The People's Perspective on Medicine

Brain Freeze Migraine Remedy

Every once in a while a visitor to our website shares a remedy that surprises and delights us even if we can’t find any scientific support for it. Then along comes extraordinary research from highly respected scientists that confirms something really is going on that might explain the home remedy. That happened this week in San Francisco when Harvard researchers reported on the likely cause for brain freeze by using sophisticated intracranial doppler devices to track blood flow within the brain. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

About a year ago we received the following story:

Q. I know when my burning headaches go all day it’s because the weather has gone from too hot to too cold at the snap of my fingers. Or rain is on the way within the next day or two. But after popping pain pills all day with no relief, why does eating spoonfuls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream take the pain right away?

We answered with some information about brain freeze:

A. We have no idea why chocolate peanut butter ice cream helps your headaches, but we can’t think of a tastier treatment.

Some people actually develop something called ice-cream headaches if they eat very cold food too fast. Also known as brain freeze, doctors call this pain sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It means that nerves in the roof of the mouth have been overwhelmed by the cold.

Not long after we published this question and answer in our syndicated newspaper column and on this website we began hearing from other migraine sufferers who found that inducing brain freeze can stop a migraine:

“I absolutely get relief from my migraines from ice cream. Starbucks Frappucinos® are as good or better. It can actually cure my migraine if I catch it early enough sometimes.”

“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.”

“I noticed that my migraines seemed to get better after eating ice cream. I used to suffer in the dark after taking numerous painkillers with no results. Ice packs helped a little but then the ice cream connection was made. My daughters unfortunately inherited this condition and we all now have a dose of what we now call ‘ice cream therapy.’

“I am a nurse and wonder if this has ever been researched. I theorize that this breaks the spasms of blood vessels in the brain by maybe acting on the blood vessels of the mouth and tongue. I loved reading that others have made this same connection.”

One physician (Dr. John) commented that,

“The cold may have an effect on the nerve ganglia above the roof of the mouth and at the back of the mouth near the molar teeth. The effects may cause a vasoconstriction of the cranial blood vessels and thus relieve the vascular pain associated with migrainous vasodilatation.”

That’s what we love about The People’s Pharmacy® community of contributors. Not only do people share amazing stories, but health professionals chime in too, frequently with plausible explanations.

This week, a team of scientists presented fascinating data at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference in San Francisco. Lead investigator Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School explained that brain freeze occurs when blood vessels above the roof of the mouth rapidly dilate and then constrict. The report was titled, “Cerebral Vascular Blood Flow Changes During ‘Brain Freeze.'”

In this study, volunteers sipped ice water while Doppler devices carefully measured blood flow in the brain. The subjects signaled when they experienced the pain of brain freeze. This corresponded to the sudden dilation of the anterior cerebral artery. As soon as the artery constricted, the pain disappeared. On another occasion the same volunteers sipped room-temperature water for the control experiment.

The researchers suggest that arterial dilation occurs to protect the brain from extreme cold; then, because the increased blood within the skull causes pain, the arteries constrict. They did not make the connection between brain freeze and stopping migraines. They did suggest, however, that learning how brain freeze works could lead to better medicines for migraines.

We don’t know whether eating ice cream or sipping ice water would be helpful for those who suffer severe headaches or whether it has risks. Visitors to this website have shared some amazing stories like the ones you have read above. Here are some links to other Q&As and comments.

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Some people suggest that inducing brain freeze early, before a headache sets in too strongly, the better it works. Of course we can’t make any guarantees about how well this remedy will work for any given individual. Compared to most prescription and OTC headache medicine, ice cream, ice water, Slushies® or Frappucinos® seem to have few side effects and are fairly inexpensive. That does not mean brain freeze is safe for everyone. When in doubt, ask your doctor.

For more traditional headache remedies you may find our Guide to Headaches & Migraines helpful. There are several other non-drug approaches that are sometimes beneficial.

If you try ice cream for your headache pain, please let us know whether it works for you. Share your comments below.

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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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I have constant vascular headaches and have had them daily for about 4 years now. They cause my vision to become blurry, and I occasionally have all-day vertigo. The cause of these has only recently been determined, and I’ve been put on amytriptaline in low doses to try and reduce if not eliminate them. Some days I am pain free but the days with these headaches are more often than not, and often they turn into full-on migraines.

Today I had my usual headache and a very strong one at the base of my skull. I’m not a big ice cream eater but had a Popsicle today, and when pushed it to the roof of my mouth to melt, this happened: The pain in my head almost completely disappeared. It came back a few hours later so I had another and the same thing happened. I think ice cream will be a daily thing now.

Hi I’ve have most of your solutions
Please read
Iv had all problems migraines then brain freeze then morning sickness feelings, then hang over feelings getting worse as the day goes on
I ended up feeling like I must of been depressed. Went docs had blood test and they did vitamin d test. I was really low about 21 should be 50 to 200 I am now on vit d3 from doc and fully recovered after 12months of feeling so ill. I’m now back up and running. please go get tested some thing so simple.

Here is my story. Every week for the last 3 years I have suffered from one 18 hour headache. During this time I have sought treatment from Chiropractors, Osteopaths, Chinese Doctors, Naturopaths, Doctors and Neuro-Surgeons. I even went on a 28 day silent meditation retreat. During the retreat I still encountered a few headaches. The headaches have the same pattern everytime. A slow build up to a peak and then come down the same way. It is a gradual build then decline over the 18 hour period. I best describe them as a hang over type feeling accompanied with plenty of yawning.
Last night whilst out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant I felt the early stages of the headache approaching. I was heading for 5 consecutive painful Saturdays. The kids wanted a Green Tea soft serve ice cream in a cone. After much discussion my wife and I caved in to their demands. I decided I would indulge. It was during the ice cream that I noted that my headache cycle had been interupted. After we got home I chilled some water and drank a few glasses before going to bed. This morning I could feeling the remnants of a headache so I have sucked a few ice blocks. So far so good. I have now begun the Google search and have discovered that I am not alone. Thank you all for sharing your stories. I will post back in 24 hours to see how successul I have been in breaking this 3 year cycle.

I didn’t get to read all the comments big the dreyer’s all fruit Popsicles work great. The fit into the roof of my mouth perfectly. Almost instant results. Sometimes it will take 2-3 Popsicles.
I get the super bad cluster migraines. Pure suicidal hell. Popsicles are heaven sent.

I have been suffering from severe migraines and recently noticed that if I chug a Slurpee and induce “brain freeze” my headache immediately clears up if not entirely goes away. It makes more of a difference than my prescription medication.

You can get Midrin at Compounding Pharmacies, but I don’t think insurance will cover it from there.

Midrin (isometh/dichlor/apap 65/100/325mg cap) can be made by a pharmacy that is willing to compound the ingredients. Our local compounding pharmacy was willing to mix the ingredients, when they stopped the service. I now go to a pharmacy in next town 20 miles away. One has to call around to find out which pharmacy is willing to mix the compound.

I had a migraine all day today. I drank ice cold water and it INSTANTLY went away. I felt extremely refreshed and alert. It was if i hadn’t been in any pain at all. I felt better than ever.

I have suffered from migraines since 6th grade. This remedy usually worked for me if I ate chocolate ice cream very fast right at the onset. I usually did have to take an aspirin with it, but didn’t have to use heavy medications that left me sedated and groggy and forced me to sleep.

Hey Gary,
Yes, I too have had that experience. Whenever I eat horseradish (which I don’t now) I get a tremendous brain freeze that absolutely takes my breath away. My head hurts for 1 to 3 minutes and it is so painful that I feel like I’m going to explode!
Thanks for sharing because I thought it was just me.

Well I suffer from a migraine with aura that will not go away. I attempted this trick… Well I have never been in so much pain before in my life it was migraine pain x 10 and lasted a while.

thanks for the info here, and everyone’s sharing.
I have been having migraine every two/three weeks this summer, and each time I was down for 2-5 days, too painful to even move around.
This week, there is another one, and I tried usual tylenol, didn’t wk, went to emergency to have pain and nauseau intravenuously, felt better after. But it was the cold shower back of my neck and head that really gave me relief.
This morning though, I got my migraine back, took two tylenols, did not work. Finally, I went to take a cold cold shower and applied same technique. Now the migraine has subsided.
I will wait to see tomorrow, see if it comes back again. Just to share this with you all.
Best of health to everyone.

For many years had luck getting rid of migraines using frozen fruit bars or popsicles – pressed to roof of my mouth alternating with hot coffee – totally confusing the pain.
Mine are triggered by sinus headaches (I am weather sensitive).
Started taking magnesium supplements last year while weaning myself off atenolol – and have not had a migraine since I stopped the atenolol. I have had sinus headaches – but none of them blossomed into migraines.

I had a really painful headache today. Since I didn’t have any ice cream, I drank 2 glasses of really cold water to get the same brain freeze effect. The pain was quickly reduced to barely being there. I felt so good that instead of lying down because it hurt to even move, I vacuumed my apartment – something that would have been too painful to do just minutes earlier.

Looking forward to trying brain freeze cure.
Ice on my temples and forehead does help some. For some kinds of severe migraines, a freezing shower has helped.
Both are somewhat temporary, I tend to use them when waiting for acute drugs to kick in. Or if drugs aren’t working, to try to get to sleep.
The last half year, my migraines are finally under some control, partly via Zonisamide and Effexor/Pristiq.
At my reduced level of pain, I can now stop many headaches by a combination of relaxation and tension in my face, mainly in a temple. I relax most of my face as though a zombie or very drugged. If have to look somewhere, I turn my whole head slowly, not my eyes. I spread out the muscles in the temple on the side where the pain is. Not relaxation, this is active work. It is a pulling in vertical direction, up and down, from top and bottom of temple. I sometimes also imagine/try to also spread out muscles inside the head on the other side of the pain. This would be the center of the head, pulling up to the center and top of head, and down from below. (What really happens may be different, but I imagine it that way.) Horizontally in between, where the pain is, I relax. Also I relax everywhere else.
This has been a huge help, avoiding migraines before they become severe.

Is it a certain amount of chocolate? Do you omit all chocolate?

I’ve used the “brain freeze” method of treating headaches for multiple decades. I stumbled upon it while I was in college and had a really massive hangover. I stopped at a 7-Eleven for a Slurpee, and I took way too big a mouthful. I tried to swallow it quickly, as it was too cold for my mouth, and next came the dreaded “brain freeze”. I was waiting for the “brain freeze” to wear off, but I discovered that my bad headache had abated greatly.
I’ve used this technique on migraines with pretty good results. I find that if I catch a migraine early, then a “brain freeze” works very well. The longer I let the migraine go on, though, the less effective the “brain freeze” is. Now that I’m 32 years out of college, and not given to creating hangovers anymore, I’ve tried the “brain freeze” technique on my headaches that are caused by trigeminal neuralgia. I was recently diagnosed. I’m very sorry to report no relief, via “brain freeze”, for my trigeminal neuralgia headaches and head-pains.

Regarding Horseradish, my family would use it to get rid of head colds. I remember
holding on to the counter after ingesting a teaspoon of it.

For those users of the RX Midrin, which was discontinued, find a compounding pharmacy.
That is what I did, it costs about $1 p/pill.
LK

I usually have relief taking a hot bath with an ice pack on my head. May not be as tasty as a slushy, but it works.

I am a 65 year old woman and get migraines 3-7 times a week over the low light months. I take 150 mg Topamax daily and get the migraines mainly on the forehead behind the eyes, often mainly on one side when they are really bad. I feel them coming on often first as minor pain in the back molars sometimes, and almost always get them early in the mornings between 2 and 5 am. 20 mg nasal Imitrex gets rid of them right away most of the time. I take a lot of Imitrex.
I have a bleeding disorder and cannot take any NSAIDS. For pain, Tylenol with codeine is the only medicine I can take, and I have had a sprained back 5 weeks ago and a severe flu 2 months ago. Withdrawal from even small amounts of codeine causes the headaches.
I am celiac and cannot tolerate eggs (violent reaction rather like cholera), dairy (proteins, not lactose-perhaps that too), beef, lamb, pork, or turkey. Small amounts of chicken and lots of all seafood and shellfish is OK. I live on veggies and beans, nuts, and lentils. I went to a neurologist who tried me on a headache diet which involved protein 6 times a day and no carbs except between 10 and 6, but she really could not accommodate someone who was essentially vegan with seafood, since her diet did not allow beans, lentils, nuts, avocados, many fruits, and I literally got sick and could not eat all that chicken and fish 6 times a day. Her diet vs my diet 3 mo each made no difference.
The time of the year and whether I had been taking codeine or Imitrex seemed to make a difference. So it appeared the codeine causes rebound headaches, the Imitrex probably does, although UCLA researchers believe (as do other centers) that you must treat the headaches immediately to prevent future ones! A contradiction there! So as I wake up at 2-3 each am with the headache, am too tired to go get the Imitrex till 5 am (5 days in a row so far), then get possible rebound headaches, I will go down ice water tomorrow. I am not sure I have ever gotten brain freeze from ice water, however. I have from Sodas, but I have not drunk any sodas in years. Maybe I should practice getting brain freeze. Is there any best way to get it?

about 15 to 20 years ago i use to have a very severe headache and one night when i was suffering a very severe headache i open the fridge and take a milky sweet thing which we normally make and called (SHEER KHORMA) and i drink the whole bowl of it and magically it effect and trust me every sip of it it release my pain and when i finish the bowl my headache was gone believe it it really happen with me

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!
Sincerely Ed. E.

I agree with the darkened room, quiet and ice till it numbs. This also works with neck pain. Didn’t know about peanut butter or ice cream as I am lactose intolerant so I use lactaid before yogurt or dairy.

This is great! I had heard that drinking something HOT was good for simple brain freeze, no migraine. I know from experience that works. It makes sense that the reverse would work for migraines.

Dr. John’s explanation was the reasoning I had been formulating as I read the reports of migraines being helped by cold. When I had migraines I would lie in bed in a darkened room and put an icebag on my neck to cool the blood in the carodid arteries and eat crushed ice…..much better than a trip to the the ER !! Relief within 20 minutes.

Most wines have sulfites in them. A doctor told my mother that many people are allergic to sulfites. It can also be a trigger. The same goes for vinegar. Don’t buy cheap vinegar as many have sulfites. Check the label.

I do not have migrains, but my niece has suffered with them for most of her life. I made a copy of this info. and am sending it to her. Hopefully she will give it a try and I will let you know the outcome. Thanks for your very informative and up to date information.

I suffered terrible migraines during several perimenopausal years. With menopause, I found that the headaches stopped as long as I paid attention to not overdoing any vaso-dilators or vaso-constrictors. For me that primarily meant wine and coffee.
What I found was that if I felt a migraine coming on, I could usually avert it by drinking a cup of coffee. If the headache was already full-blown, coffee only made it worse.
Conversely, a glass of wine at dinner might induce a migraine unless I followed it with a cup of coffee with dessert. Migraines have a vaso-dilation stage and a vaso-constriction phase, so intervening with a counterbalance at the right stage seems to work well.

Chocolate is a well-known migraine trigger!!!!

The worst Brain Freeze Iv ever had was from strong Horse Radish, thought I was going to explode. Just wondering if anyone else has had the same experience.

I have eaten peanut butter or a big steak because I’ve found that protein helps my migraines. I’ve even pulled up to Hardees (not healthy) and gotten two low carb burgers and eaten them both. It really does work. I think it’s the protein that helps.
I have not eaten chocolate, however, in more than 6 years because chocolate always gives me a headache.
Just thought I’d share. :)

I would like to hear more about this remedy.

I have always had a cold coke when I think I’m on the verge of a headache during the day. I often also eat something salty if available. Most times it takes care of the precurser ‘tension/ off the track’ feeling. I can only have hot first thing in the morning if I wake up on edge.

Last week my daughter and I were discussing our migraine medicine and she told me she could get rid of her headache if she held ice water in her mouth briefly. I haven’t had occasion to try her suggestion but I will.
Midrin, our drug of choice, is no longer produced and we hadn’t gotten a script for the replacement. Our headaches are familial as at least 1 uncle that I know of had them, my daughter and I have had them since childhood.

I would like to hear more. I used to get migraine headaches and since I LOVE ice cream, I wish I had known. One benefit of getting older is that you don’t get many headaches of any sort.
Or maybe it’s just that I never miss my B-complex dose for prevention.

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