We’ve all been there – you take a big gulp of tea and realize that it’s too hot to drink. You feel the burning sensation all the way down your throat as you instinctively swallow. Ouch!
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Research is now proving that it’s important to let that tea cool down a bit more first.
A study in the Journal of International Cancer says there’s a link between drinking hot tea and esophageal cancer – and specifically the temperature is the cause for concern.
Oncologist Davendra Sohal, MD, MPH, who wasn’t involved in the study, says that years of exposure to the scalding hot temperature of any food or beverage is a potential risk factor for esophageal cancer (although the study specifically looked at tea).
“Any type of hot food or liquid has the potential to irritate the lining of the throat and esophagus,” he says. “It’s the temperature that is the biggest risk factor.” When you eat or drink something that’s too hot it can cause a thermal injury in the lining of the throat or esophagus. These thermal injuries (especially if it’s repeatedly) can lead to chronic inflammation and the formation of cancer cells.
The prognosis of esophageal cancer
Esophageal cancer is still pretty rare, making up about 1% of all cancers diagnosed in the United States. In other parts of the world (like in Iran where the study was done), esophageal cancer is much more common.
Dr. Sohal recommends being aware of esophageal cancer risk factors:
- Tobacco use.
- Excessive alcohol use.
- Severe or persistent acid reflex.
- Now, we can probably add consuming burning hot liquids or food to this list.
Cause for concern?
Dr. Sohal says that a single exposure to hot food or beverage usually won’t do much harm. If you do happen to swallow something that’s too hot, don’t vomit and don’t drink ice cold water to offset the burning sensation – both can cause more damage.
The best advice is to drink room temperature water and see if it gets better on its own. But if you’re having any trouble swallowing, go to the ER.
According to the study, anything greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit is considered too hot to be eating or drinking. To help put things in perspective, a maximum hot tub temperature is only 104 degrees Fahrenheit!
“This isn’t the end of the story,” says Dr. Sohal. “The study certainly shows a legitimate association between hot liquid and esophageal cancer risk, but it also shows that this is modifiable.”
So next time you reach for that piping-hot beverage or food, think twice before sipping and let it cool down a bit more!