You might think there's nothing quite as refreshing as a cool glass of water. But perhaps you notice a belly ache after gulping down a chilly beverage. So why does cold water hurt your stomach? Or is cold water actually more beneficial, health-wise?
First things first, whether water is cold, warm or room temperature, drinking enough throughout the day is key to staving off dehydration, which can lead to headaches, dizziness or digestion problems, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
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And per Harvard Health Publishing, staying hydrated is key to your overall wellbeing because it:
- Supports digestion
- Carries nutrients and oxygen to your cells
- Flushes bacteria from your bladder
- Supports healthy blood pressure and stabilizes your heartbeat
- Cushions your joints
- Protects organs and tissues
Here are five ways cold water (and other cold stuff like soft drinks or shakes) can affect your digestion, plus two myths to ignore.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
Use this equation to determine how much water you should drink every day:
Body weight (in pounds) ÷ 2 = minimum ounces of water you should drink per day.
1. Cold Water Supports Digestion
Drinking water with your meals can support your digestion, per the Mayo Clinic. But is it better to drink cold water specifically?
Really, temperature just depends on your preference — whether you prefer cold or warm, water of any kind will help your body break down food. This also holds true for those harder-to-digest meals (think fried fast food): Drinking plenty of water will help support your body's ability to process greasy foods that might ordinarily give you stomach pain.
Staying well-hydrated will also help soften your stools, preventing digestive issues like constipation, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Should You Drink Water Before or After Eating?
You should drink water after eating to help your body break down your meal, according to the Mayo Clinic. But really, there's no reason why we shouldn't drink water while eating —drinking water before, during and after eating is all perfectly fine. What's important is that you stay hydrated.
2. Cold Water Might Hurt Your Stomach
Upper stomach pain after drinking cold water really is a thing for some people, says William J. Bulsiewicz, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, and author of Fiber Fueled. But is drinking ice cold water actually bad for you?
Not necessarily, he says. "It's possible that some people have sensitivity to temperature and can have stomach spasms as a result of cold water," Dr. Bulsiewicz says. "This is a completely individualized phenomenon, so if you drink cold water and notice discomfort, then you might consider opting for room-temperature water instead."
So while it's not harmful to drink a glass of cold water, you can skip the ice if cold water hurts your stomach.
Just avoid drinking too much water at night, says Dr. Bulsiewicz. “Nighttime is meant for rest — you want deep, uninterrupted sleep. Getting up to use the restroom is one of the things that can interrupt a great night's rest, and, therefore, the best time to be drinking water is during daylight hours.”
3. Cold Water Burns Extra Calories
This is true, Dr. Bulsiewicz says, and there's some evidence that cold water can support your metabolism function.
Here's how: "Cold water needs to be warmed up to re-equilibrate at a body temperature of 98.6 degrees," he says. "To do this, energy is spent, so yes, cold water does speed up your metabolism."
Metabolism refers to the process by which your body converts what you eat into energy, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This potential benefit may be the reason behind metabolism-related hydration myths, like drinking cold water in the morning on an empty stomach.
A very small but widely reported study years ago showed that drinking 48 ounces of cold water daily could help you burn about 50 extra calories a day, Dr. Bulsiewicz says. Some studies since then, though, have noted a much smaller and very marginal effect from the cold temperature that likely wouldn't result in significant calorie burning or weight loss.
However, drinking enough water throughout the day may encourage weight loss regardless of temperature, especially if you choose water over other high-calorie beverages.
People who drank the largest amount of plain water each day ate fewer total calories, drank fewer sweetened beverages and ate less fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol than their counterparts who drank less plain water in a February 2016 Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics study.
Upping your water intake by 1 to 3 cups a day could decrease calorie intake by 68 to 205 calories a day, the researchers wrote.
Does Drinking Water Cool You Down?
It can! According to a September 2012 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, cold water can help you regulate your internal temperature and delay a rise in body temperature while you're exercising.
4. Certain Cold Drinks Can Trigger Heartburn
There's no evidence to suggest that cold water and heartburn are linked. But other potentially cold drinks — like carbonated beverages or alcohol — can trigger symptoms, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
5. Cold Water Can Aggravate a Swallowing Disorder
For most people, cold water is good for drinking — whether or not you choose to sip icy beverages is just a matter of personal preference.
But that's not always the case for people with achalasia, a rare disorder that affects your esophagus's ability to push food down into your stomach.
Here's why it is bad to drink cold water (or any cold beverage) if you have the condition: Cold drinks may trigger symptoms like difficulty swallowing, chest pain and regurgitation, per an October 2012 study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. In contrast, hot water helped ease symptoms.
It's important to note that this study was small, so more and larger studies are needed to better understand why you shouldn't drink cold water if you have achalasia.
How Long After Drinking Cold Water Should You Wait to Take Your Temperature?
Wait about half an hour after eating or drinking anything to take your temperature, according to the Mayo Clinic.
2 Myths to Ignore
Now you know how cold water affects your digestion, whether or not it leads to a pain in your stomach.
But there are also several unsubstantiated claims about why cold water hurts your stomach. Here are some of those myths:
1. It Is Bad to Drink Cold Water With a Meal
Remember, drinking water at any temperature helps support the digestion process, according to the Mayo Clinic. In other words, drinking while you eat is not a valid reason for why cold water hurts your stomach.
2. Cold Water Causes Bloating
This one is false, Dr. Bulsiewicz says: Cold water does not cause bloating. "Water can cause bloating if it's carbonated or if you start chugging it, and in the process of taking big gulps swallow air in addition to the water."
However, there's no reason the water's temperature alone would cause such symptoms.
Stomach Upset Due to Cold Weather
There's no evidence that links stomach pain to cold weather specifically. But lower temperatures do increase your risk for getting sick in general, according to Northwestern Medicine. That's because your body is less able to fight off viruses (like the flu or common cold) when it's chilly.
- Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics: “Plain Water Consumption in Relation to Energy Intake and Diet Quality Among US Adults, 2005–2012”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “How Much Water Do You Need”
- Harvard Medical School: “Big Benefits of Plain Water”
- Mayo Clinic: “Nutrition and Healthy Eating”
- Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility: "Response of esophagus to high and low temperatures in patients with achalasia"
- Cleveland Clinic: "GERD"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How much water should you drink?"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "The effect of a cold beverage during an exercise session combining both strength and energy systems development training on core temperature and markers of performance"
- Mayo Clinic: "How to take your temperature"
- Northwestern Medicine: "Can Winter Make You Sick?"
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: "Metabolism Myths and Facts"
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.