What is a Brain Freeze and What’s The Science Behind it?

You know what the worst thing about devouring delicious ice cream is? Brain freeze. Or, as some people call it, an ‘ice cream headache.’ Have you ever wondered what is actually going on in your brain, however? When that sudden, sharp pain takes over, what is really happening? We’re going to delve into a bit of brain science and work out what on earth causes those darned ice cream headaches.

What is a brain freeze?

Just in case you’ve never had the pleasure (ha!) of a brain freeze, let us quickly explain. A brain freeze tends to happen when you’re eating or drinking something extremely cold; usually an ice cream. It’s a sharp pain, usually experienced in the forehead region and around the temple area. As a kid, we were always told to eat our ice creams slowly, because you didn’t want to get brain freeze! And it’s true, eating or drinking ice cold things too quickly is the cause of the dreaded headache. However, what is the science behind it? What’s actually going on in our brains?

The science behind a brain freeze

Despite the name, you’ll be glad to know our brains aren’t actually freezing over (thank goodness for that). However, many scientists believe that the pain does actually come from our brains decreasing in temperature. Although not enough to freeze your brain, luckily. So, what does cause the brain to cool down? Well, this is where we’re gonna get a little bit science-y, so hold onto your hats:

  • When drinking or eating something that’s extremely cold, too fast, you’re changing your back-throat temperature in – usually quite rapidly.
  • The back-throat is where the juncture to the artery which is what sends all the blood to the brain, along with the anterio-cerebral artery which is where your brain tissue begins.
  • On the outer covering of the brain are certain receptors called meninges, which are where the two arteries meet.
  • When the cold hits those receptors, it causes the arteries to dilate and contract which is what your brain thinks is pain.

There is no pain

What’s totally bizarre is that there is no actual pain that comes with a brain freeze, as your brain cannot feel pain. The arteries dilating and contracting is what leads your brain to believe that there is the sensation of pain. While that clever part of your body may have billions of neurons, the brain can’t actually feel pain. Instead, it’s being given the sensation of pain from the receptors and arteries. Weird, right? The brain doesn’t like change (unsurprisingly), and so brain freeze is a way of stopping you from doing that. As soon as the cold hits those receptors, it’s basically saying “Don’t change my temperature.” Clever brain!

Preventing brain freeze

There’s only one real way to stop brain freeze from happening altogether, and that’s to stop eating ice cream which is never going to happen. Instead, you can try to minimize your chance of getting the ice cream headache by eating and drinking cold things slowly. Don’t slurp that slushy or try to eat your entire ice cream cone in one. And if you do get brain freeze? Well, it doesn’t usually last long, so you’ll just have to ride it out. Sorry!