cream Against Migraines?

Q. I’ve been experiencing migraines for years and years, with little help from medications. Last week I was at the drugstore to pick up a prescription when I developed one of the typical precursors to my migraines.

After receiving my meds at the pharmacy counter, I stopped at the ice cream counter on the way out. I got a scoop of orange sherbet, hoping that it might somehow help.

Well wouldn’t you know, within 10 minutes of having my cold dessert, my headache was almost gone. Today, sitting at my desk at home, I started to feel the tension on my head and neck that’s a migraine warning. This time I was prepared!

I skipped to the kitchen where I have stocked up on orange sherbet and literally doused my headache out with a couple of cold scoops. It’s a nice treat!

A. Eleven years ago we first heard from a reader with weather-related migraine headaches:

“After popping pain pills all day with no relief, why does eating spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream take the pain right away?”

Since then we have heard from many others that inducing “brain freeze” (sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia) can often interrupt a migraine attack. Researchers have discovered that TRP (transient receptor potential) channels on the nerves are involved in the development of migraine pain (Neuroscience Letters, Jan. 18, 2022).

TRP channels are important for sensing temperature. Apparently, activating them with cold early in the process leading to a migraine may help to reverse it for some people.

Another Brain Freeze Story:

What we find so fascinating about readers stories about brain freeze for migraines it that they did not know there was a link. This reader also thought her pain relief was coincidental:

Q. Holy cow! I can’t believe ice cream is a legitimate treatment for headaches.

I just had three migraines right in a row and didn’t know how I was going to take care of my 3-month-old baby all day if the cycle kept going. I ate an ice cream bar and my migraine was gone almost instantly. I figured it was coincidental but I’m glad to see from your website that I’m not nuts!

Brain Freeze to Reverse Migraine Pain:

It is possible that the “brain freeze” from quickly eating something very cold may interrupt the migraine process. And it doesn’t have to be ice cream. A glass of very cold water worked for one friend of ours. Paradoxically, he worked for the drug company that developed the first “triptan” migraine medication.

Want to know more about “brain freeze” or what doctors call “frigid headache”? Click here.
Read more stories about mastering migraines with brain freeze by visiting these links:

“Ice and Spice to Treat Migraines”

“Ice Cream Cure for Migraine”

“Ice Cream Eliminates Tenacious Headache”

More Details On How Brain Freeze Works

Most doctors were and probably still are unaware that brain freeze, if it can be induced, might be helpful in stopping a migraine. On the other hand, such a tactic is inexpensive and low risk.

The explanation for this remarkable remedy had to wait until the 21st century, when researchers identified TRP (transient receptor potential) channels in nerve cells. These channels react to heat, cold, and a variety of compounds. In fact, TRPM8 reacts both to cold and to menthol (a distinctive compound from mint).

This family of TRP channels appears to play a role in migraine (Dussor & Cao, Headache, Oct. 2016). While it may trigger migraines in some individuals, it seems that triggering a headache with something very cold in the mouth can also overwhelm the overactive pain-sensing neurons that are responsible for migraines.

Possible Side Effects:

We used to think that an ice cream headache was merely uncomfortable, though not as unpleasant as a migraine. There is, however, a case report indicating that inducing brain freeze could also trigger atrial fibrillation (Lugovskaya & Vinson, American Journal of Case Reports, Jan. 13, 2016). This heart rhythm abnormality can be dangerous if left untreated. Susceptibility to this side effect may run in families, as another case report included a man and his father who both developed atrial fibrillation when they ate ice cream (Tan, Gerry & Glancy, American Journal of the Medical Sciences, May 2001).

To learn more about headache remedies, you may wish to read our eGuide to Headaches & Migraines. This online resource is offered under the Health eGuides tab.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.”.
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