Is Cold Water Bad For You? How to Get the Most Out of Your Drinking Water
The temperature of drinking water has become a hot topic—but it’s not a new one. In fact, water temperature has been studied since the beginning of recorded medicine within Ayurvedic traditions.
So, is drinking cold water bad for you? Is warm water a healthier choice? The answer depends on who you ask and under what conditions the water is being consumed.
Let’s start with a few facts about how water temperature affects the body. Cold water constricts blood vessels, which may hinder our ability to absorb it. Warm water dilates blood vessels, which is why warm drinks are recommended for sinus congestion—the dilation allows mucus to move more quickly out of the nasal cavities.
Ayurvedic and other traditional medicine practitioners believe that cold water impedes digestion and contributes to various physical ailments and diseases. However, drinking cold water does have some benefits. Not only is it a great way to cool down after a workout, but research has shown that it can even (slightly) increase your caloric burn rate.
We also know that whatever the temperature of your water, choosing a non-toxic bottle—like one made of borosilicate glass—is essential. Otherwise, even the cleanest water will end up contaminated before you ingest it.
Is Drinking Cold Water Bad For You? What the Science Says About Drinking Cold Water
Some research suggests that cold water could be disadvantageous for the following reasons:
Increased mucus production
Cold water can worsen congestion related to cold and flu symptoms, leading to more mucus production and decreased velocity, meaning it is harder for mucus to pass through the respiratory tract. Instead of constricting blood vessels (like cold water), hot water dilates blood vessels and helps better manage nasal and respiratory-related symptoms. (1)
This same phenomenon can apply to other respiratory congestion, such as that caused by seasonal allergies. Ice-cold water is also known to exacerbate asthmatic symptoms in children. (2)
Headaches and Migraines
If you struggle with headaches or migraines, cold water could make symptoms worse. While the mechanisms aren’t entirely clear, a 2001 study found that women who had suffered from migraines in the past year were more than twice as likely to experience a migraine onset after drinking ice-cold water. (3)
Achalasia is a medical condition that inhibits the body’s ability to allow food to pass through the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscular ring located where the esophagus meets the stomach. It controls the entry of food from the esophagus. In the case of achalasia, the LES fails to open, leading to a backup of food in the esophagus, which can result in pain, weight loss, and heartburn. Cold water—and even cold foods—seem to worsen this condition, while hot water and hot foods help. (4)
Decreased Heart Rate
Studies show that drinking ice-cold water can decrease the heart rate. However, this seems to only be of concern in patients experiencing an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). (5)
Traditional Medicine’s Take on Drinking-Water Temperature
While modern medicine relies on current studies of water temperature and health, Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioners have discussed the potential problems caused by drinking cold water for centuries.
Originating in India, Ayurveda is the oldest recorded form of practiced medicine. According to this ancient tradition, ice-cold water can decrease the body’s energy for digestion, healing, cognitive function, and other tasks. That’s why drinking water temperature is recommended to closely match the body’s natural temperature (98° F), making it easier to absorb and hydrate.
While warm liquids are thought to be more suitable for the body for daily consumption, specific body compositions (referred to as doshas) might do better with cold versus warm temperatures. For example, Vata body types, in particular, are said to benefit from warm foods and beverages and do best avoiding cold water and foods.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is another ancient form of medicine still widely practiced. Similar to Ayurveda, TCM practitioners recommend that water be consumed as close to the body’s natural temperature as possible, if not warmer (over 100° F). And both Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioners agree that very cold water could impair digestion.
According to TCM, cold water weakens the stomach and spleen. The spleen aids in the assimilation of nutrients and their delivery to the rest of the body. An impaired spleen in the Chinese medicine tradition leads to faulty digestion, malabsorption of nutrients, increased risk of infections and illness, chronic bleeding, and other health problems. TCM also teaches that the stomach requires room temperature, warm, or hot water for proper functioning and that cold water can contribute to heartburn, esophageal reflux, poor circulation, sinusitis, and other ailments.
Chinese medicine relates many health conditions to internal heat or dampness and their correlation with various health conditions. And cold water is thought to create excessive moisture and dampness, adding to excess phlegm and mucus, kidney and gallbladder stones, and arterial plaque.
Benefits of Drinking Cold Water
Before you conclude that drinking cold water is always a bad choice, it’s important to note that there are benefits. Here are three research-backed advantages to drinking your water cold:
Enhanced Athletic Performance
Because cold water slows the rise in body temperature, athletes who consume it can experience greater endurance and performance. Especially if you are an endurance athlete or live in a warm climate, drinking colder water during strenuous exercise seems to increase stamina and prevent overheating. (6)
Improved Glucose Metabolism
While not water-specific, we also know that exposure to extremely cold temperatures positively impacts the body’s activation of brown adipose tissue (brown fat) and metabolic function. The primary purpose of brown fat—often referred to as “good fat”—is to burn calories to generate heat. More research is needed, but perhaps it would support the hypothesis that drinking ice water could improve glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity. (8)
Water and Weight Loss
Drinking cold water can support weight loss by minimally increasing the body’s caloric burn rate. This is because the body must work harder to maintain its core temperature, so it burns slightly more calories when you drink a glass of ice-cold water or take a cold shower, for example.
More importantly, drinking water, no matter the temperature, plays a big role in maintaining healthy weight. Adequate water consumption is key for appetite control and satiety, increased metabolism, and detoxification. One study found that the ideal temperature for drinking water was 60.8° F, as it encouraged people to drink more water voluntarily and sweat less. (9)
If you struggle to drink enough water, consider making infused water, which is both refreshing and can offer a slew of health benefits.
Is Drinking Hot Water Good For You?
Scientific researchers and practitioners of ancient medicine (Ayurveda and TCM) both acknowledge that drinking hot water can be good for your health. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits:
Relief from Nasal Congestion and Sinus Headaches
Whether you’re drinking a hot beverage or heating water to inhale the moisture, heated water can help relieve nasal congestion and the headaches caused by excess mucus pressure. (10)
Support for Digestion
Some experts believe that hot water can positively impact digestion and gut motility, helping with regular bowel movements and the elimination of toxins. One study showed that hot water helped with the expulsion of gas and intestinal movement post-surgery. (11)
Hot water can increase circulation and blood flow, as veins and arteries expand and are more effectively able to transport blood.
Health-Boosting Effects of Teas and Herbal Infusions
Hot water lends itself perfectly to plant medicine. You can buy pre-bagged or loose-leaf teas to support overall health and relaxation. Studies suggest that people might drink less water overall if they are only drinking warm and hot water. To ensure proper hydration, be sure to get the appropriate amount of water to meet your body’s needs.
How Much Water Do You Need Each Day?
Mainstream recommendations advise consuming half of your body weight (in pounds) in ounces of water per day. However, the right amount depends on each person’s constitution. Factors to consider include climate, intensity and type of physical activity, how much you sweat, your age and overall health, and how much water you get from fruits and vegetables. Someone who works in an air-conditioned office in a cold climate will require less water than an active person of the same height and weight living in the tropics.
For years, the standard recommendation was to drink water before feeling the sensation of thirst (dehydration). However, newer research shows it is a bit more complex. According to recent studies, planning your water consumption (drinking before you are thirsty) is likely appropriate with higher-intensity exercise that meet or exceed 90 minutes, especially in warmer climates. For shorter-duration and lower intensity exercise, and everyday life, drinking when you are thirsty is usually sufficient. (12) It’s critical to always watch for signs of dehydration: fatigue, dark or yellow urine, excessive thirst, dizziness, and lightheadedness. Excessive hunger can also be a sign of dehydration.
Both water quality and how you drink your water are also critical to healthy hydration, no matter the temperature of the water. We recommend spring water if you can find it locally. Also, it’s best to opt for a non-toxic, borosilicate glass water bottle that’s inert, durable, and resistant to thermal shock. Avoid plastic water bottles at all costs, as they have significant negative impacts on your health and the well-being of fragile ecosystems.
Regardless of the temperature, we must drink enough H20 for our body to function optimally. Some conditions (such as migraines and congestion) are better supported with warmer water. In contrast, high-performance athletes in warmer climates will perform better when drinking water at cooler temperatures.
Hot, warm, or cold—we require an abundance of clean drinking water for health and vitality. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Water is the driving force of all nature.” Everyone's unique biochemistry plays a role, but it’s important to pay attention to the subtle cues your body provides—ultimately, that should be your compass.