Science & Spirit: Brain Freeze, Don’t Stress about Stress, Eat Apples

Science & Spirit: Brain Freeze, Don’t Stress about Stress, Eat Apples

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This week, researchers share why we get a brain freeze when enjoying a cold drink or ice cream. They also warn us not to freak out so much if we feel anxious. And they would like us to eat some apples and tea, please. Want the bigger picture? Read on.

The Dreaded Brain Freeze

If you love ice cream and cold treats like Icees and Slurpees, you’ve probably experienced the sudden sharp pain of a “brain freeze.” (If you want to appear super smart, call it by its medical name, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.) According to Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Wake Forest Baptists Medical Center, the brain itself can’t actually feel pain. He explained to Science Daily that the brain freeze sensation is caused by receptors in the outer covering of the brain—the meninges—where two arteries meet. When the cold hits the back of your throat, it causes a dilation and contraction of these arteries, which your brain picks up as “oooowww!” If you have a brain freeze, the best way to fix it is to put your tongue up on the roof of your mouth to warm it, normalizing the temperature of your mouth overall.

Reframing Stress and Anxiety

“Many Americans now feel stressed about being stressed and anxious about being anxious,” psychologist Lisa Damour, Ph.D. told the audience during her presentation to the American Psychological Association. She shared that stress and anxiety get a bad rap, but reminds us that in moderation, they are part of the human experience. Anxiety, for example, is helpful if it is alerting you to study for an upcoming test. Starting a new job or bringing home a baby causes stress but can be very positive. Her point? Humans don’t need to feel relaxed at all times. “Don’t set the bar at being happy nearly all of the time. That is a dangerous idea because it is unnecessary and unachievable,” she said. “If you are under the impression that you should always be joyful, your day-to-day experience may ultimately turn out to be pretty miserable.” Amen to that. (For more on this subject, see our story “Rewriting Your Relationship with Tension and Anxiety.”)

Grocery List: Apples and Tea

It sounds like flavor plus paranoid, but flavonoids really are good for us. New research from Australia’s Edith Cowan University assessed the diets of 53,048 people over a 23-year-span and found that flavonoid-rich foods helped protect against heart disease and cancer, especially if people were heavy drinkers or smokers. Flavonoids are found in food like tea, blueberries, broccoli, apples and oranges—aim for about 500 mg a day for the protective effect. “Flavonoids have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and improve blood vessel function, which may explain why they are associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease and cancer,” wrote the lead researcher, Dr. Nicola Bondonno.

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