Why ice creams give you ‘brain freeze’ decoded

It is felt when cold food touches a specific bundle of nerves


Houston, 09.07.17: 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 Texas A&M University in the U.S.

“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 Ms. 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,” Ms. 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.