Ice cream cures migraine? A delicious theory why it possibly does

cup of ice cream Ice cream a cure for migraine? (Image: Sandhya Raghavan)

In 2010, my family and I were on a road trip to Palani, Tamil Nadu. I am not a big fan of travelling and on that day, I had a nasty migraine. As my folks made a pit-stop along the way for refreshments, I made an uncharacteristic request for ice cream. I was as confused as my parents were; I have never been an ice cream fan and I am not to this day. For some odd reason, on that day, I felt nothing but only ice cream could put me out of my misery.

As my family snacked, I nursed a small cup of ice cream, managing one small morsel at a time. It was plain vanilla (or was it strawberry?), a single-scoop cup from a non-descript local brand.

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While eating, I found some relief in pressing the cold ice cream against the roof of my mouth. It was something that I did instinctively. Oddly, it had an ameliorative effect on the migraine. The pain retreated, leaving me stunned at my own discovery.

In the years that followed, every time I sensed a migraine approaching, I’d try to stave it off with a cold, milky beverage or an ice cream. Mostly, it would work.

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Does ice cream cure migraine?

But eating ice cream to cure migraine is not a new thing. The remedy had been around for a while. So sadly, I couldn’t take credit for inventing a delicious migraine cure. Here are some accounts I found online.

“If I take ice cream (vanilla, never chocolate because that can be a migraine trigger) and put a spoonful on the soft palate in my mouth, I can sometimes snuff out a migraine prodrome. The effect doesn’t last very long, but it is a very effective and tasty way for me to stave off the effects.”

“I try to give myself brain freeze, and hold ice cream or ice against the roof of my mouth, ice packs on my head, and heat packs on my neck and shoulders.”

“I hold ice cream or a popsicle or something up against the roof of my mouth, or towards the soft part near my throat if the migraine is traveling down my neck, and it’s like the cold takes away the “heat” of the migraine. I try to pair it with some drugs and caffeine if i can take it. In some cases this has been the turning point of a migraine for me.”

Is there a science behind it?

To understand how ice creams seemingly cure migraines, we should learn about brain freeze first.

Brain freeze is that unpleasant sensation caused while eating or sipping something cold too fast. It typically occurs when the food touches the upper palate or the roof of the mouth, which comprises a network of blood vessels.
Blood vessels constrict when they come in contact with anything cold and dilate when exposed to heat.

Although migraine is mostly an enigma, researchers think that cerebral blood flow has something to do with it. We typically get headaches when the blood flow to the brain increases.

Since the skull is a closed system, increased blood flow puts pressure on the brain, resulting in throbbing pain.

Here’s a possible theory. Eating or sipping on something cold makes the blood vessels above your soft palate constrict, reducing excess blood flow to the brain. Which could be a reason why you feel relief when you eat ice creams during a migraine.

Should you eat ice cream when you have a migraine?

There’s no clear science that validates this theory. So far, all we have are anecdotal accounts of ice cream as a migraine cure. However, I can vouch for the fact that ice cream tastes much better than ibuprofen or paracetamol.

Speaking strictly from experience, I’d say it wouldn’t hurt to try. But if you are lactose intolerant or diabetic or watching your weight, I suggest you try iced water instead.