A Timeless Question Answered: What causes Brain Freeze?


I had the strangest argument with my girlfriend this week. I was eating ice cream too fast and I suddenly got a sharp headache “ahhh brain freeze” I said with agony, hoping to get some sympathy. To my surprise, my partner had never heard of brain freeze and asked me what I was talking about. As I tried to explain, I found it impossible to actually tell her why brain freeze happens and what it is. If you are a disbeliever like my girlfriend or simply want to know what causes this painful occurrence, read on.

Brain freeze is quite clearly caused by cold things and in my case, it is very often ice cream. How can a tasty treat that is so delicious and so friendly betray me so many times? I trusted you ice cream! 

Scientists currently offer two theories to explain brain freeze although they are not completely sure if one, both (or neither) are responsible. One theory suggests that it is our blood vessels that are responsible while another theory suggests it is nerves. I have a third theory that ice cream is in fact evil pretending to be delicious, but my girlfriend quickly told me this was nonsense; hypothesis rejected.

Brain Freeze Blood Vessels

This theory suggests that as any cold material cools in your mouth it will cool your tongue. This, in turn, will quickly cool the blood vessels that supply blood to the rest of your head. The blood vessels will then change the amount of blood sent to the brain resulting in the sharp pain we feel. I like this theory because I know from experience if I can keep my tongue away from the cold ice cream I usually survive, brain freeze free.

Brain Freeze Nerves

This theory postulates that when a cold material is in your mouth the nerve endings on the roof of your mouth react to the cold presence. This new information about this sudden coldness is sent to your brain. Scientists believe that the nerves sending this information may send a less detailed message, something like “face cold” to the brain. The brain is then tricked into thinking that the whole face is cold including the forehead and you are tricked into thinking your forehead is freezing and in pain. I don’t like this theory so much as it really sounds a little too silly. Our bodies do such amazing things every day and we are now being asked to believe that simply eating something cold sends our brains into a tailspin? I am not buying it.

What theory do you think is true? Or do you believe my alternative answer that maybe ice cream is an evil mastermind with the aim of causing frozen brains across the world so it can complete its dreams of world domination? Please let me know in the comments below.