- A new study suggests that drinking hot tea could increase the risk of esophageal cancer by up to 90%.
- The team from the American Cancer Society found that drinking two mugs worth of hot tea over 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) nearly doubled the risk.
- It may be the temperature rather than the beverage causing the heightened risk, but the study didn’t look at any other drinks.
- If you add milk to your tea or let it cool down before you drink it, it’s unlikely you’ll be consuming it at these risky temperatures.
- In parts of South America, Asia, and Africa, people tend to drink their tea much hotter.
There’s nothing like a cup of tea to make you feel better. But according to a new study, there’s some evidence that drinking a really hot mug of it could heighten your risk of esophageal cancer.
Researchers at the American Cancer Society looked at data from 50,000 people aged 40 to 75 over 10 years in Golestan, Iran. They found that drinking 700ml of tea a day – about two large cups – at 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher was associated with a 90% higher risk of esophageal cancer when compared to those who drank it at a cooler temperature.
Overall, 317 new cases of esophageal cancer were identified over the course of the study, which was published in the International Journal of Cancer.
“Many people enjoy drinking tea, coffee, or other hot beverages,”said lead author Dr. Farhad Islami. “However, according to our report, drinking very hot tea can increase the risk of esophageal cancer, and it is therefore advisable to wait until hot beverages cool down before drinking.”
If you add milk to your tea or let it cool down before you drink it, it’s unlikely you’ll be consuming it at these risky temperatures. However, in parts of South America, Asia, and Africa, people tend to drink their tea much hotter.
It’s not clear why hot tea could be a risk factor in the development of esophageal cancer. But Stephen Evans, Professor of Pharmacoepidemiology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the Science Media Centre that it seems the heat is the problem, rather than the specific drink.
“It is probably anything hot: microwaved jam has been known to cause oesophageal injury,” he said. “It is possible that the trauma leads to cell changes and hence to cancer. The paper goes through various possible mechanisms, but this paper does not show what mechanism is responsible.”
He added that the absolute risk is not quoted in the paper, which he calculated at about 63 cases per 100,000 people. If hot tea is taken into account, then a further 17 would go on develop esophageal cancer. He suggested that this might have been omitted from the results because it makes the risk sound so low.
“It can be seen that all these risks are very low, and for an individual have very little impact, but across a country with high rates of oesophageal cancer, the overall impact is potentially important. It is less important in the UK, both because of lower rates of oesophageal cancer and because of the likely different approach to drinking hot beverages.
“This is definitely not a ‘scare’ story when placed in the wider context, but avoidance of extremely hot drinks will have no adverse and possibly beneficial health effects,” he said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be about 17,650 new cases of esophageal cancer this year – 13,750 in men and 3,900 in women – and 16,080 of those diagnosed will die from it.
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