Yesterday in the hot, hot sun, I sucked down a mango smoothie. Immediately I stopped in my tracks, squinted my eyes, and put my hand to the pain in my forehead as I regretted my choice of beverage. In the July/August 2015 issue of Men’s Health, Dr. Jorge Serrador explains how cold beverages and foods cause this rapid-onset headache more widely known as “brain freeze”.
First, the ice-cold smoothie hit the roof of my mouth causing a drop in temperature that stimulated my trigeminal nerve to remark, “It’s wicked cold in heah!” Then, the nerve sent signals to my brain telling it to send more blood to my mouth to warm it up, “Need. A. Blanket. STAT!” Almost immediately, about 20% more blood got pumped through my frontal lobe, swelling the tissue behind my forehead, “Son of a b– that smarts” But of course, my mouth was not frost-bitten, so slowly the pressure faded. I felt better…until I took another sip.
Because of this reaction, there are a few things you can do to avoid brain freeze. The easiest, depending on how thirsty you are, is to slowly consume your ice-cold beverage. Holding it on your tongue for just a moment before swallowing is enough time to bring the temperature down and avoid hitting your trigeminal nerve sensor. Another strategy is to avoid using a straw altogether (or even changing the angle of the straw) so that your beverage doesn’t immediately hit the roof of your mouth. Finally, pressing your tongue up to the roof of your mouth after taking a sip will warm the nerve and deflect it’s overreaction.
So enjoy whatever smoothie, slurpee, icee, daiquiri, frozen concoction of your choice this summer. Just remember to tell your brain to do the opposite of chill out.