Does Turning Up the Heat on your Water Change Your Gut?

Personal preferences become the parameters of our lives – and most of them, they don’t make much of a difference one way or the other.

Does it ultimately matter whether the water you drink is cold or hot, as long as you’re staying hydrated?

Depends on which part of the body you’re asking.

Studies have shown that there can be both benefits and detriments to drinking ice-cold water. For example, if you suffer from migraines, you’re more likely to trigger one by drinking cold water. However, if you’re working up a sweat and exercising, it may be better to drink cold water to lower your core body temperature and keep yourself from overheating.

But there’s another corner of the body it might be even more important to investigate…

Its effect on the gut microbiome.

While studies have demonstrated that drinking hot or warm water can help rid the body of toxins faster, there may be another benefit: It doesn’t constrict your digestion the way that cold water can. 

By narrowing the blood vessels, digestion becomes a slower affair requiring more energy and more resources.

Let’s dig into the science so we can really understand how cold water travels through the body.

Step One: Take a Dainty Little Sip

From the moment you open your mouth to start drinking your ice-cold water, the gears begin turning.

Water travels down the esophagus, which is a preliminary step in the digestive process. The first step happens in the mouth, with the production of saliva and its digestive enzymes. As we don’t need to break down water, the esophagus is the real first step here. 

There’s a rare esophageal disease called achalasia that makes swallowing food and beverages difficult.

For those affected, drinking cold water can increase discomfort. On the other hand, drinking warm or hot water has been shown to soothe the esophagus and make drinking easier. 

Even if you aren’t affected by achalasia, drinking warm water is gentler on the esophagus. 

Ice cold water can also thicken mucus, making it more difficult to swallow and resulting in or worsening congestion. This can relate to digestion in a number of surprising ways…

For example, congestion can force us to breathe through our mouths rather than our noses, which leads to dry mouth and limited saliva production. It can also cause an upset stomach or even diarrhea if you swallow too much of it.

And most importantly, drinking cold water may cause blood vessel constriction. It also lowers your body’s natural temperature.

So if you’re trying to digest food at the same time that you’re feeding your body cold water…

The body is less prepared to absorb nutrients because less blood flows to the GI tract. And as your body expends energy to return its core temperature to homeostasis, it has less energy to spend breaking down food in the intestines. 

You’ll find these symptoms are more apparent when accompanied by a digestive disorder that’s already straining your system, but if the choice is between cold and room temperature water…

For your digestion, there’s an easy choice.

And Ayurvedic tradition agrees.

Consult the Agni

The agni, when we’re talking about the human body, refers to the digestive fire that must process, break down, and disperse all food and beverages.

Generally, in Ayurveda, like increases like. Meaning anything we consume raises the level of its representation in the body. 

Cold water quenches digestive fire. Hot or warm water strengthens digestive fire. 

With the digestive agni dampened, and food digestion disturbed, the balance of our organ systems can be thrown off and the channels of our energy clogged. 

According to Vagbhata’s text, Ashtānga Hridayam, warm, hot, or room temperature water “stimulates hunger, helps digestion, is easily digested, [and] relieves hiccups, flatulence, aggravated vata, and aggravated kapha.”

(Vata is the dosha, or specific life energy, consisting of mostly air and ether, and kapha is the dosha consisting of earth and water.)

Some Ayurvedic and Ancient Chinese Medicine practitioners also believe that cold water consumed during or within 30 minutes of a meal works to solidify the fats in the food you just ate, making them harder to break down. 

Especially in the summertime, when it’s most tempting to crush the heat with ice-cold water, it’s important to prioritize room temperature or cool water whenever possible.

It’s easier to drink ice water because it’s refreshing, which means if you’re drinking room temperature or cool water, you must be deliberate and conscious in your efforts to stay hydrated.

Studies have shown that when left to their own devices, people will drink less warm or cool water on hot days than ice-cold, leading to dehydration.

To keep your digestive system humming smoothly, try avoiding ice-cold water and seeing how your body responds!

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