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Cold vs. Warm Water for Health
Can a glass of cold water cause cancer?

Nothing beats a glass of cold water on a hot day.
Can cold water be bad for you?

There are few things better than a cold glass of water on a hot day. At least that's what I've always believed, until I heard something surprising. A client warned me that you should only drink warm or tepid water, because cold water is BAD for you.

There are several websites and blogs that say cold water causes, "stomach cramps, discomfort, and bloating." They believe that "drinking cold water can alter our normal digestive process." Some even go so far as to say cold water can cause cancer. I decided to look into the claims and see if there was any truth to what they said.

THE CLAIM: Cold water "solidifies" any oily foods you've eaten and slows down digestion. The cold "sludge" then reacts with stomach acid and is absorbed by the intestine faster than solid food. That "sludge" lines the intestine, turns to fat and leads to cancer.

There's a whole lot of bad science in that statement. Let's start with the fact that when you drink something cold, it quickly warms up. It starts warming in your mouth, gains heat as it passes down your throat and within seconds of reaching your stomach all temperature differences are eliminated. The idea that a glass of cold water could "solidify" oils in your stomach simply ignores basic human physiology and how our bodies stay warm.

But what if cold water COULD create a "sludge?" Well, then it would have to deal with stomach acids that are designed to break everything down before they move things on to the intestines. Most of what passes from the stomach to the intestines is at the same consistency. The temperature of what you drink isn't enough to change the speed that digestion happens.

Because "sludge" isn't created by cold water, that also means there's nothing triggered by cold water that can "line the intestine, turn to fat and lead to cancer." The American Cancer Society lists several things that can cause cancer including too much sun, lack of physical activity, poor diet, smoking, excess drinking, pollution and a genetic predisposition. But cold water has NEVER been shown to be a factor.

Warm water promoters weren't about to admit defeat. When confronted with the facts they changed tactics. One site claims that ice-cold water is bad because it "can harm the delicate lining of your stomach." Of course, that's false. If our stomachs were that delicate, they wouldn't last long filled with digestive acids.

There is one claim that's accurate about cold water. If it's particularly cold, and you drink it fast enough, you can experience something known as "brain freeze." Your brain doesn't really freeze, here's what happens.

When you eat something cold like ice cream, or drink an especially cold beverage, it changes the temperature at the back of your throat. That where you'll find the internal carotid artery (which feeds blood to the brain) and the anterior cerebral artery.

Receptors called meninges, where the two arteries meet, dilate (they get larger) when exposed to rapid temperature drops. The increased blood flow is a survival mechanism that our bodies take to make sure the brain stays warm. However, our skulls are a fixed size. Quickly pushing a lot of blood into that area can raise pressure within the skull and is believed to be behind the pain of brain freeze.

Fortunately, the effects of brain freeze don't last long, from a few seconds to less than five minutes. The best way to stop the pain is by normalizing the temperature of your mouth. Take your tongue and press it up against the roof of our mouth to warm it, or drink a warm beverage. That shuts down the excess flow of blood and allows pressure within the skull to return to normal.

When you want something to drink, reach for a tall cool glass of water and enjoy. It's one of the best things you can do for long-term health.

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