Why does ice cream feel “brain freeze”?


Have you ever been caught off guard by a sudden “brain freeze” sensation while eating ice cream? To give you an idea, this is so common that it even has a scientific name: sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Responsible for this unpleasant sensation is the sphenopalatine ganglion, a set of nerves located in the palate – or roof of the mouth.

However, another theory by scientists is that “brain freeze” could be caused when the blood vessels in the roof of the mouth constrict too fast because of the sudden drop in temperature, before dilating again. That would explain why the sensation passes so quickly.

In a study published in the scientific journal The FASEB Journal, researchers went further to find out the reason behind this sensation. They analyzed blood flow in the arteries of the brain of some participants who drank ice-cold water through a straw until they felt frostbite. The conclusion was that drinking the ice water increased blood flow in some of the blood vessels in the brain.

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In previous research, published in the BMJ, 145 high school students in Canada were divided into two groups: the first was told to take at least 30 seconds to eat 100 ml of ice cream, while the second group had to take 100 ml of ice cream in five seconds.

In the first group, nine students had the sensation of “freezing the brain”, while in the second group, the sensation took over 20 students. The result suggests that this sensation is associated with the speed with which ice cream is eaten.

How to get rid of the “brain freeze” feeling?

While it may be unpleasant, the sensation is not very long-lasting. Still, experts have some tips for what to do:

  • Drink some warm or room temperature water
  • Pushing the tongue towards the roof of the mouth, which helps to warm the area
  • Placing your thumb on the roof of your mouth, which can also help warm the area
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your hands and breathe in quickly to increase the flow of warm air to the roof of your mouth

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