Why we get brain freeze when we eat ice cream

We’ve all been there before. One minute you’re happily scarfing down a two-scoop cone of cookie dough ice cream. The next thing you know, you have a splitting headache. Commonly referred to as “brain freeze,” the intense pain can make you regret you indulged in a sweet treat—almost.

ice cream photo
Flickr | michaeljohnbutton

What is brain freeze?

So what gives? Turns out you can blame a hard-to-pronounce group of nerves for the sudden pain.

“A brain freeze is what happens when cold food touches a bundle of nerves in the back of the palate,” Stephanie Vertrees, MD, headache specialist, neurologist and clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine, told Science Daily. “The sphenopalatine ganglion (SPG) is a group of nerves that are sensitive to cold food, and when they’re stimulated, they relay information that stimulates a part of the brain to have a headache.”

brain freeze
Flickr | Jayel Aheram

OK, but is there any way to avoid it, or make it stop once it strikes? There are some tips and tricks people swear by that will have you back to enjoying your frozen treat in no time.

Use your tongue to warm up your palate

Some people say that simply pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth when the headache strikes will relieve the discomfort. “Because your tongue has a lot of good flow, it can warm up the palate quicker,” Dr. Jessica Heiring, an expert in headache and migraine management at the Minneapolis Clinic of Neurology, tells the Star Tribune. “Also, drinking something warmer right away would help.”

Eat slowly

This one’s easier said than done. But if you take the time to savor your ice cream, then you’re less likely to experience that piercing headache. Bonus: on average, it takes your brain about 20 minutes fto get the signal that you’re full. Therefore, the slower you eat, the less you’ll consume. Good news for your waistline!

Add some hot fudge

What’s better than plain vanilla ice cream? A hot fudge sundae, of course! Not only will a warm topping make your snack even tastier, it can also reduce some of the cold from the ice cream that causes brain freeze in the first place.