Explained: brain freeze

Published on June 12th, 2012
Explained: brain freeze

Life just wouldn’t be the same without ice cream… but how come it makes your head hurt sometimes? It’s time to find out…

Ice cream is seriously tasty stuff, but we think it should come with a warning: eat this delicious dessert too fast and you might find yourself with a nasty little headache. It won’t don’t last very long (about 30 seconds or so) but those 30 seconds are painful enough to ruin a really awesome ice cream and – for some some people – they can even trigger a more serious migraine attack!

We’ve all been blasted by brain freeze at some point in our lives, but not many people know what causes it. And it’s time to reveal the surprising truth: although it may feel like your brain is freezing, the pain is actually caused by the opposite effect – your body is trying to make sure that your brain stays nice and toasty warm.

How it works
When something extremely cold touches the roof of your mouth on a scorching summer’s day, it causes blood vessels in your head to constrict, or tighten up. This response is thought to be triggered by a nerve centre just above the roof of your mouth.

But why do the blood vessels need to tighten up? Because this backs up the blood that’s inside your head, allowing it to stay close to your brain and to keep it safe and warm. It’s a really smart system, but the extra pressure in your head is what makes it so sore. But let’s face it… you’d rather have a headache then lose a bit of brain function every time you enjoy an ice cream.

How to fight the freeze
If you’re suffering from brain freeze, you can speed up the recovery by pressing your tongue really hard against the roof of your mouth, or by drinking something warmer than the ice cream. Then again, you could prevent the pain completely by eating your ice cream a little bit slower and trying to keep the sweet stuff away from the roof of your mouth.