I like to call something like this a ‘luxury problem’.
Chances are if you are suffering from a brain freeze you are simultaneously sipping on some deliciously frosty beverage in a tropical locale.
Or, you are snuggled on your sofa with a big tub of ice-cream watching your favourite film.
(Preferably with George Clooney or the female equivalent of course)
OK, so I might be setting a slightly misconstrued and romanticised scene in relation to moments when your brain feels like it has frozen solid in your skull, but hey at the very least, chances are you aren’t at work.
Unless you work at Ben & Jerries.
Anyway, back to the freezing of ones brain.
Brain Freeze is actually a medical problem, or more accurately headache, with a very medical (and decidedly non luxurious) sounding official name:
That sounds deadly.
It’s not. It’s just your body’s way of asking you to take it easy with your frozen feast. To take a chill pill – geddit?!
Often, when you are feeling under the weather, those doting on you will stick a thermometer under your tongue.
That’s done for very good reason and not just to stop your whining. Our tongues are highly vascularised – check it out in the mirror and you will see lots of blood vessels hiding under there.
It’s not just our tongues that have all of this blood flow going on, but also our whole mouth.
So, when you gulp down your frozen daiquiri like it’s going out of fashion ….
… you are rapidly changing the temperature of the blood vessels in your soft palate at the top of your mouth.
One thing you don’t like is a change in your internal environment.
That’s right, you hate it.
When a change in temperature is detected in the mouth, nerve impulses send a signal to trigger a response that rapidly dilates the blood vessels in an attempt to direct blood to that area in order to warm it back up again.
OK, so far we have established that eating or drinking something cold affects the dilation of the blood vessels. First they will constrict in response to the cold and then they will dilate as your brain reacts to this change in temperature.
Now we want to know how this ‘freezes’ our brain.
Studies have shown that the change in temperature of your soft palate directly affects the internal carotoid artery. This is an important artery that runs along the back of your throat and feeds the blood to the brain via the anterior cerebral artery.
Where these two arteries meet is where brain tissue begins. Despite the brain having billions of neurones it can’t actually feel pain. However, receptors in the outer covering of your brain called the Meninges can.
They sense the contracting and dilating movement of these important arteries, which is a sensation they interpret as pain. Whilst it feels like it’s your whole head that’s aching, it’s really just the pesky lining. Although, to be fair, it is very useful for lots of other things so we won’t give it too hard a time.
You may consider all of this silly science, but studying brain freeze is proving to be a very useful technique to study other kinds of headaches and migraines.
After all it’s easy to get someone to slurp a slurpee in a lab but not so easy to induce the less luxurious variety of headaches that scientists are still struggling to understand.
So, for the sake of research, keep slurping away.