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Brain Freeze: Read This Before You Lick That Ice Cream

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Brain Freeze 1One of the most painful side effects of eating ice cream is brain freeze – a condition where the brain goes numb for a few second, right after you take the first bite of an ice cream. Well, if it is any consolation to you, scientists are working hard on finding out the reason why you get brain freeze. Learn more about it here...



1) What is Brain Freeze?


Also called the “ice cream headache” mostly because it is caused after you bite into an ice cream cone or a popsicle, this condition has no official medical name. However, the medical explanation behind this condition is available. According to Dr. Christy Minor, a pediatrician at the East Wood Clinic in Paris, “When you eat something really cold and it touches your palate, the nerves send signals to your blood vessels that supply your brain and your blood flow is altered causing the pain.” She, however, adds, “It's not dangerous and it doesn't last long, usually a few minutes.” However, that would hardly be a consolation to those who go through this mind-numbing pain, even if only for a few seconds.



2) The Conference


At the recently concluded Experimental Biology 2012 Conference, held in San Diego between April 21 and 25, researchers presented the results of a study involving 27 healthy volunteers. The lead author of the study, Jorge Serrador and his team, conducted the study to identify the causes of brain freeze. They did so with the aim to find a cause so that future research on migraines or post-traumatic headaches (the category into which brain freeze can be kept) is more influential and effective. Speaking during the conference, President of the Migraine Research Foundation, Cathy Glaser, who has no connection with the study, said, “We do not know what causes migraines…there are a lot of theories around, but that’s why basic research is so essential.”



3) Nothing New


Researchers, since late 1970s, have been working on studying and understanding brain freeze better so it is not a new phenomenon. The only thing known so far about this condition is that it is easy to investigate, it can be caused without any drugs, and it goes away on its own, very quickly. Dr Robert Smith, founder of the Cincinnati Headache Center, at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said in a recent interview, “The pain pathway in an ice cream headache is the spheno-palatine ganglion, a mass of nerves that stretches from the back of the palate into the head and controls the contraction and dilation of blood vessels.” Researchers such as Dr. Neil Raskin and Joseph Hulihan have studied brain freeze extensively but there is still much scope for more research to be done in this direction.



4) Serrador’s Research Brain Freeze 2


In his research, Serrador and his team asked each volunteer to drink ice-cold water, not directly, but from a straw. They had to drink water with the straw pressed close to the roof of their mouths. This was done because the roof of the mouth is considered to be the place which induces brain freeze. The volunteers drank water, raised their hand when the pain started, stopped drinking water, and then raised hand again when the pain was gone. Then, the researchers, using a transcranial Doppler, checked the blood flow velocity in the brain. It was found that the blood flow increased considerably, especially in the anterior cerebral artery in the volunteers who experienced brain freeze. Why  brain freeze occurs in the forehead mainly is explained in the fact that this artery supplies blood to the brain’s frontal lobe.



5) The Causes


Although, Serrador admitted at the conference, “We’re not sure what might be causing the pain itself,” the researchers are citing one possible reason – increase in blood flow to the frontal lobe. However, before the researching team says anything conclusive, it is mandatory to conduct more sophisticated research into the matter, said Dr. Seymour Diamond, Executive chairman and co-founder of the National Headache Foundation. Speaking about the results of the Serrador study, Dr Diamond said, “I’m wary of the results. I don’t think this is going to be a breakthrough for migraine or post-concussion headaches.” And that is what Serrador also thinks that is why he is going to carry on his research with his next step being to test if blocking trigeminal nerve eliminates brain freeze.


Brain is the most important organ of our body and if it stops, even if only for a few moments, it is frightening. However,  the scientists have not given up hope on conducting more research and finding a solution to this problem, you should also stay hopeful that your brain freeze will have a remedy one day. Until that happens, however, be careful while biting into that ice cream.


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Brain Freeze: Read This Before You Lick That Ice Cream