Does hot water help digestion? The experts say

RI recently ordered a glass of ice water at a bar and was met with palpable disdain from my tablemate. “Why ice water?” she asked. “Cold water is not good for your system.” The mother of this particular friend is a practitioner of Ayurveda, an ancient practice of medicine that originated in India, so it made sense that he would be of this opinion. In Ayurveda it is recommended to drink water at room temperature or lukewarm for optimal digestion. But while I can appreciate that, I’m also very appreciative of ice water, so I decided to investigate his claims that warm or hot water can help with digestion.

First of all, Ayurvedic practitioners believe that the temperature of anything you eat or drink can play a role in digestion, not just water. “Cold liquid actually slows down the entire digestive system by restricting blood flow to the stomach and intestines and slowing enzyme secretion, which in turn can cause lymphatic stagnation and a slower metabolism,” says Martha Soffer, founder. by Surya Spa. “However, room temperature and warm water have the opposite effect, as they help increase circulation in the digestive system and stimulate the ‘agni,’ or digestive fire.”

While strong “agni” is generally associated with overall good health, a weakened “agni” or digestive upset can interfere with our ability to process food properly and lead to the buildup of toxins called “ama” in Ayurveda, which which can eventually lead to disease, says internist and integrative physician Charles Elder, MD, MPH. Dr. Elder, who has researched Ayurveda, likens drinking ice water with a meal to throwing ice on an active campfire: it’s generally counterproductive and requires more energy expenditure by the digestive fire to keep it going (i.e. to work well). ). ).

“If you drink water that is about the same temperature as your body, you are not disrupting the optimal state of the body or interfering with the absorption of food.” —Mira Manek, Ayurveda expert

The Ayurvedic principles that guide the optimal temperature of drinking water are also rooted in the maintenance of homeostasis in the gut. “Warm water is easier to digest because it is closer to the temperature of the internal organs,” says Ayurvedic expert Sahara Rose, author of Eat Feel Fresh: A Plant-Based Contemporary Ayurvedic Cookbook. It’s the same reason Ayurveda expert Mira Manek suggests drinking water around 98°F, and not much colder. either warmer: “If you drink a liquid that is about the same temperature as your body, you are not upsetting the optimal state of the body or interfering with the absorption of food.”

As for the medical research on whether hot or cold water helps (or hurts) digestion, there is some evidence that warm water can help promote intestinal motility (i.e. moving things efficiently through the gut ) according to a small study that tracked the stools of 60 patients who had recently undergone abdominal surgery. And another study comparing the gastrointestinal effects of eating food at different temperatures in 50 patients with functional dyspepsia (a condition that causes slower-than-normal movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine) found a speed-up benefit similar when consuming warm foods versus cold items: Hot foods “significantly accelerated gastric emptying.” This is not conclusive proof that hot water would also aid digestion in people without pre-existing conditions, but it does provide some baseline evidence to support the Ayurvedic practice of avoiding cold water.

However, when it comes to basic hydration, there probably aren’t many additional benefits to drinking hot or cold water. In fact, according to Go Ask Alice, a Columbia University resource, cold water actually leaves the stomach faster, allowing for quicker rehydration. And the American College of Sports Medicine recommends that water ingested before, during, and after exercise or athletic competition be cooler than room temperature (ie, less than 72°F), a position that is supported by research.

Torn? You can try drinking room temperature water with and around meals and cooler water after exercise to see how you feel. But really, it might not matter everybody both one way or another, says sports dietitian Marie Spano, MS, RD. “The most important thing is to drink whatever temperature of the water encourages you to drink the most of it.”

Originally published on September 20, 2018; with information from Erica Sloan.

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