The science of drinking cold water

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Prof. Raphael Nyarkotey Obu

Well, for those who have already decided not to drink cold water due to personal reasons, this article is not meant to change your mind.  You have every right to be doubtful.  But try and read this article based on science and not emotions.  My articles are based on science and not hearsay.

How much water to drink daily?

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend that men 19 years and older drink 3.7 liters of water per day (15.5 cups) and women 19 and older consume 2.7 liters per day (11.5 cups). But can drinking cold water have a negative impact on your health?

Risks associated with drinking cold water

Watson (2021) is of the view that drinking cold water does affect the body in ways you might not anticipate or want. A small retrospective study by Saketkhoo et al., (1978) including 15 people, found that drinking cold water made nasal mucous thicker and more difficult to pass through the respiratory tract. By evaluation, the researchers found that chicken soup and hot water helped people breathe more easily.  From this study, for those with cold or flu, drinking cold water might make your congestion feel worse. Additionally, chicken soup and hot water could help those battling with COVID-19 as chicken soup and hot water helps people breathe more easily (Saketkhoo et al., 1978).

This also means that, drinking cold water can aggravate some health conditions. A case study conducted by Mattson, (2001) revealed that drinking cold water triggers migraines in people who already experience migraines.

Another study by Ren et al., (2012) reiterated Matteson’s case and revealed that the pain related to achalasia, a condition that limits the body’s ability to pass food through the esophagus, can also get worse when you drink cold water with a meal.

Watson, (2021) further asserts that in traditional Chinese medicine, drinking cold water with hot food is believed to create an imbalance in the body’s internal environment. He notes: “Typically, meals in the Chinese culture are served with warm water or hot tea. This belief is mirrored in several other cultures around the world. Some people hold similar beliefs that drinking cold water on a hot day will prevent your body from cooling down. There isn’t enough research, however, to conclude that either belief is true or false”.

Sissons, (2019) also explained that in the Indian traditions of Ayurvedic medicine, cold water can cause an imbalance to the body and slow down the digestive process. This is due to the fact that the body has a core temperature of around 98.6°F, thus Ayurvedic practitioners reason that the body needs to expend additional energy to restore this temperature after drinking cold water. In the Ayurvedic tradition, cold water can dampen “the fire,” or Agni, which fuels all the systems in the body and is essential to health. Ayurvedic practitioners also believe that warm or hot water helps to ease digestion.

But Felman, (2019) had a different view. He notes: “In western medicine, there is little scientific evidence to suggest that cold water is bad for the body or digestion. Drinking plenty of water can help the body flush out toxins, aid digestion, and prevent constipation”.

The researchers concluded that drinking water at 16°C may be the best temperature for rehydration in dehydrated athletes. Newman, (2017) study also found that consuming cold food and drinks can cause sore throat or cold. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

Cold water: Myths demystified

In demystifying the assertion that some people believe drinking cold water is a bad habit that can harm their long-term health, Watson (2021), notes: “This belief is based on the idea that drinking cold water contracts the stomach, making it harder to digest food after a meal. Additionally, some people also believe that the body has to work harder to maintain its internal temperature of 98.6°F (37°C) if you’re drinking water that’s near the temperature of ice, or less than 36°F (4°C)”.

But is there any truth to these ideas?

The science of drinking cold water.

Drinking cold water does have some benefits. Lafata et al., (2012) state: “drinking cold water during exercise can help keep your body from overheating and make your workout session more successful. This is probably because drinking cold water makes it easier for your body to maintain a lower core temperature.”

Riera et al., (2014) investigated the effects of different drinks on the cycling performance of 12 trained male athletes in a tropical climate. The researchers reported that drinking an ice-slush beverage was better for performance than drinking water at a neutral temperature. However, they also concluded that the athletes achieved the best performance when consuming an ice-slush beverage that also had a menthol aroma.

A small study from 2013 investigated the effects of drinking water at different temperatures in six people who were dehydrated, following mild exercise, in a hot and humid chamber. The researchers found that changing the water temperature affected the sweating response of the participants and how much water they drank. The optimal water temperature in the study was 16°C (60.8°F), which is the temperature of cool tap water because the participants drank more water and sweated less.

Drinking cold water and weight loss

Girona et al., (2014) study is of the view that drinking cold water can help promote weight loss. Though Brazier, (2018) also suggests that drinking more water can help the body burn slightly more calories, there appears to be little difference between drinking cold and room temperature water.

McCaffrey, (2016) study notes: “Drinking plain water, no matter the temperature, has been associated with lower calorie intake throughout the day”.

Additionally, McCaffrey, (2016) states that drinking water as an alternative to sugary beverages is good for your digestion and maintaining a moderate weight, even if the water you drink is on the colder side. From the studies, drinking water that is cold may help you burn a few extra calories as you digest it, “because your body has to work harder to maintain its core temperature. But it’s not likely that drinking cold water is a powerful jump-start tool for weight loss (Watson, 2021).

Warm or hot water better than cold water?

Watson, (2021) notes that drinking warm water can:

  1. help digestion
  2. aid in circulation
  • assist the body in getting rid of toxins faster

While this isn’t a “risk,” per se, it’s something to keep in mind as you decide how you’d like to get water in your body. Szlyk et al., (1990) is of the view that drinking warm or hot water has been found to make you less thirsty.  Additionally, this can be dangerous on days when your body is trying to keep cool by losing water through sweat.

Hosseinlou et al., (2013) suggests that the optimal water temperature for rehydration following exercise may be 16°C, which is around the same temperature as cool tap water. The researchers reported that participants who consumed water at this temperature drank more water voluntarily and sweated less than when they drank water at other temperatures.

A previous study by Khamnei et al., (2011), concluded that drinking cold water at a temperature of 5°C “did not improve voluntary drinking and hydration status” in six Taekwondo athletes.  Watson, (2021) asserts: “If you opt to drink warm water, be aware that you may not feel thirsty as often as you should”.


There is little scientific evidence to suggest that drinking cold water is bad for people. In fact, drinking colder water may improve exercise performance and be better for rehydration when exercising, especially in hotter environments. However, drinking cold water may worsen symptoms in people with achalasia, which affects the food pipe. Drinking ice-cold water can also cause headaches in some people, particularly those who live with migraine.

People should make sure they get enough water each day, regardless of its temperature. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine advise that females need to consume around 2.7 liters of water a day to meet their hydration needs and males around 3.7 liters. This intake can come from both foods and beverages.

Some people may want to avoid drinking cold water due to one reason or the other. Drinking cold water while you have a cold or flu, or if you have any chronic condition that results in slower digestion, is probably not a great idea. But, while some cultures regard drinking cold water as a significant health risk for everyone, there isn’t a lot of research to support that claim. There are plenty of benefits to drinking warm water, though. As for the benefits of drinking cold water? They turn out to be the same benefits of drinking regular room-temperature water: keeping you hydrated and feeling refreshed.

Disclaimer- The information is meant for general interest only and should not be considered as medical advice.

The author is an honorary Professor, Naturopathic Researcher, Theologian, Medical law researcher, Chartered Management Consultant (Canada) and a final semester LLB student. He is also the President of Nyarkotey College of Holistic Medicine & Technology (NUCHMT) and African Naturopathic Foundation. E-mail: [email protected]

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