As long as I can remember my dad told me that cold water is not good and everyday he drank liters of warm water (from a huge beer glass…hehe). I’m grateful that I come from a family that never was into cold drinks or ice cubes. To this day I don’t like to drink cold water and having something cold such as an iced tea or ice cream is a treat that I enjoy slowly, not too cold and not too often. Where does this supposingly healthy habit come from? And what does science say about it?
Have you ever wondered why Chinese people always drink hot water? If you’d ask them why, the answer would usually be “it’s better for your health”. But why?
Traditional Chinese Medicine & cold water
In traditional Chinese medicine, water is cold (yin) by nature and the stomach is considered the ”oven” of our body. Our stomach is like our fire pit or engine that we throw logs (food) into to keep us going. If this fire is not burning up, our metabolism (inner fire such as energy) will be burning up too. Our food ”logs” will sit in the stomach, not digesting properly what we ingested. The body (stomach) needs then to warm up and transform nutrients so we can absorb them. If we drink too often cold water it will slowly turn off the heat, and this can result in problems with our digestion. This can then lead to a poor immune system, a poor circulation, intestinal cramps, and abdominal pain.
Almost all diseases (genetic diseases are an exception) start in the gut. So if you develop issues with your digestion, you can also create other diseases in the body that seem totally unrelated to your gut.
When you look at a thermal imaging camera, you will notice that the stomach is always red/orange (hot) even if our hands are green/blue (cold). Our hands/feet will especially be cold if we are fatigue, experience swelling or menstrual cramps (which are all yang/heat deficiency symptoms). On that same thermal imaging camera, water is dark blue. The water element is yin by nature. So if you drink cold water (dark blue cold fluid), your ”red hot” stomach begins to turn blue/cold as well… and this is not how the body should operate.
Let me give you example. What happens when you put soup in the fridge? The fat solidifies. We eat (healthy) fats. What happens if we put cold water (drinks) on top of the soup with fat? It solidifies in our stomach, building up gunk. However, if you drink hot liquids this will only help your body melt away the fat in the food. Also the energy of the body is not used for heating up the cold water, but for absorption of the nutrients instead.
But what about those warm summer days?
It seems very logical to think that we need cold water on a hot summer day to keep our bodies cool, right? Let me give you one more example. What happens if you drop cold water in a hot pan? You will create steam and moisture. The same thing happens in your body. Putting cold water in a hot body creates moisture and dampness. And you know what loves to grow in dampness? Bacteria, candida, and parasites. “Dampness” in traditional Chinese medicine actually means pathogens and parasites.
So if you have ever wondered why they drink hot tea in warm countries? Now you know why and now you know what to do when someone is having a heat stroke.
In a nutshell: according to traditional Chinese medicine, hot water is a simple way to improve your health and prevent diseases.
Ayurveda & cold water
Also in Ayurvedic health the temperature of our drinks matter. The key principle of health in Ayurveda depends on how well you’re able to digest what you ingest. This is for example the reason that there are guidelines in Ayurveda for better digestion like food combinations, spices, and the temperature of our food/drinks. According to Ayurveda if you drink cold water it’s like adding cold water on a burning log inside of the body (the gut) that will extinguish our digestive fire. The body is then forced to use energy to warm up the cold liquid so it will match the temperature of your body. This takes away energy from your body that is needed to digest what you ate/drank.
What does the science say about this?
What I just discussed sounds pretty logical: cold water takes more time to be warmed up by the body. This takes energy that could have been used for digestion and therefore the digestion becomes less efficient. But what do studies say about drinking warm water (while eating) instead of drinking cold water?
In this study (from 2009) an experiment was done on the effects of cold meals on the digestion. The study examined the effects of meals of different temperatures on the digestion system. In this study participants were given three different liquid or solid meals with a different temperature. The study measured the efficiency of the digestion by measuring the gastric emptying after the ingestion of liquid or solid meals at three different temperatures (4, 37, and 60 Celsius degrees). Unfortunately, not a lot of details about the exact effect on the digestion were given. However, the study did found that when participants were given meals of temperatures more extreme than the body’s temperature, their body took more time to digest that meal. This suggest that the colder the food (water) is, the more energy the body will need to heat this up.
Two other studies had the same results as the previous study. This study from 1988 found that gastric emptying in the participants’ bodies was less efficient when they were given cold liquids. ”The initial rate of gastric emptying of the cold drink was significantly slower than the control drink (37 degrees C)”
The other study (from 1998) found that liquid meals that have a temperature that is either colder or warmer than the body’s temperature have an effect on gastric emptying and can cause the body to consume more energy and time to digest them (”have an inhibitory effect on gastric emptying”).
There are not a lot of studies done on this topic, but the studies I found point in the direction that it might be better to drink warm water than cold water especially during a meal or right after a meal.
Why I don’t like to drink cold water
For me personally, avoiding cold drinks has been a great way to improve and maintain my health. Once I started doing this more consciously I also noticed that it reduced my IBS problems. Drinking cold water too often/too fast feels unpleasant to me. It just doesn’t feel right and it can truly give my stomach discomfort. Therefore, I very rarely drink cold water/drinks and when I do I make it a special occasion and I take my time. It’s a habit you (maybe) have to get used to. I normally mix half a glass of boiled water with half a glass of room temperature water. I hope once you give this habit a try you might notice an improvement in your digestion and overall health too.
What about you? What is the temperature of your water? I would love to know.
Dr. Mee Lain Ling TCM, M.A. (Ed), B. Ed.
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