By Jennifer Welsh
(LiveScience.com) Most people have likely experienced brain freeze — the debilitating, instantaneous pain in the temples after eating something frozen — but researchers didn't really understand what causes it, until now.
Previous studies have found that migraine sufferers are actually more likely to get brain freeze than people who don't get migraines. Because of this, the researchers thought the two might share some kind of common mechanism or cause, so they decided to use brain freeze to study migraines.
Headaches like migraines are difficult to study, because they are unpredictable. Researchers aren't able to monitor a whole one from start to finish in the lab. They can give drugs to induce migraines, but those can also have side effects that interfere with the results. Brain freeze can quickly and easily be used to start a headache in the lab, and it also ends quickly, which makes monitoring the entire event easy.
The researchers brought on brain freeze in the lab by having 13 healthy volunteers sip ice water through a straw right up against the roof of their mouth. The volunteers raised their hands when they felt the familiar brain freeze come on, and raised them again once it disappeared.
The researchers monitored the blood flow through their brains using an ultrasoundlike process on the skull. They saw that increased blood flow to the brain through a blood vessel called the anterior cerebral artery, which is located in the middle of the brain behind the eyes. This increase in flow and resulting increase in size in this artery brought on the pain associated with brain freeze... (continued)