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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 deliberately 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. They 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 and Handy Home Remedies" intriguing. It is available in libraries, bookstores and online at

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 (January-February 2011) suggests that Vicks does indeed foil fungus.

Readers often come up with useful approaches to common ailments. Share stories at