The People's Perspective on Medicine

How to Prevent Migraine Headaches with Brain Freeze

Some people find they can stop migraine headaches by eating coffee ice cream quickly or drinking an iced coffee at the first hint of symptoms.
Fresh coffee ice cream close up shoot

Migraine headaches are torture. In addition to pain that seems to worsen with every heartbeat, sufferers often describe disturbing visual changes, nausea, sensitivity to light, sound and smell as well as other symptoms such as neck pain. As Jane Brody has written in The New York Times, a person with a migraine may not be able to carry on life as usual. Symptoms may start a few days before the pain begins, and an unpleasant post-headache syndrome may be troublesome for several days afterwords. The earlier a migraine can be treated, the better the treatment is likely to work.

Warding Off Migraine Headaches with Iced Coffee:

Q. I have had migraine headaches since the age of 16. I’m now 47.

A doctor friend told me years ago to drink coffee when I felt a migraine coming on, as caffeine is a main ingredient in some migraine medicines. Coffee worked a little, but what really worked is Starbucks iced coffee.

Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream eaten very fast works even better than the iced drink. For me, it seems that the combination of cold ice cream and caffeine ends the migraine instantly.

The Power of Ice Cream or a Milkshake:

A. You are not the only migraine sufferer who has found that an iced drink or ice cream, especially with some caffeine in it, can stop a migraine cold. Nobody knows quite why this works, although perhaps it contributes to neuromodulation. Several researchers are considering non-invasive neuromodulation as a promising approach for treating migraine headaches (Diener et al, The Lancet. Neurology, Oct. 2015).

Some people find that it works best if you can induce “brain freeze,” but that may not always be necessary. Readers have had success in thwarting migraine headaches by drinking a cold milkshake at the first hint of symptoms. Others prefer an iced caffeinated beverage, such as a Frappuccino®.

Deborah shared her experience:

“Fortunately for me, there is a coffee shop next door. I don’t care for frozen coffee, and, when you’re nauseous, it’s difficult to force something you don’t want. So, I order a frozen chai tea with a shot of espresso. This has worked for me often to stop migraine headaches.”

Caffeine and Headaches:

It is fascinating that so many readers find caffeine helpful in avoiding migraines. Most of the medical literature suggests that caffeine, like chocolate and alcohol, serves to trigger these episodes (Zaeem, Zhou & Dilli, Current Neurology and Neuroscience Reports, Nov. 2016). On the other hand, caffeine withdrawal can trigger headaches (Martin & Vij, Headache, Oct. 2016). This suggest that each person needs to determine whether caffeine is more helpful or harmful when it comes to preventing migraine headaches.

Learn More:

For more information on migraine headaches, you may wish to read our Guide to Headaches and Migraines or listen to our interview with Dr. Jennifer Kriegler, Director of the Headache Medicine Fellowship at the Cleveland Clinic.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
Headaches & Migraines

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An ice pack placed on back of neck also ice compresses on both eyes & forehead & of course listen to Mozart in secluded shaded room (a lot less caloric) Homeopathy Nox Vomica worth a try, too.

Remember APC for headaches? Aspirin, Phenacetin, and Caffeine! I guess it hasn’t been sold since 1983, probably because of the Phenacetin.

I’m tempted to say “Two out of three ain’t bad.”

Phenacitin was linked to cancer, but its metabolite — acetaminophen (Tylenol) is not and is still used. Nowadays doctors believe migraine headaches are caused by inflammation around nerves and blood vessels. The combination of caffeine (constricts blood vessels), acetaminophen (reduces pain), ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory) and an antihistamine (anti-inflammatory) is like a magic bullet, especially taken at the first signs of a migraine.

Migraines can also trigger muscle tension headaches (and vice versa). So things that induce muscle relaxation can be therapeutic as well (massage, muscle relaxants, kava tea, heat).

When I feel a migraine coming on, I drink an iced small 6oz coke with a straw and eat salty chips. Caught early enough , it works every time.I can remember having a migraine when I was very little.

Anybody have any sure fire techniques to induce this freeze. Ironically when I don’t try to get one they can happen but when I am trying to do so on purpose it doesn’t work—and there is just so much ice cream you feel like eating quickly when you have a migraine. I have tried ice cream, frozen fruit (bananas, raspberries etc), ice water, ice cubes.

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