Ice is a ubiquitous part of the modern Western lifestyle, and cold food and drink are particularly enjoyed in summer. Traditional Chinese Medicine, however, believes ice is immensely harmful to our health, and that the intake of cold food or drink can decrease circulation, hinder nutrient absorption, prevent adequate hydration, and potentially lead to reduced immunity and even female reproductive system disorders. This is why you’ll find the Chinese drinking hot tea year-round—and why we always drink water at room temperature!

Chinese wisdom suggests that all food and drink be consumed around 100 degrees F, at body temperature or greater. Your stomach, like your other organs, is optimized at 98.6 degrees. After the intake of cold drink or food, the stomach will attempt to draw heat from the lower body in an effort to return to its optimal temperature, decreasing circulation. In Western terms, the intake of cold food and drink causes blood vessel constriction, which prevent our bodies from fully absorbing nutrients and also hinders hydration.

In TCM terms, ingesting cold food and drink weakens the Spleen and Stomach and creates “dampness” in the body. The TCM idea of the Spleen as a multi-functional unit believes that it promotes immune function, and dampness is linked to the production of phlegm. Ultimately, excess internal phlegm creates lethargy and excess weight, and can also be linked to qi stagnation, resulting in irritability and low motivation.

Although clinical studies on the negative effects of drinking cold liquids are limited, there has been evidence to show that cold water can exacerbate asthma in children, according to a study by the European Society of Pediatrics. Other studies have directly linked headaches to drinking ice water—the phenomenon of “brain freeze” many are familiar with, caused by rapid blood vessel constriction.

Have you been able to reduce your consumption of cold food and drink? While I always prefer to drink water at room temperature and often drink hot green tea or chaga throughout the day, I struggle with eliminating cold foods completely, as ice pops are one of my guilty pleasures!