Yes, You Can Drink Cold Water

My yoga teacher told us a few weeks back that we should refrain from drinking cold water, either with meals or at any other time. This led to a pointed rebuke from another long-time student who had an extensive nutritional background, and the merry debate went on until the instructor ended with, “Well, this was what they told me in a physiology class that I’m taking.”

I remembered this exchange reading last week in the NY Times about a study which showed people often cling to ideas which conflict with scientific consensus and common sense. Further, that those who often feel strongest are often the least knowledgeable. Although this seems counterintuitive , almost surreal, we have seen this in action. In fact, this conundrum seems to be one of the most pressing problems of our time, one which, despite the ready availability of good information, persistently leads to the opposite. Case in point: reactions to the Mueller report. Case in point: the recent outbreak of measles, which ought to have been eradicated in the U.S. Case in point: see my post about eating cheese.

Why do easily validatable yet unsubstantiated ideas get so easily disseminated and supported? Perhaps it is a function of our response to the Information Superhighway which gives us 1) too much information 2) sometimes delivered by the unscrupulous which leaves us to be 3) overly reliant on people we (think we) can trust. Because 4) you can drink cold water.

Don’t Drink Anything

Part of the problem with readily available facts is that we have a firehose of information now fired at us, every day. Don’t drink cold water. Don’t drink hot tap water. Don’t drink bottled water. Don’t drink tap water. Don’t drink fluoridated water or unfluoridated water or unfiltered water or water from a lake or a stream. Drink more water. Don’t drink too much water. And never on a Thursday if there’s a blue moon.

It gets ridiculous. Some of it is true. Some of it has a basis in some facts, but qualifiers are in the details which may or may not apply to you. For example, if you have an old house with lead plumbing, then hot water from the tap is more likely to have traces of lead in it than cold water. In that specific case, facts do explain why it’s not a good idea to run hot tap water in an old house to use for cooking rice, pasta, tea, or coffee. Or, as another example shows, bottled water left in the sun or in aging plastic bottles can potentially contain chemicals leeched chemicals from the plastic.

Given too much information, it is hard to make an informed decision. Some people may be prompted to throw up their hands and say to hell with all of it.

Can I Interest You in Snake Oil Water?

Meanwhile, advertising, by definition, is trying to encourage you to buy something. Maybe you wanted it. Often you didn’t. Thus, some advertising will use persuasive tactics including masquerading bogus claims as simply delivering information. Consumers know this, and advertisers know they know this, so they’ll even pretend to be “more honest” than the other unscrupulous so-and-so. from Jagr/Flickr

Curiously enough, the original snake oil was a real thing, at least according to this fascinating NPR article. Chinese railroad workers brought various medicines to the U.S. when working on the railroad, including a solution derived from the oil of the Chinese water snake, full of omega 3 acids which are known to reduce inflammation. Over time, of course, others created all sorts of concoctions that they called snake oil–much of it laced with alcohol–to the point where “snake oil salesman” became a dictionary-based term meaning “fraud.”

In the same way, the original function of Gatorade was to help athletes regain electrolytes, which is a useful thing. Once this scientifically-based knowledge was widely disseminated, however, the real electrolyte “explosion” began. People started drinking lots of Gatorade, whether they had been sweating or exercising or not, and Gatorade added more sugar to their mix to encourage more consumption. This has led to a point where Gatorade is widely criticized for being more likely to cause health problems from excess calories than in provides to athletes.

To counteract this, other liquid purveyors started peddling other anti-Gatorade products such as coconut water, “Smart” water, “pure” water, mineral water and so on. When they figured out how to add caffeine and sugar and market them to college students, the Red Bull Monster RockStar “energy drink” race was on.

What we end up with is a zillion water-based products, nearly all of which are either harmful in large quantities or of no better value than tap water with a decent filter. Reasonably well-informed people–and you are reasonably well-informed if you are reading this blog–end up choosing whatever kind they like based on the taste or the picture on the bottle. Reasonably well-informed, we pick our poison.

Kaa, Walt Disney Pictures, from

Trust in Me….

Being bombarded with so much information, much of it from unscrupulous sources or those whose job is to convince us to buy useless or potentially harmful products, we turn wherever we can to someone we can trust. Since some of those sources pay scientists to concoct biased studies, we sometimes decide we don’t trust scientists. But if a friend tells us or a teacher, maybe we believe it since they aren’t out to harm us.

At the same time, we also do our own research–guess where? We don’t go to the library to read physiology books or the Journal of the AMA. We just google and hope for the best. Part of the problem is also that our trusted sources get some information from the same sources. Or, even if my teacher takes a class from another teacher, I don’t know how far upstream someone went to validate basic information.

Even the information those trusted sources are basing their knowledge on are not all necessarily created equal. I know, for example, that a lot of Chinese medicinal techniques, just like the techniques of ancient European female herbalists (i.e. “witches”) are legitimate. But which ones? Or, even more precisely, which ones will work for me and which ones might cause harm? For example, my yoga teacher has been employing a lot of techniques involving banging body parts together because her Chinese medicine suggests that it might help the kidneys. I have planar fascitis in my heels, so banging them is incredibly painful. It would be hard to know if my kidneys improved, but it’s easy to determine that my feet hurt so, Don’t Do That.

My Best Friends Aristotle, Galileo, Newton…

This always leads me back to the scientific method, which is the crux of my criticism. When a trusted source says “do XX” or “don’t do XX,” I have to know the basis of the claim and how to test it. So, getting back to cold water, let’s go through the arguments against drinking cold water. (This was based on a review of five different Internet sites, from WebMd to proprietary “diet and nutrition advice” blogs.)

  1. A study showed people who were prone to migraines might get a migraine when drinking iced water. Good point. Also known to non-migraine sufferers as an “ice cream headache.” If you have a migraine, maybe you should avoid cold water and ice cream. For me, don’t imbibe very cold things too quickly. Not a reason to give up cold water entirely. Or ice cream. Phew!
  2. People who have a rare condition called achalasia, which causes the esophagus to have difficulty passing food and liquid to the stomach, may have problems drinking cold water. Treatment typically involves getting the esophageal sphincter to relax, which wouldn’t be helped by cold liquids. OK, check. If you don’t have achalasia, you’re safe.
  3. A study of 15 people in 1978 found that drinking cold water thicken their nasal mucus. Whether that was a sufficiently large study or updatable is an issue for me, so I’m unconvinced that its scientific value is valid. However, even if this was a legitimate outcome, it means I might not want to drink very cold liquids when I have a stuffy nose. Check. That’s not all the time.
  4. Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine think it’s bad for the digestion. Some sites suggest further that drinking cold water while eating fats prevent the fats from melting while others says it prevents the stomach from emptying quickly.

Overall, three of the reasons do have science behind them but with very limited application. The “think it’s bad for” claim is the one that bothers me. However, I can test it when I eat, and so can you. Personally, I find hot liquids are better for digestion of a really heavy meal, but cold water/liquids don’t appear to prevent my digestion. Sorry, 5000 year medicinal practitioners. My agni appears to be quite robust despite the ice in the cup.

Plus, here’s one more important point. Drinking cool water after exercise is important to replace body fluids, and numerous studies have shown that slightly cool water seems to better at that replacement than warm or hot water. This might be because sweaty people are more likely to drink what they need when the water is cold.

Common sense and science trumps nutrition science sites which are peddling their own cucumber or coconut water-based concoctions. Here’s another freebie from your well-informed, trusted source, aka me. If a website tells you a concoction is “delicious,” it’s probably not.

Ultimately, cold water can be better for you than warm water and is definitely better than no water at all. Trust me on this.

Candorville comic. Trusted friends aren’t always knowledgeable.

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