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The Practical Herbalist

Ice Water

I do something in restaurants that many people find interesting. I often ask for no ice in my water. Often, I end up being served iced drinks anyway because wait staff is conditioned to automatically put ice in every glass. This is not the case in many parts of the world, where often it is difficult to get ice in a drink. Chinese Herbal medicine provides an understanding of why it is better not to drink cold drinks. More importantly for me is that after you get used to not having ice in your drinks you feel better without it and notice the change when you do have it.

From a Chinese Herbal perspective, the use of herbs is dependent on getting the herbs or foods processed into the body so that the energy of that food can be used. To the Ancient Chinese, the digestive system was seen as analogous to the compost pile that was next to every garden. Food waste is allowed to decompose into fertilizer which is returned to the soil. If you have ever worked with a compost pile you are familiar with the process. Organic material is piled and occasionally turned. The pile gets hot and moist, and eventually turns into dark soil. The digestive system is much the same with organic matter processed through heat and moisture to become the waste we excrete. Composting does not work efficiently when the temperature is cold. Thus it is felt that the same is true in the digestion.

We could say that this is all silly concepts from uneducated people. However human digestion is an acid and enzyme chemical process. Many of these chemical reactions are temperature sensitive. Regardless of chemistry, I do see patients that have various signs of a "Cold digestion" as defined by Chinese Medicine. They are over weight, low on energy, have heavy or stuck feelings in their stomachs after eating and their stool is often loose or sticky in nature. When these patients grudgingly agree to stop using ice water and add more hot beverages, hot spices and cooked foods to their diets, they are amazed at the change. Quickly they feel lighter and more energetic. They also notice more flavor in their food. Cold tends to decrease the ability of the tongue to sense flavors.

I think there are several reasons why we Americans expect ice in our drinks. Part of it I think goes to history. In generations past, ice was a luxury and providing your guests an iced beverage was a way to treat guests well, or to show that your restaurant was of a little better class. When it comes to water, ice makes the water taste better. Since cold decreases our sensitivity to tastes, ice can mask the taste of water.

Regardless of the reason I encourage people to try going without cold beverages for a week and see how they feel. Quite often people notice a positive difference.

David Bock

This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"

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David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine

Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066