Tea has been touted as a homeopathic cure-all for everything from nausea to writer’s block. But a new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests it’s best to be cautious with the temperature of your healthy drink — hot tea, the study revealed, could increase the risk of esophageal cancer for smokers and people who drink more than one alcoholic beverage per day.
Those who drank and smoked often showed a significantly greater risk of esophageal cancer when hot tea was involved — their risk was five times that of the average healthy adult. For people who did not indulge in either cigarettes or alcohol so often, drinking tea did not significantly boost their cancer risk.
More than 456,000 adults were examined during the course of the study, all of whom were initially cancer-free. The participants responded to surveys about their tea, alcohol, and cigarette consumption. 1,700 participants total ended up with esophageal cancer. Those who drank alcohol, smoked, and drank hot tea had the highest risk of any other group.
Because the study was observational, it is impossible to prove that the tea caused the increased risk. However, it’s worth waiting until your mug cools down. The survey participants were asked to rank their tea’s temperature as room temperature, warm, hot, or burning hot. The risk was most associated with tea ranked “burning hot.”
The study authors suspect the correlation is due to the burning hot temperatures causing damage to the esophageal lining, increasing the risk associated with drinking and smoking. Repeated irritation of the esophagus, through consuming such hot beverages, also might form inflammatory compounds, the authors say.
Of course, abstaining from smoking and drinking too often is probably your safest defense against esophageal cancer, tea or no tea. Or you could switch from tea to (not too) hot chocolate — cancer prevention is one of its surprising benefits!