Most people never think about being thirsty. However, your level of thirst can offer up a lot of clues to your health if you know what to look for.
If you’ve ever been to an acupuncturist, you may be surprised to have them ask you whether or not you’re thirsty, and what you like to drink. In fact, when asked, many people have to stop and think about how to answer.
I have found however, that those people who are really thirsty won’t need to think about it. In fact, they look at me like I’m brilliant for knowing how thirsty they are. I have had a few patients who are so parched that they constantly chew ice chips or eat unthawed frozen vegetables to try to quench their constant thirst.
In Chinese medicine, being thirsty all the time, especially for cold drinks, is an indication of internal heat. That heat can come from inflammation, infection, fever, a blockage, or deficient Yin (the moistening, cooling aspect of your body). Other signs that you have heat may include restlessness, irritability, constipation, insomnia, and a rapid pulse.
The temperature of what you choose to drink can also tell a little bit about your internal landscape. While craving ice cold drinks is a sign of heat, wanting to drink hot tea or soup can be a sign that you are cold internally, and crave warm drinks as a way to warm up. Someone suffering from hypothyroidism, a metabolic disorder, is an example of internal cold, in which sufferers constantly feel chilled and struggle to warm up.
People who drink coffee in the morning aren’t necessarily cold and needing to warm up. They are, however, drinking coffee as a way to get their energy moving, which coffee does well.
People who drink liquids that are room temperature tend to be a fairly even temperature. If you think of your body as being pretty comfortable at room temperature, then drinking fluids that are a similar temperature means you’re not trying to warm up or cool off.
Occasionally, I will see a patient who is thirsty, but has no desire to drink. What? While this seems like a contradiction, it makes sense in Chinese medicine. Those people have internal heat which makes them thirsty, but they also have something called dampness, which puts them off drinking. Dampness is the result of poor water metabolism in your body in which fluids tend to pool. Edema, loose stools, yeast infections, obesity and a heavy feeling are all signs of dampness.