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Why ice creams give you ‘brain freeze’ decoded

Houston: Scientists have identified what causes ‘brain freeze’ – a quick and intense headache felt when we consume ice creams or other such chilly treats too quickly. “A brain freeze is what happens when cold food touches a bundle of nerves in the back of the palate,” said Stephanie Vertrees, assistant professor at the Texas A&M University in the US.

“The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) is a group of nerves that are sensitive to cold food, and when they’re stimulated, they relay information that stimulates a part of the brain to have a headache,” said Vertrees. The SPG is a very important bundle of nerves, and although it is the source of brain freeze, this group of nerves is also the cause of other types of headaches, researchers said.

“This is the same ganglion that is responsible for migraine headaches and cluster headaches,” Vertrees said. “There has been a lot of research done on this bundle of nerves, but mostly for trying to prevent these more serious and longer-lasting headaches,” she said. “We now have two different kinds of devices for the SPG. One device blocks the nerve with a numbing agent, and the other that stimulates it electronically with the goal of eliminating or preventing migraine or cluster headaches from occurring,” she added. Obviously, that approach is a bit extreme for treating a brain freeze, but these links between the different types of headaches can help people who suffer from migraines. “Many people will try to give themselves a brain freeze to try to break a migraine headache,” Vertrees said.

“It may not work for everyone or work every time, but giving yourself a brain freeze can possibly alleviate a migraine,” she said. There are several (obvious) ways to avoid a brain freeze, but fewer ways to treat one. “To avoid brain freeze, eat the cold food much more slowly so that your mouth can warm up the food – don’t inhale it,” Vertrees said. “Keep it in the front of your mouth: the further-back stimulation is what triggers the brain freeze,” she said. However, if you find yourself a victim to an ice cream headache, there is a trick you can do to try and warm your way out of one, researchers said.

If you begin feeling a brain freeze coming on, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The heat from your tongue will warm up the sinuses behind your nose and then warm the ganglion that caused the brain freeze, they said. “Brain freezes are not dangerous and very self-limiting,” Vertrees said.

“It’s about slowing down and being patient and aware of the likelihood of getting a brain freeze if you eat or drink too fast,” she said.

PTI