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Is It Bad for my Body to Drink Cold Water?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Feb 01, 2024
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There’s a persistent urban legend that if you drink cold water, especially after eating, you’ll get cancer. The theory, which has been widely circulated via email, suggests that cold water solidifies fats you have just consumed, quickly causing toxins to create cancer in your body. Sites devoted to proving or disproving urban legends, like snopes.com, have defeated this theory quite effectively. It is not unhealthy to drink cold water, though in some cases, tepid or room temperature water may be a better choice.

One theory, upon which medical researchers have varying opinions regards whether drinking cold water is as good for you as drinking tepid water, particularly when you are exercising. Some doctors suggest that room temperature or body temperature water is better than cold water, because the body has to expend energy to heat cold water to body temperature, resulting in some water loss. On the other hand, some doctors say that after physical exertion, you should drink cold water since it will help cool the body more effectively than room temperature water.

What is clear is most people who drink cold water are likely to consume more of it, since it tends to taste better and is more satisfying. Even if drinking water right out fo the fridge results in marginal water loss, the extra water you will probably drink will help make up for this. There are some instances where you shouldn’t use cold water, but generally this doesn’t apply to drinking.

If you are attempting to help bring down a fever, or assist someone with sunstroke (animal or person), you should not immerse that person or animal in cold water. Instead you should use lukewarm water, or even slightly warm water. Cold water can provoke chills, which may actually raise body temperature. Although baths can be a helpful way to bring down high fevers, you especially want to avoid allowing someone to shiver or get chilled. If people with fevers drink water that is very icy, they may also get chilly, so lukewarm or tepid water may be a better choice.

There are a number of other urban legends associated with the amount of liquids and the type of liquids you consume. For instance people are told that coffee, tea and sodas deplete water from their bodies. Actually, people who routinely drink caffeinated beverages retain about two-thirds of what they drink, and this can be counted as part of daily fluid intake. Another “myth” regarding water is the eight, eight ounce (.24 l) glasses of water are needed daily. While this amount of water won’t hurt you, daily intake of food usually provides about half the amount of needed fluids. Most people can get by with drinking about 32 ounces (approx. 1 liter) daily.

The best indicator of whether your body is getting enough water is urine color. If your urine is dark yellow, chances are you’re not getting enough water. If you pass clear to very light colored yellow urine, your fluid intake is adequate. Remember that urine color in the morning will always be a little darker. Another indicator is thirst. When your body sends you “I’m thirsty” signals, have something to drink, but don’t worry about whether you should drink cold water or warm.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon346035 — On Aug 24, 2013

Every time after running or any other sweaty exercise session if I drink an icy cold water/drink, within few hours I get a sore throat, followed by a high temperature. That than develops into blocked nose and eventually a runny nose. Few annoying days in total and I'm good as new. Any idea why icy cold water/drinks give me a cold?

By anon315319 — On Jan 23, 2013

My two cents: Sure, most food contains some water. Soup has a lot, a tuna fish sandwich not so much, and a rye cracker has very little. You get some water from coffee, tea, etc., but not as much as when just drinking water. Then there's the drink half your weight in ounces of water thing (it's just a basic guideline). When your urine is pale yellow, you are drinking the right amount of water. It's pretty easy to figure that out, and after a while one gets to be able to anticipate the proper amount of water you need, based on your lifestyle (what you eat/drink, when, how much, etc). Your morning urine is naturally darker, and if you drank more before going to bed, you'd just have had to get up during the night to go, so that's why the going wisdom says not to drink any fluids several hours prior to bedtime.

As for the cold water question, room temperature to tepid water is easier for your body to assimilate, and you can drink a good quantity of it quickly, but unless you have really good water, it won't taste as good as when it's cold. It's good when you are dehydrated. Also it's better to drink before/after a meal, as it doesn't interrupt/slow the digestion of the food (sipping on a cold beverage during the meal has little effect). But note, drinking a lot of water before, during or just after a meal can dilute the stomach acid, and reduces the nutrients your body gets (this problem gets worse the older one gets).

Cold water tastes better, and is beneficial when one is overheated, as it cools you from the inside out. As before, don't drink a lot of cold fluids one hour prior to, or one to two hours after a meal. Gulp it, and you'll get brain freeze. It's as simple as that.

By anon300368 — On Oct 29, 2012

Drinking very cold, ice water is unhealthy because it cools and constricts the blood circulation/vessels to to the stomach and small intestine just when you need increased warmth and circulation for digestion.

Drinking ice water all day can result in poor digestion, bloating, gurgling and cramping for many people.

It's like having a nice fire for cooking then throwing cold water on it just as you start to cook your meal Everything just slows down and gets all funky.

By anon206218 — On Aug 15, 2011

It is indeed possible to drink too much water. I read about a radio contest where the contestants had to drink as much water as possible. The "winner" ended up in the hospital after drinking several gallons of water, and she later died. Excessive water drinking was also a fad in college fraternity hazings, and some pledges did die from it. Too much water can dilute a person's blood to the point where vital nutrients and minerals become ineffective.

The pain of drinking cold water is mostly caused by the constriction of blood vessels in the drinker's upper palate, not the coldness hitting the stomach. It's the same mechanism as "brain freeze". The average stomach doesn't care if the water is ice cold, tepid or hot. I'd say it would probably be better to drink more water before a meal in order to create a sense of fullness. Drinking a lot of water after a meal may trigger uncomfortable bloating.

I think it's possible that extremely cold water could cause some congealing in the esophagus as it goes down to the stomach, so some people could experience more phlegm production as a result. Fluids behave the same way going down an esophagus as they do in any other tube or hose. Milk contains fat globules which often cling to the sides of a glass as you drink it. Swallowing thick, fatty foods such as whole milk or ice cream could lead to a build-up in the esophagus if not accompanied by a cleansing beverage.

By anon162609 — On Mar 24, 2011

Is drinking cold water after a meal good for my body? Can someone help me? Anon - Windhoek

By anon150478 — On Feb 08, 2011

Maybe someone can help me with this question.

Why is that every time I drink a cold beverage, ice. water, soda, or even have ice cream, phlegm usually builds up in my esophagus, which forces me to clear my throat like every five mins.

I was diagnosed with acute sinusitis a few months ago, which comes and goes. (Especially when the weather does a drastic change.) Does that cause the constant build up of phlegm in my throat?

Someone please advise!

By anon150470 — On Feb 08, 2011

I've heard that drinking too much water can be bad for you. A tribe I've seen on a documentary stays a couple miles away so their children don't get used to drinking a lot of water. l think everything in moderation, and not too warm and not too cold.

By anon139124 — On Jan 03, 2011

I've never any headaches or anything strange happen to me because of drinking ice cold water. it is all in what people believe. I would not drink water if it was not cold, period.

By anon138308 — On Dec 31, 2010

to post #16 that's the biggest load of nonsense I've ever heard. I've been drinking icy water all my life and there's nothing wrong with me. here's some advice: do a pregnancy test. maybe that'll explain the dodgy period.

By anon134150 — On Dec 13, 2010

After incorporating water therapy in my life, probably after the second week I've been having problems with my stomach. I get so bloated, stomach's upset, and still haven't had my period when I'm supposed to.

I really think it's from drinking cold water early in the morning instead of tepid water. So tomorrow instead of using cold water for my water therapy i will start drinking room temp. water and see if there's a difference. I really believe in the health benefits of water therapy but i don't recommend using cold water since a person may develop the same symptoms as I've had.

By overreactor — On Sep 27, 2010

to post #14, I am not sure that you are correct about the amount of water drank for thousands of years.

In the past you drank when you were thirsty, whether it was 2 cups or 8 cups a day. Today you are told how much water should you drink, and it is a prescribed amount. It does not matter if you are thirsty or not, you are told to drink even if not thirsty.

So maybe drinking water did in some way become fashionable.

By anon113871 — On Sep 26, 2010

I find the comment about when drinking plenty of water became popular amusing. I'm fairly sure that drinking plenty of water has been a concept that humans and other animals have adhered to for thousands of years.

The next comment, regarding the indian doctor, I thought was racist. The poster specifies he was indian based on their perception of Eastern countries -- nice.

As for the 150 pounds discussion, keep it up. Amazing that so many people think everyone else should have the exact same body type that they have.

Broaden your minds people.

The article itself is good. It covers the issue of drinking water nicely, and dispels a few myths. I commend the author and will visit the site again.

By anon111102 — On Sep 14, 2010

I find cold water very filling, compared to tepid water.

By anon95342 — On Jul 12, 2010

Coffee does deplete you from water. I can't drink coffee (and everyone I know) before a conference, because it simply makes you want to pee for the next three hours.

By anon87639 — On May 31, 2010

the reason why you have phlegm build up is the sugar intake. sugar creates mucus in your body and so do dairy products. the fact you actually have to spit it out is good. other is mucus that stays in your system and latches on to toxins keeping them in your body. Get a copy of "lick the sugar habit" or read up on dr arnold ehret to understand it more in depth.

By anon82575 — On May 06, 2010

Assuming that the ice cold water stays ice cold in your stomach the whole time? Your body will heat up the water by burning calories.

By anon77904 — On Apr 16, 2010

Maybe someone can help me with this question.

Why is that every time I drink a cold beverage, ice. water, soda, or even have ice cream, phlegm usually builds up in my esophagus, which forces me to clear my throat like every five mins.

I was diagnosed with acute sinusitis a few months ago, which comes and goes. (Especially when the weather does a drastic change.) Does that cause the constant build up of phlegm in my throat?

Someone please advise!

It's very annoying and I'm sure those around me are annoyed as well.

P.S. Phlegm also tends to build up when I drink or eat some dairy products like yogurt, milk, milk in my tea, frappuccinos, etc.

By anon77713 — On Apr 15, 2010

That's silly. I'm a woman, 5 ft 10, i weigh 150 and am in great shape. i eat well and exercise four to five times a week. just because someone says they weigh 150 pounds doesn't mean they're overweight. height and muscle mass plays into it too.

i drink water throughout the day and try not to give my body the chance to throw "thirsty" signals. when your body says you're thirsty, you're already creeping in on dehydration.

By anon62913 — On Jan 29, 2010

oh, Lord. The person with the first post obviously didn't read the article. If you're eating the right foods, you're getting a large part of your daily water needs met. So you don't need to drink 75 oz of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, you probably need a better diet and some exercise.

By anon50731 — On Oct 31, 2009

We need half our body weight in ounces of water. I weigh 150, so I need 75 oz of water daily. Come on people.

By anon17448 — On Aug 30, 2008

Ive had hyperemesis gravidarim (severe nausea and vomiting of pregnancy). At 16 weeks when I went to the hospital for a drip, the Indian doctor told me to drink 90mls of tepid water an hour. I was only just starting to be able to drink ice cold cordial. Prior to that I was only able to force myself to chew ice cubes. The next day I tried what he said. Sipping very slowly. Even though I knew he was ignorant and of course I had tried every method of anything I could handle to eat/drink before that. It made me much more nauseated and I vomited severely and finally my GP prescribed me strong meds for the nausea. Im so angry at that doctors ignorance. The reason I specify he was Indian as lots of Eastern countries have philosophies about the temp of drinking water not based on fact

By somerset — On Jan 29, 2008

Once, when drinking plenty of water became popular, I drank much more cold water than I was used to, so I developed a severe headache. Since that time I do not drink large amounts of cold water. I think it is wiser to sip slowly, and probably to drink cool, but not necessarily ice cold water. I think that the blood vessels constricted with all of that cold liquid in my system, and that caused the headache.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
Learn more
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