Scientists provide an explanation as to why the “ice cream headache”, that feeling of freezing of the brain when we quickly take something cold like an ice cream, an ice lolly or a drink
It is called “brain freeze” and it is that curious phenomenon of sudden freezing of the brain that we experience when we eat or drink something frozen cold quickly.
Who among us has not tried it at least once while enjoying an ice cream, a granita or drinking a very cold drink? It is that strange feeling that our brain has frozen in a flash. There is a kind of sudden and particular pain that catches the meninges: an unusual phenomenon which we do not know how to explain, which arises lightning and just as lightning goes away.
This phenomenon is popularly known as “ice cream headache”, but the scientific term that identifies it is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It is precisely that sensation of pain that radiates from the root of the nose to the forehead following the intake of a very cold food. But why does this happen?
An explanation is the neuroscientists of the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, who believe that this is one way the body has to put the brakes on an action or change that happened too quickly.
«Brain Freeze is actually a type of headache that is rapid onset, but resolves just as quickly – explains Dr. Dwayne Godwin in the note Wake – Our mouths are highly vascularized, including the language: that’s why we measure our temperature here. But drinking a cold drink quickly does not give the mouth time to absorb the cold well ».
Putting something very cold in the mouth, according to the scientists, causes a too rapid change in the temperature in the back of the throat, where there is the internal carotid artery that brings blood to the brain. The same thing happens with the anterior cerebral artery – a terminal branch of the carotid artery – which is located where the brain tissue begins.
“One thing that the brain just doesn’t like is that things change quickly – underlines Godwin – and freezing the brain is a mechanism to prevent this from happening”.
This pain sensation occurs even though the brain cannot actually feel pain, despite its billions of neurons, Godwin points out. Pain associated with brain freezing is detected by receptors in the outer lining of the brain called the meninges, which is where the two arteries meet. So it happens that when a sudden cold stroke causes these arteries to dilate and contract, the brain interprets this sensation as pain.
Investigating the Brain Freeze, according to the researchers, is more important than you might think, because it can be useful to understand the reason for the headaches that afflict many people.
“We can’t easily remove migraine or a cluster headache from people, but it can easily induce brain freezing without long-term problems. We can learn something about the mechanisms of headaches and extend this to our understanding to develop better treatments for patients, “concludes Godwin.