Does drinking hot tea cool you down in the summer? Everyone has a different theory about how to cool off in the season’s seriously high temps, and one persistent (but completely counterintuitive) rumor is that hot drinks can help. To find out if it’s just an old wives tale, or a great way to cool off, we asked a doctor (actually, two).
The verdict? For the most part, it’s a myth.
Well, it does and it doesn’t. By ingesting a hot liquid, you introduce heat to the body, and raise the body temp. The body must cool itself to bring body temp down to normal. So, cooling responses are generated by drinking hot tea. But those cooling responses are to neutralize the heat of the liquid and the fact that the body temp has been abnormally raised–not really to cool the body.
So you might feel the cooling effect of perspiration after you drink hot tea or coffee, but You may feel the cooling effect of perspiration, but your body is really just trying to maintain a stable temperature.
Dr. Bess Stillman, an Integrative Medicine consultant and Emergency Physician, agrees. She explains in detail the chemical reactions that happen in your body when you drink a hot tea in the summer that make it seem like a great short-term solution to uncomfortably hot summer weather:
One of the more counterintuitive tips is to drink hot tea in the summer. At first, it sounds ridiculous. The last thing I crave when it’s 100 degrees outside is a steaming mug of Earl Grey. But there may be something to it. The tongue contains receptors that respond to heat. If you eat something hot, the receptors are thought to signal the brain that they’re warming up. When the hot drink reaches your belly, it also signals your brain that your core temperature is higher than that of your surroundings. In response, the hypothalamus – the part of the brain responsible for controlling your temperature—turns on cooling mechanisms, so you sweat. When sweat evaporates, you feel cooler.
But in the long-term, she says, it can actually lead to dehydration and hurt your body’s ability to regulate its core temperature:
Most non-herbal tea also contains caffeine, which is a diuretic—meaning it causes your kidneys to dump water from your body into your urine. Dehydration is one of the leading risks for hyperthermia, which occurs when your core body temperature is at or above 104 degrees. Therefore, hot tea may initially increase your core temperature and dehydrate you, leading to heat related illness, which people of all ages and health are at risk for.
If you’re desperate to cool off, Dr. Stillman recommends drinking something cold to avoid the possibility of hyperthermia, or placing ice packs on pulse points (like under the armpits, or near your groin).
In the end, Dr. Graham’s simple conclusion might say it best:
Drinking a hot liquid in the winter warms you, and drinking a hot liquid in the summer warms you. The liquid you drink just isn’t smart enough to be able to tell if it is summer or winter when you drink it.