Thanks For Finally Figuring Out How Brain Freeze Works, Scientists!

Brain freeze is nobody’s friend — and there’s no way we can slow down when it comes to eating ice cream, so it’s one of those necessary evils. The science of the whole painful experience has alluded us for a long time, but now researchers claim they’ve gotten to the bottom of it.

Brain freeze isn’t as hard to study as say, unpredictable migraines. Scientists can make brain freeze happen in their test subjects and then break it down to see what it’s all about. We’d like to think said subjects were paid well to go through such a horrid experience.

LiveScience says scientists were trying to get at migraines, and figured they might have stuff in common with brain freeze. So they had 13 volunteers sip ice water through a straw touching the roof of their mouth. When brain freeze hit, volunteers raised their hands and then raised them again when it went away.

The researchers monitored the blood flow through their brains using an ultrasoundlike process on the skull. They saw that increased blood flow to the brain through a blood vessel called the anterior cerebral artery, which is located in the middle of the brain behind the eyes. This increase in flow and resulting increase in size in this artery brought on the pain associated with brain freeze.

When the artery constricts, reining in the response to this increased flow, the pain disappears. The dilation, then quick constriction, of this blood vessel may be a type of self-defense for the brain, the researchers suggested.

The headache hits because all that blood can’t be cleared as quickly as it comes in, which might raise pressure inside your skull and cause pain.

So now that we know why it happens, we can think about how crazy science is while shoving ice cream down our throats. It’s not like there’s any way to avoid brain freeze if you’re bent on getting icy goodness into your body as quickly as possible. But migraines, if they do turn out to work the same way, could be treated with drugs that stop the blood vessels from opening up so quickly.

Cause of Brain Freeze Revealed [LiveScience]