Brain Freeze: Scientists Say They've Found The Real Cause Of Ice Cream Headaches

What's the real cause of brain freeze? You know -- the sharp, unpleasant sensation that follows eating ice cream too quickly. The reason behind it may be deeper than previously thought, say some scientists.

Researchers, including a scientist from Harvard Medical School, conducted experiments using trans-cranial Doppler to study blood flow in the brains of patients who had brain freeze induced with iced water. Compared to control patients who used normal water, the brain-freeze subjects were found to experience a rapid dilation of the anterior cerebral artery, which floods the brain with blood. The resulting pain is what's known as brain freeze.

The findings are being presented at the Experimental Biology 2012 conference in San Diego, which is taking place now.

Online health publication Medical Daily notes that the experiment is far from frivolous; it could help people suffering from ailments much worse than eating too much ice cream:

Since migraine sufferers are more likely to experience brain freeze than people who don’t have this often-debilitating condition, brain freeze may share a common mechanism with other types of headaches, including those brought on by the trauma of blast-related combat injuries in soldiers. One possible link between brain freeze and other headache types is local changes in brain blood flow.

Previously, scientists had thought that brain freeze was simply the result of too-quick cooling and rewarming of the blood vessels.