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The Skinny on Ice Cream Headaches

Speedy Eating Raises Head Rush Risk

WebMD Health News

Dec. 20, 2002 -- The head rush can strike without warning, leaving an ice cream lover in stunned silence for seconds at a time between licks. But despite the pervasiveness of the condition that cuts across both flavors and generations, researchers say surprisingly little is known about the peculiar phenomenon of "cold stimulus headache," more commonly known as ice cream headache.

To fill this "important knowledge gap," Janusz Kaczorowski, associate professor in the department of family medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and his co-researcher, eighth grade student Maya Kaczorowski, set out to determine once and for all if eating ice cream too fast will give you an ice cream headache. And it turns out Mom was right.

In the study, 145 middle school students were randomly assigned to either a "cautious eating" or "accelerated eating" group. Both groups were given about half a cup of ice cream, but the accelerated eating group was instructed to eat it in less than 5 seconds, and the cautious group was told to eat about half of it in less than 30 seconds and the rest at their own pace.

The results appear in the Dec. 21-28 issue of the British Medical Journal, and the authors note that the study was supported by "an unrestricted grant from mum and dad."

Shortly after completing their assigned task, the students completed a questionnaire and described their experience. The study was completed over six eating sessions conducted between December 2001 and January 2002.

Twenty-seven percent of the students in the accelerated group reported that they suffered an ice cream headache, compared with only 13% of the slower eaters. Of the 29 ice cream headaches reported, 59% lasted for less than 10 seconds.

The researchers say the findings "confirm that cold stimulation of the palate induced by gobbling up ice cream more than doubles the likelihood of developing ice cream headache among middle school students."

And contrary to popular belief the condition only occurs in summer, their results "suggest that ice cream headache can be induced in cold weather even in subjects who eat their ice cream at a slow pace."

In addition, the condition may be much more widespread than previously thought. The researchers say previous studies suggest that only about a third of the population suffer from ice cream headaches. But, in this study, nearly 80% of the students said they had survived an ice cream headache in the past.

SOURCE: British Medical Journal, Dec. 21-28, 2002.

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