Can Drinking Cold Water Cause Cancer?

Medical Quackery or Little-Known Science?

Mixed race woman drinking glass of water
Michael Poehlman / Getty Images

There have long been suggestions, disseminated through social media and alternative health websites, that drinking cold water can significantly increase a person's risk of getting cancer

Your first reaction might be to laugh aloud and shrug this off as a piece of quack science. But is this really the best way to dispel an unfounded belief? Or are there any seeds of truth here that we might somehow be missing?

The "Link" Between Cold Water and Cancer

There are some who strongly believe that drinking ice water with or after a meal is generally bad for you. They suggest that doing so will solidify the oily foods we consume. The consolidated mass will then react with stomach acids, converting it into fats that are more readily absorbed into the intestines than solid foods.

It is thereafter believed that, as nutrients are rapidly absorbed from the resulting sludge, the remaining fats are left to accumulate on the intestinal walls, leading to the development of things like stomach or colorectal cancer.

Separating Fact From Fiction

As much as know that the accumulation of fats is bad — not only in regards to the development of cancer but cardiovascular and liver diseases, as well — the "cold water" theory definitely has its shortcomings.

Firstly, when you drink cold or warm beverages, they don't remain hot or cold for very long.

As soon as consumed, the liquids will quickly stabilize to the same temperature as your body (as does everything else you eat). Moreover, while clumping of fat does occur, it does so more in the blood vessels than the digestive tract. 

Secondly, there is a highly acidic environment in the stomach. Stomach acid breaks down most everything you eat into a thick, liquid consistency before it travels into the small intestine.

So no solid foods really "survive" in stomach acid as the reports suggest (with the exception of those that contain cellulose, like corn and lettuce). 

Finally, the conversion of oils to fats is particularly suspect given that oils are fats. In the end, stomach acids do not convert them to anything but what they already are.

The Consequences of Cancer Myths and Misconceptions

Beliefs like these might seem amusing at first or leave you feeling irritated. While it's easy to dismiss them as malarky and quackery, the real concerns are those individuals who might be swayed by such pseudo-science and decide to ignore the sound medical advice given them.

After all, isn't it easier to stop drinking cold water than to stop smoking? Or to have your third whiskey without ice instead of with?

Ultimately, these beliefs are not so much embraced by people as hard fact but rather the means by which to turn one's back on conventional science, where solutions are rarely as simple. 

A Word From Verywell

The bottom line is here that there no need to dispense with the ice cubes or resort to drinking room-temperature milk.

What we also can't dispense with are the changes to lifestyle that can profoundly reduce your risk of developing cancer.

The fact that we may not always like them doesn't change to the importance of incorporating as many of them into our lives as possible. These include: 

  • quitting smoking and avoiding second-hand smoke
  • avoiding excessive consumption of alcohol
  • practicing sun safety
  • eating a well-balanced diet
  • avoiding excessive red meat
  • exercising regularly
  • seeing your doctor and getting routine preventive cancer screenings

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