Monday, April 23, 2012

Scientists set out to discover what causes 'brain freeze'

Brain freeze is a peculiar phenomenon that mostly occurs when eating or drinking something very cold, and causes a temporary headache. Even though everybody has experienced this at some point, scientists are still pondering about why consuming cold beverages causes headache symptoms. New studies point out it may have something to do with the blood flow to the brain, and these results may help us to find treatments for other, more serious forms of headache.

Inducing a headache in human test subjects is not a pleasant business, but the brain freeze phenomenon is an excellent tool, as it is easy to get and easy to get rid off again. That is why scientists set up an experiment with 13 volunteers and induced a brain freeze headache by letting them drink ice water by sipping it through a straw pressed against their upper palate. Blood pressure in several brain arteries was measured to assess whether the low temperatures influence blood flow.

A blood vessel called anterior cerebral artery, which provides blood to the most far away parts of the brain when coming from the neck, was found to be correlated with the headaches experienced by the participants. Imaging techniques showed the vessel dilated during the experiment, increasing the blood flow through the back part of the brain, resulting in a headache. Consequently, constriction of the artery caused the pain to subside. It is likely that the alterations in blood flow found during the experiment cause constriction in vessels elsewhere in the brain, to keep the overall pressure high enough: dilation can cause pressure to fall dangerously, because there is more 'space' for the blood to flow through.
According to the scientists, these results provide us with clues about how to treat other, more severe forms of headache, such as migraine. It is known that in migraine alterations in blood flow can trigger an attack. Therefore, using the brain freeze experiment as a model, we might be able to find a way to keep the blood vessels in check, and prevent them from dilating or constricting when it is not beneficial. 

No comments:

Post a Comment