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Science Explains The Ice Cream Brain Freeze

Posted 4/23/2012 7:00 am by

Delicious, beautiful, and bound to cause a headache.

The ice cream headache is one of the most common and most hated sources of headache.  When you’re tucking into a delicious ice cream treat or slurping down a milkshake, the last thing you want is that stabbing pain in your skull from getting a little too enthusiastic with your eating.  You get it, I get it, even Harvard students get it, which is why Harvard Medical School students have been inducing ice cream headaches in the lab in order to study them.  As it turns out, ice cream headaches are a close cousin to migraines and people who have migraines are more likely to get brain freeze.

“The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time,” said study researcher Jorge Serrador.  “It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so vasodilation [the widening of the blood vessels] might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm.”

Harvard brought 13 research subjects into their labs and hooked them up to various brain monitoring devices.  They gave the subjects ice-cold water to drink and told them to raise their hands when they felt the headache coming on and when it was going away.  While studying the brain freeze victims, they noticed that the anterior cerebral artery expanded, letting in more blood and causing the pressure.  When the artery constricted and reduced blood flow, the pain subsided.  So, basically, an ice cream headache is the brain trying to deal with excess cold, much like 3D headaches are the brain trying to deal with excess input.

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