Author: Dr. Maryam Mahanian, DTCM, RAc
Audio Broadcast of the article is available below:
In Chinese medicine, everything is classified according to more yin or more yang (more cold or more heat). The aim is to always strive for balance of the two.
Water is considered a “yin” substance – or in other words…a cooling substance. That’s why we need to make it a bit more yang since it’s already quite yin. How do we balance the cooling property of water? Add heat.
Our stomachs love warmth
Our digestive system needs adequate heat or fire to be able to break down food and liquids. In Chinese medicine, we refer to the stomach as the “cooking pot”. This cooking pot needs a constant fire underneath it in order to work properly and to break down our foods. The cooking pot with the help of the heat underneath will transform the food we eat into nutrients which are then sent to different parts of the body.
Continuous consumption of cold water will actually put out our stomach fire. Uh oh!! What will then happen is that our body’s digestive system has to work harder in order to heat up enough to aid this digestive fire. This forces the digestive system to essentially borrow energy from other systems in the body. Systems like our reproductive system for example. This can then deplete the reproductive system of it’s energy (called Qi in Chinese medicine).
When our stomach fire is put out, this leads to slow digestion, malabsorption, bloating, gas, weight gain, and stomach pain that gets better with warmth.
Around the World…
When I was doing my internship in China, I noticed that most people drank hot water and hot tea. I rarely saw people drinking iced coffee, smoothies or god forbid putting ice in their water! I’m pretty sure that in a lot of regions in the world they are in the habit of drinking warm liquids and to me this is not an accident. Warm water is better for our health.
In western countries we tend to go more towards cold drinks…like a cold can of pop from the fridge, cold cup of milk for the little ones or an iced water from a restaurant. In China for example, we would get a cup of steamy hot tea with our meals instead of iced water. Even when the weather is super hot, they are still carrying around thermoses full of hot tea.
Why this is especially important in Children
This concept of drinking warm liquids and avoiding cold liquids is especially important in children.
In children the spleen organ doesn’t fully mature in function until they’re 7 years old. That means their spleen gets injured very easily with cold temperatures. The spleen likes warmth and dryness. Having too much ice cream, cold milk, sandwiches raw veggies and smoothies can injure their digestion. This can result in digestive troubles, eczema, hayfever allergies, sinus problems and asthma.
It may not be as natural for a child to drink hot water, but consider avoiding adding ice to your child’s water at the very least.
Why this is especially important in Women’s Health
Women also need to avoid cold and raw foods and liquids because they need enough digestive fire to allow for good reproductive function. Proper digestion is key to healthy reproductive health.
Cold has the action of constricting, slowing and shrinking. This can lead to painful periods, clots in the menstrual blood, possibly delayed cycles or missed cycles and even cysts and infertility.
Benefits of Drinking Warm Water
Drinking a glass of warm water first thing in the morning helps kick-start the digestive system. Hot/warm water, because of its temperature, aids blood flow. As your blood circulation increases, it helps detoxify your body and reduce painful contractions of muscles. That’s why we often drink hot water when we have a sore throat or if perhaps we’re experiencing menstrual cramps.
On the other hand, cold water slows down organ function and causes muscles to contract.
There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of gut health. For example, our gut is our second brain and if working optimally will have a profound benefit in our mental and emotional health. So many diseases start in the gut so improving your digestion with the help of drinking warm liquids is a simple and very powerful start.
If you are going to drink cold liquids, try to do this in between meals as this won’t disrupt our digestion as much.
Drinking warm water helps the body flush out toxins, helps your muscles relax and expands blood vessels to allow for better blood circulation.
Warm water raises our body temperature which aids in losing weight.
Warm water is more soothing for the intestines so is great for anyone who struggles with constipation.
Better Balance: 75 Warm / 25 Cold
I should mention here that Chinese medicine doesn’t say to never ever drink cold liquids or eat cold foods.
Chinese medicine doesn’t talk in these universal “black or white” terms. It’s all about balance.
When asked about this in clinic, I do recommend to my patients to have a diet mainly consisting of warm/hot liquids and cooked foods than cold. A good rule of thumb is the 75%/25% rule. 75% warm versus 25% cold.
If you’re going to drink cold liquids, try to do this in between meals as this won’t disrupt our digestion as much.
Caffeinated drinks like black tea and coffee don’t obviously count as your warm liquid intake as they have a diuretic effect, not a hydrating effect.
Consider adding honey or lemon to your hot water for taste or drink non-caffeinated herbal teas.
Make sure to boil the tap water and don’t have hot water directly from the tap.
Best of luck with this simple little tip! Trust me…it will go a long way!!
With Love & Support,
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