A gob of ice cream may seem like a little scoop of heaven, but quickly sucking down the innocuous dessert may also cause a pretty intense headache. They’re friggin’ painful, and can easily cause a grown man to buckle to his knees, weeping a stream of big ‘ol giant tears.
We affectionately refer to this phenomenon as a “brain freeze.” Smarter people than me, however, call it a “cold-stimulus headache” or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, which means “nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion.” The name isn’t necessarily important, however, because all that really matters is that the headaches are really, really freakin’ painful.
These smarter people also believe that they know the cause of brain freezes, cold stimulus headaches and sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. They’ve explained that the swift introduction of intense cold causes
[t]he blood vessels in your palate constrict rapidly…This is harmless, but a major facial nerve called the trigeminal lies close to your palate and this nerve interprets the constriction/dilation process as pain. The location of the trigeminal nerve can cause the pain to seem like its coming from your forehead. Doctors believe this same misinterpretation of blood vessel constriction/dilation is the cause of the intense pain of a migraine headache.
Loosely translated, these big words seem to indicate that ice cream doesn’t actually cause the brain to actually freeze. The goopy dessert may cause us to become fat and necessitate the purchase of bigger trousers, but it should to leave our gray matter intact.
Not so fast.
The smarter people have now determined that fatty foods may actually be damaging the brain. They’ve published the results of their studies in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, and these studies show that foods that contain a significant amount of fat may damage the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the area of the brain thought to control hunger and thirst.
A diet that consists of fatty food may therefore actually be damaging the internal regulatory structure and the portion of the brain that is suppose to protect against obesity. Michael Schwartz, a professor and director of the Diabetes and Obesity Center of Excellence at the University of Washington, explained that this theory “might reflect fundamental biological changes in how the brain works that help explain why it’s so hard to keep weight off.”
Of course, the study focused only on damage to rodents’ brains, and further testing is necessary to determine whether human brains react in a similar manner. Still, the possibilities are not necessarily reassuring. According to Dr. Schwartz, a review of brain activity of a handful of humans found that obese people had more gliosis — scarring in the brain from injured neurons — in the hypothalamus. This at least suggests that fatty foods can cause substantially similar damage the human brain.
Dr. Schwartz may be smart, and he may have led the team in conducting this research, but he’s not very in tune with the practical ramifications of his findings. He concluded that he “would be concerned about this” and that “maybe we as humans should think that there are potential consequences for indiscriminate eating.”
Maybe we should be concerned about this? Maybe we should think about the consequences of indiscriminate eating? Thank you, Captain Obvious.