Brain Freeze: The Science Behind It

Picture this: You're outside with the kids on a hot summer day. All you can think about is cooling down—so you reach for an ice cold drink or an ice cream. But the refreshment is short lived due to the piercing headache associated with "brain freeze." We've all experienced it at one time or another, but few know why it happens or what long-term repercussions it can cause.

A study presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 meeting in San Diego found that the sudden headache seems to be triggered by an abrupt increase in blood flow on the brain's anterior cerebral artery. Researchers induced "brain freeze" by having participants sip ice cold water with a straw placed directly on the upper palate in the mouth. This shock caused an increased blood flow through the artery and caused the headache. Once this reaction diminished, the pain subsided.

The Migraine Link

Lead researcher of the study, Jorge Serrador of Harvard Medical School, explained to ABC News that the changes in blood flow to the brain, like those caused by brain freeze, may play a role in an increased occurrence of migraines and other headaches. If this is true, ABC News reports, this could have significant effects on the treatment of chronic migraines.

How to Melt the Freeze

Prevention here is key. Eating cold foods slowly will allow the mouth to adapt to the change in temperature. Researchers believe that the increased blood flow to the brain is a defense mechanism forcing more warm blood into the brain to regulate temperature.

But what if you've been taken by the freeze? How can you treat it in the moment? While most ice cream headaches last for only a minute or so, they can certainly be painful. Drinking a warm beverage to heat the upper palate will help. Even rubbing your tongue on the roof of your mouth will work—anything to increase the temperature.




Can Understanding Brain Freeze Help Treat Migraines?
ABC News