Study says drinking hot tea may lead to oesophageal cancer. So how hot should your tea be?

Hyderabad doctor cited a study in Frontiers magazine that said those who had hot tea had a 77% higher risk of oesophageal cancer.

BySumit Jha

Published Mar 22, 2023 | 8:30 AMUpdatedMar 22, 2023 | 8:30 AM

Study says drinking hot tea may lead to oesophageal cancer. So how hot should your tea be?

Drinking hot tea is a habit of many people around the world. It is a comforting and relaxing ritual, which can be enjoyed alone or in the company of others.

Using water at the right temperature ensures that the tea releases its full flavour and aroma, making for a more enjoyable drinking experience. For instance, black tea brewed in boiling water, or green tea brewed just below the boiling point of water.

However, a Hyderabad-based doctor recently tweeted that drinking hot tea could increase the risk of oesophagal cancer, citing a study published in Frontiers magazine.

Not about the tea, but the temperature

A neurologist at the Apollo Hospitals in Hyderabad, Dr Sudhir Kumar, however, noted that drinking tea is known to lower the risk of cancers. But if tea is consumed too hot, the risk of oesophagus (food pipe) cancer can increase.

Speaking to South First Dr Sudhir Kumar said that it’s not about the tea, but the temperature. “It’s the high temperature of the tea which causes the damage to our oesophagus.”

“The overall results of the meta-analysis showed that people who drank hot tea had 77 percent higher risk of oesophagal cancer than those who do not drink hot tea,” he tweeted.

Best temperature for hot beverages? Below 60° C

When hot beverages cause damage to our food pipe, which can lead to the cancer, what is the best temperature at which to consume them?

According to International Agency for Research on Cancer, carcinogenic effects probably occur with drinking temperatures of 65° C or above.

“Hot food or liquid has the potential to cause thermal injuries of the throat and oesophagus. Whether it’s tea or coffee, anything too hot can cause a thermal injury in the lining of the throat or oesophagus,” noted Dr Harish Kancharla, consultant medical oncologist and hemato-oncologist at Yashoda Hospital in Hyderabad.

“Repeated thermal injuries caused after drinking tea and coffee can lead to chronic inflammation and the formation of cancer cells,” Dr Kancharla told South First.

He said that the best practice was to have tea or coffee below 60° C.

“Studies have shown that when the temperature is above 70° C, the risk of cancer is high and when the temperature is between 60°C and 70°C, the risk is moderate,” said Dr Kumar.

But, how to measure the right temperature?

According to doctors, there is no rocket science behind it.

“After getting tea from the shop or at home, wait for five minutes till the temperature drops or have it at a lukewarm temperature. People just have to wait for a few minutes before drinking, and have smaller sips,” said Dr Kancharla.

He added that most of these studies have been conducted in Persian countries where people drink huge amounts of tea.

“These studies show that when a tea is consumed more than 500ml, it causes the problem. In our country, its not like that. But, if someone is drinking more than 500 ml of tea, then its a problem,” said Dr Kancharla.

He also pointed out that there are other esophageal cancer risk factors. “If someone is smoking tobacco the chances are X times, but when you include alcohol it can become 5X times,” he said.

How is esophageal cancer caused by hot beverages?

Drinking hot beverages can sometimes cause irritation and damage to the lining of the esophagus, which is known as esophageal injury or esophagitis. When a person drinks a hot beverage, the high temperature of the liquid can scald or burn the lining of the esophagus, leading to inflammation, swelling, and pain.

The severity of esophageal injury caused by hot beverages can depend on several factors, such as the temperature of the beverage, the amount consumed, and the duration of contact with the esophagus.

For example, if a person drinks a very hot beverage quickly or takes a large gulp, it may increase the risk of injury to the esophagus.

Esophageal injury caused by hot beverages can also be exacerbated by certain underlying medical conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflex, Barrett’s esophagus, or a weakened immune system.