Hot tea can increase esophageal cancer risk in certain people, study reports

New research shows that people who frequently smoke or drink should stay away from hot tea.
By Joseph Scalise | Feb 08, 2018
Hot tea may make people who smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol daily much more susceptible to esophageal cancer, a new studypublished in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports.

In the research -- which was led by scientists atPeking University -- the team found that "hot" or "burning hot" tea is linked to a two- to fivefold increase in esophageal cancer, but only in people who also smoked or drank alcohol.

Esophageal cancer is currently the eighth most common cancer in the world, killing roughly 400,000 people each year. Though it is often caused by repeated injury to the esophagus triggered by smoke and alcohol, hot liquids may trigger the disease as well.

The team in the study followed nearly 500,000 Chinese adults for an average of nine-and-a-half years. They then asked those who drank tea to rate it on a scale of "warm," "hot," or "burning hot." Though drinking hot or burning hot tea on its own did not increase cancer risk, smokers and drinkers who drank it had a highly increased risk for the disease.

Researchers collected information on both tobacco and alcohol consumption at the start of the research. While they are not sure, the scientists believe the link outlined in the research could be the result of hot drinks making the esophagus more vulnerable to cancer-causing agents.

"Irritating the lining of the esophagus could lead to increased inflammation and more rapid turnover of the cells," saidNeal Freedman, senior investigator at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, who was not involved in the study, according to CNN. "Alternatively, hot liquids may impair the barrier function of the cells lining the esophagus, leaving the tissue open to greater damage from other carcinogens."

Though the participants did not objectively measure the temperature of their tea, the findings fall in line with a past study that suggested drinking hot beverages at temperatures over 149 degrees Fahrenheit could lead to esophageal cancer. Though many western countries do not take their beverages that hot, places like Russia, Iran, Turkey, and South America often do.

Despite the new findings, tea is known to have a range of health benefits. Past research shows that tea leaves have antioxidant properties and could protect against both prostate and colon cancer. As a result, as long as the tea is not too hot, and as long as someone is not a heavy drinker or smoker, they should be fine.

"It's important to abstain from high-temperature tea in excessive alcohol consumers and smokers for esophageal cancer prevention," said study co-author Jun Lv, a researcher at Peking University, according toTIME. "Of course, keeping away from both tobacco and excessive alcohol use is the most important means for esophageal cancer prevention."

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