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It is quite the old wives tale that drinking a hot drink cools you down. If you don't really think about it it does seem somewhat logical: increasing temperature will cause your body to try and cool down faster. This is of course flawed by the fact that you have increased your temperature before cooling it back down again.

I have had a bit of a look, but have been unable to find any evidence that addresses the fact that drinking a hit drink may make you feel cooler after sweating a little bit, rather than actually changing anything about your net temperature. Basically, is the 'cool down' just the placebo effect (you feel cooler because you think you feel cooler), or is there any evidence for a 'real' effect of hot drinks cooling you down? Or is there evidence that hot drinks do nothing at all except heat you up a bit before you come right back to the same temperature?

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

A Study by Lee & Shirreffs addresses this question. Unfortunately I only have the abstract, but it's enough to summarise from:

Method

  • Three groups exercised by cycling before being given water at either 10°C, 37°C or 50°C.
  • They then continued to exercise until exhausted.
  • Mean skin temperature, core body temperature and heart rate were measured throughout.

Results

  • Mean skin temperature was highest in the hot drink category - half a degree warmer than in the cold group.
  • There was a heat difference between the two outlying groups of 33kJ.

Irritatingly the pre-drink temperatures are not included in the abstract so it's hard to compare the effect that the drinks have had. Certainly the hot drink has warmed skin temperature above the thermoneutral group but I suppose that could be due to increased vasodilation leading to better core heat dissipation (as you suggest).

In absolute terms, you are warmer than you would have been after having a neutral or cold drink, however it could be that you feel cooler as your hotter skin loses heat energy at an increased rate due to the greater gradient.


References

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n.b. I got to that article on p4 of a pubmed search for hot drink - others might want to start from after there as there was nothing really before :) –  Rory M May 29 '12 at 10:50
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They should've done a perceived temperature as well... –  Armatus Jun 20 '12 at 22:00
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