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It's a sweltering summer day, so you take a big sip of a refreshing, frozen coffee--and you're immediately doubled over with throbbing head pain.
Why do frosty foods give us headaches? New research has shed light on the possible causes (and cures) of the phenomenon known as brain freeze.
When a frozen treat comes in contact with the roof of your mouth, it triggers nerves that alert your brain of the temperature change. In response, the anterior cerebral artery dilates and increases blood flow to the brain's frontal lobe to help keep it warm and protected, says Jorge Serrador, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, lead researcher on a recent study which identified the mechanisms at work during what's commonly called brain freeze.
Researchers believe that the additional blood flow to the frontal lobe increases pressure in the skull, which brain receptors process as pain. This could explain why the frontal lobe is the area of the brain that feels "frozen" post-popsicle, Serrador says.
Here are three ways to avoid the big chill:
1. Tongue It
Can you curl your tongue? Good. Fold the tip of it backward and stick the bottom of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The warmth will help heat up the nerves in your palette and cause the blood flow to your brain to normalize, Serrador says.
2. Slurp Slowly
To make study participants get brain freeze, Serrador had them suck down ice water like thirsty maniacs. Why? "The only way to get a brain freeze is to drink or eat whatever it is [that's cold] really fast," he says. If you drink (or eat) more slowly, you give your blood time to heat the tissue in the roof of your mouth and avoid triggering a cold-induced headache. So slow down and savor your treat.
3. Warm Your Hands
Your hands might not be cold, but acting like they are can make your mouth warmer, Serrador says. Cup your hands around your mouth like you would in the winter and exhale deeply. It will trap warm air in your mouth and help thaw your noggin.