New research finally explains the sharp pain we get when we gulp down ice cream. We at the Science Muse think the explanation fits perfectly in biology classes – especially if you’re teaching your students about blood flow or the brain.
Here is the recap from Discover Magazine:
New research suggests that changes in blood flow in the brain—and through the anterior cerebral artery in particular—are correlated with that flash of pain while eating cold food.
In a study presented at the Experimental Biology conference this week in San Diego, researchers got 13 participants to sip ice water through a straw pressed right against the roof of their mouths—prime conditions for brain freeze. Blood flow in their brain was measured using transcranial Doppler as they sipped. At the moment the ice water sippers got brain freeze, the anterior cerebral artery dilated to let blood rush through the brain. When the artery constricted again, the pain also subsided.
Jorge Serrador, who carried out the research, speculates that brain freeze is a self-defense mechanism for the brain. A rush of warm blood keeps the vital organ from getting cold. (On the other hand if the brain gets too hot, yawning may be one way of cooling it down.) The downside of that hot blood rush is that forcing more blood in the skull is like forcing more things into an overstuffed bag. And that high pressure situation in the skull translates into a headache. Luckily, in the case of brain freeze, it’s over pretty quick. Carry on with your ice cream.