The People's Perspective on Medicine

Scientists Find Rationale for Remedies

Louis Pasteur was a 19th century microbiologist. He helped develop germ theory and invented pasteurization to keep milk from spreading disease. One of his most famous sayings was, “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.”

Readers of this newspaper column have been reporting their observations for more than three decades. Often these anecdotal reports resonate with others. Sometimes science even catches up to our readers.

That happened recently when a team of scientists reported their research at the 2012 Experimental Biology conference in San Francisco. The scientists used sophisticated Doppler devices to measure blood flow within the arteries of the brain. In this study, they induced “brain freeze” headaches by having the volunteers drink ice water through a straw aimed at the roof of the mouth.

The volunteers signaled when the pain began and when it stopped. The Doppler signals showed the onset corresponded very closely to a sudden dilation of the artery above the palate. When the artery constricted, the pain eased.

The investigators explained that the body attempts to protect the brain from cold, which is why the artery dilates in the first place. But the skull doesn’t expand to accommodate the increase in blood flowing in; they believe that’s what triggers the ice cream headache.

Headache experts have long hypothesized that migraines are related to changes in blood vessel diameter. The scientists studying brain freeze are hopeful that their research will eventually lead to better medicines for migraines.

Our readers may be one step ahead of them. Many have reported that deliberating inducing an ice cream headache at the onset of a migraine can often stop the pain in its tracks. Here are a few stories:

“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.”

Another reader offered this: “I absolutely get relief from my migraines from ice cream. Starbucks
 Frappuccinos® are as good or better. It can actually cure my migraine if I catch it early enough.”

People who like innovative approaches to common ailments may find our book, The People’s Pharmacy® Quick & Handy Home Remedies, intriguing. It is available in libraries, bookstores and online at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

Another home remedy that has some scientific support is the use of Vicks VapoRub against nail fungus. Readers have been reporting on this remedy since 1999. Now doctors are catching up. A report in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (Jan-Feb., 2011) suggests that Vicks does indeed foil fungus.

Observant readers often come up with useful approaches to common ailments. Share your stories at PeoplesPharmacy.com.

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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. .
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    FYI, Experimental Biology conference was in San Diego, not San Francisco! Interesting article …

    There IS something to the rationale of extreme cold and migraine relief – it’s probably the quickest way to get blood vessels to constrict back to normal.
    Some of my own experiences: many years ago, I was visiting friends on Long Island, NY. I had a terrible migraine, and yet we were scheduled to go to Jones Beach. Even though I was feeling miserable, I went – and as soon as I walked shoulder-deep into the cold, cold water of the Atlantic Ocean, my migraine disappeared. Wow!
    Another time – I was with my family at an amusement park and a migraine was gaining strength in my head. We walked into an indoor attraction that was glacially air-conditioned – and my migraine disappeared.
    I’ve also been able to get rid of migraines with “normal” pain medication (as opposed to triptans) and the use of “HeadOn”, which provided just enough cold to break the headache. Unfortunately, “HeadOn” no longer seems to be available and I miss it. I’m back to ice/gel packs.
    Bottom line, though – anytime a migraine strikes, I crave COLD.

    Yeast is a fungus and, as a diabetic with too many skin folds, I have frequent yeast infections. I have been smothering them with Bag Balm, also a petrolatum based ointment. My prescription strength lidocaine is also in a vaseline type base. That’s how I discovered the yeast could be smothered, I used the lidocaine to relieve the itching and burning. Maybe I will try Vick’s next; I am just recovering from a multi site infection and had to use a diflucan too. The ointments absolutely work, but you have to have patience and put up with the discomfort for a week or so.

    * Be nice, and don't over share. View comment policy^