The Science of Brain Freeze

updated May 3, 2023
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.

You know that feeling when you eat a spoonful of extra cold ice cream and suddenly a torturous pain spreads through your head? We’ve all experienced it. It’s Ice Cream Week on The Kitchn, so what better time to get a little science lesson on brain freeze—or rather, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.

Studies conducted by Harvard medical researchers along with scientists at the University of Ireland and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs found that brain freeze is the result of putting something cold against your upper palate, which causes a sudden surge of blood into the brain.

The scientists believe the increased blood flow could be part of a temperature-regulation mechanism. When it detects intense cold, the body pumps more blood to the brain to keep it functioning in a warm environment. But that activity may also be raising pressure inside the skull, producing the headaches we call brain freeze. Recovery happens when the artery returns to its normal size.

The cure? Eat cold things a little more slowly and move them around your mouth, or just brace yourself and wait it out.

Read More: The Science of Brain Freeze at The Atlantic

Related: Product Review: Cuisinart ICE-21 Ice Cream Maker

(Image: Faith Durand)