Ice Cream Brain Freezes Have Nothing to Do with Your Brain

published Apr 14, 2017
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(Image credit: cunaplus)

Brain freezes are nuisances that come in between you and your ability to eat a pint of gelato or down an ice-cold treat. But the fleeting headache has nothing to do with your brain. Instead, it’s how these cold items mess with your arteries.

The New York Daily News reports that the short-lived sensation is not a literal freezing of the brain. Instead, it’s possibly triggered by changes in the general region. “Rather than actually freezing your brain it appears to be the change in temperature in the arteries that pass near the soft palate and enter the brain that may be the culprit,” neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin tells the Daily News.

The science of a “brain freeze” is a bit more convoluted. Basically, your brain is incapable of feeling pain because it does not have pain receptors. But the outer covering of the brain — the meninges — has receptors and is where the internal carotoid artery in the back of the throat and the anterior cerebral artery meet. When you slurp something cold a little too quickly, blood rushes into the anterior cerebral artery causing these arteries dilate and contract and the brain misinterprets this movement as pain.

(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Some lucky folks don’t experience brain freezes no matter what, and scientists aren’t sure why. “I don’t know why some people don’t get it and some people do,” Jorge Serrador, a professor who researched the phenomenon, tells Motherboard. “It may be related to how reactive your nerves are. It may be related to anatomical placement. There are a ton of possibilities.”

Instead of sacrificing your frosty indulgences, opt to try an immediate remedy that can potentially rectify the situation: Warm the roof of your mouth by pushing your tongue against it. Alternatively, covering your nose and mouth with your hands and breathing quickly could be a solution, or drinking warm water can potentially work as well.