Some Like It (Too) Hot

Pouring tea into white mug

Some like it hot – their tea, that is. But if the findings of a new study are any indication, it may be best to let that cup of tea, coffee or bone broth cool down quite a bit before drinking it. That’s because, according to a research study recently published in the International Journal of Cancer, drinking scalding-hot tea could do more than just burn your mouth: It can cause esophageal cancer. Esophageal cancer is admittedly not the most common type of cancer. In fact, in the United States, esophageal cancer only affects 1 percent of the population. But rates of the disease are much higher elsewhere on Earth – mostly in Asian countries like Iran and China, where tea drinking is not only much more common, but teas are also served much hotter than they are in America. “The theory behind the increased risk in cancer is that the hot tea is causing cellular damage by repeatedly injuring the tissue in the esophagus,” says Dr. Alexandra George, a dentist from Wexford, Pennsylvania. “Think of it like getting skin cancer from repeated sunburns, except it’s from hot liquid.” In the study, researchers took several temperature measurements of participants’ tea. They measured the tea’s actual temperature as well as the temperature at which the participant chose to consume their cup of tea. A staggering 317 new cases of esophageal cancer were diagnosed during the study. What the researchers found was that the hotter the tea, and the less time that passed between the tea being poured and being consumed, the higher the risk for esophageal cancer. The results were then compared with samples from people who drank 700 ml of tea each day at lower temperatures. Individuals who drank the hotter tea (over 140 degrees Fahrenheit) had a 90 percent higher risk of developing esophageal cancer than those who did not. “It’s important to note that this is not exclusive to just tea,” says George. “It can happen with any hot beverage. Tea was used in the study because it is the second most popular drink in the world – the first being water. It’s also important to note that drinking too-hot tea once or twice probably won’t cause esophageal cancer. The study followed regular tea drinkers who regularly drank tea above a certain temperature.”

Dr. Alexandra S. George

Medically reviewed by Dr. Alexandra S. George - D.D.S., L.Vl.I.F. on April 8th, 2019