Drinking Very Hot Tea Could Lead to Esophageal Cancer

March 31, 2009 12:03 PM
by Emily Coakley
A new study strengthens the link between scalding beverages and cancer, a week after another study showed alcohol could also be a risk factor.

The Temperature, Not the Beverage, Is the Problem

Researchers say that letting a hot beverage cool off for four minutes can substantially lower the risk of esophageal cancer.

According to Bloomberg, a team researching high esophageal cancer rates in northern Iran found that people who drank tea within two minutes of pouring it, or while it was more than 158 degrees Fahrenheit, had an “eightfold increased risk” of developing cancer of the esophagus. The study, which was published in the British Medical Journal, included 571 healthy people and 300 people with esophageal squamous cell carcinoma.

The study’s findings echo what researchers have suspected for years. A 1996 article on tea in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Consumer Magazine said that parts of China, Japan and Iran have higher rates of esophageal cancer, and noted the areas’ tea consumption.

The magazine quoted an FDA scientist, Joseph Betz, who said that theories were “bounced back and forth” over whether tea’s polyphenols or “habitual consumption of a very hot beverage” was responsible for the esophageal cancer rates.
While many headlines on the study mentioned the link between hot tea and cancer, doctors have pointed out that it’s not the beverage that could be a problem.

“These findings should not reduce public enthusiasm for the time honoured ritual of drinking tea,” said David Whiteman of the Queensland Medical Institute in an interview with SkyNews.

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Related Topics: Americans drinking more tea; alcohol and esophageal cancer

In July, findingDulcinea reported that the sale of tea in American supermarkets jumped from $2 billion in 2006 to $7.4 billion in 2007. “The health benefits linked with regular tea consumption, combined with its affordability and image of luxury and relaxation,” are helping the sales climb, according to findingDulcinea.

A recent study suggests that people with an inherited enzyme deficiency may be at higher risk for developing esophageal cancer. The study, of people of East Asian descent, said that those who become flushed after having one alcoholic drink tend to have the enzyme deficiency and higher risk.

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