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
- 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!
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