The burning truth about hot tea (and maybe coffee) and esophageal cancer

When we think about cancer, most of us worry about breast, lung, or colon cancer.

After all, those are the ones that you hear the most about. However, there’s another type of cancer that shouldn’t be forgotten in our quest for prevention — esophageal cancer.

Although it’s not nearly as common as some other types, it’s the sixth leading cause of cancer-related deaths.  One of the deadlier forms of cancer, it strikes approximately 18,000 Americans each year and has a five-year survival rate of just 15 to 25 percent.

Doctors don’t really know what causes the cancer yet, but certain risk factors have been identified like:

  • Reflux – Chronic irritation of your esophagus, such as when you live with gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, raises your risk of cancerous changes.
  • Smoking – Cigarette use makes it more likely you’ll end up with squamous cell esophageal cancer.
  • Alcohol – Drinking alcohol can also cause irritation of the lining of your esophagus and end with a cancer diagnosis.

Previous studies have also revealed a link between drinking hot tea and an increased risk of esophageal cancer. But until now, it’s not been clear at what temperature and volume drinking tea becomes a problem. A new International Journal of Cancer study appears to have found those answers.

So, if you like to start or end your day with a steaming hot drink, here’s what you should know…

90 percent higher risk of esophageal cancer in your mug

Researchers from the American Cancer Society followed 50,045 individuals aged 40 to 75 years for an average of 10 years to monitor how much tea they drank, how hot it was and whether or not they developed esophageal cancer.

And, they found that compared with drinking less than 700 ml (23.7 ounces or about 3 cups) of tea per day at less than 60°C (140°F), drinking 700 ml per day or more at a higher temperature was associated with a whopping 90 percent higher risk of esophageal cancer.

That means if you drink three eight-ounce mugs of hot tea per day, your risk of one of the deadliest cancers goes up by 90 percent!

“Many people enjoy drinking tea, coffee, or other hot beverages. 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,” said lead author Dr. Farhad Islami, of the American Cancer Society.

But what about coffee? Yes, this study focused on tea, but there was a time when the International Agency for the Research on Cancer (IARC) rated coffee as “possibly carcinogenic.” But they’ve changed their stance (whew!).

Instead, their latest review acknowledges coffee’s cancer-fighting properties, and, like the tea study, sees very hot beverages, including coffee, as the problem.

Avoiding the heat, avoid cancer of the esophagus

So, if you want to avoid esophageal cancer, your first step in cancer prevention is to follow Dr. Islami’s advice and drink your tea (and probably coffee too) only after it’s cooled.

To be on safe side, you should probably be wary of letting anything that’s really hot slide down your esophagus…

According to Stephen Evans, a professor of pharmacoepidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, “In fact, it is probably anything hot: Microwaved jam has been known to cause esophageal injury. It is possible that the trauma leads to cell changes and hence to cancer,” he told the Science Media Centre.

Now that we’re clear on not burning your esophagus, here are additional steps to help prevent esophageal cancer:

  • Practice good oral hygiene – Bacteria that lead to gum disease have also been linked to a 22 percent higher risk of esophageal cancer. Follow these steps to sweep them away.
  • Supplement with zinc – A study at the University of Texas Arlington found that zinc had the power to stop the growth of esophageal cancer cells and previous research discovered that 65 percent of patients with head and neck cancers are deficient in the mineral. To avoid this deficiency, take 8 to 11 mg daily and increase your intake of foods like pumpkin and seeds as well as spinach, beef, shrimp, and oysters.

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Sources:

  1. Zinc fights more than colds… it fights cancer — Easy Health Options®
  2. Could unhealthy gums give you cancer? — Easy Health Options®
  3. The fruit that can reverse cancer — Easy Health Options®
  4. Esophageal cancer — Mayo Clinic
  5. Esophageal cancer — MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia
  6. Drinking hot tea linked with elevated risk of esophageal cancer — Wiley
  7. Coffee No Longer Considered Cancerous but Very Hot Drinks RiskyScientific American

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Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.