green tea being poured from a teapot, spicy green tea, scalding tea

People who drink very hot tea may want to let it cool a bit before they sip. That is particularly true for anyone who smokes or drinks alcohol. Smokers and drinkers who also regularly imbibe scalding tea may be increasing their risk for esophageal cancer.

Studying the Risks of Scalding Tea:

The research followed nearly half a million Chinese adults for almost a decade (Yu et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 6, 2018). Those who drank tea at least every week were asked whether their tea was room temperature, warm, hot or burning hot when they drank it.

Tea is a popular beverage in China, and drinking hot or burning hot tea alone did not increase the risk of esophageal cancer. But those who were also smokers had a 56 percent higher risk of esophageal cancer if they also drank scalding tea. People who drank hot or very hot tea and also consumed excessive alcohol, defined in the study as more than one beer, glass of wine or ounce and a half of hard liquor a day, increased their risk of esophageal cancer by 127 percent. People who smoked, drank alcohol and also drank scalding tea had five times the risk of this hard-to-treat cancer.

Previous Links Between Scalding Tea and Esophageal Cancer:

This study is observational, so it is not possible to attribute a cause and effect relationship. However, this is not the first time that drinking very hot tea has been linked to esophageal cancer. In 2016, the International Agency for Research on Cancer fingered hot beverages-over 149 degrees Fahrenheit-as probable carcinogens.

Moreover, in 2009, a review of research concluded that

“Coffee, tea and maté may cause esophageal cancer by causing thermal injury to the esophageal mucosa.”

(Islami et al, International Journal of Cancer, Aug. 2009)

Should You Stop Drinking Tea?

Tea has numerous health benefits, so it doesn’t make sense to give up on this beverage. Instead, allowing it to cool somewhat before swallowing it would be prudent.

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  1. Marilyn
    Lost Creek, WV

    My grandmother drank coffee and tea, and she liked it very hot. She did not drink or smoke. She died of esophageal cancer- at the age of 94!

    Our farm makes and sells 31 herbal teas for health. I find that by the time my tea steeps, and I sit down with something to read while sipping it, it has usually cooled to a comfortable temperature.

    I was appalled that this “observational study from China” made national news in the USA. Are too many people switching from coffee and sodas to herbal teas?

  2. Donald Trend

    I can’t drink tea because it causes lower back pain ( kidney?) for me.

  3. Joy

    Exactly what temperature is considered to be hot or burning hot?

  4. BBBob
    Amherst, NY

    Thanks for the heads-up. We heard many years ago of this link between scalding beverages and cancer. For at least the past 40 years, my wife and I have had a cup of tea with lunch every day. We drink it reasonably hot, but not scalding or to the temperature that would approach pain or discomfort as we swallow. I drink mine with a teaspoonful of lemon juice and about a tablespoon of orange juice for more interesting flavor, while my wife drinks tea plain but somewhat weak. Neither of us is a smoker. With breakfast and dinner, we drink a cup of coffee (with milk).

  5. Jan

    My sisters mother in law used to drink her tea scalding hot, and died from oesophageal cancer. She did not smoke or drink much if any alcohol, and until she became ill walked several miles at a time in her sixties.

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