The hidden dangers of drinking hot beverages

January 12, 2021
2 mins read

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Few things encapsulate the joys of winter like coming back inside from the cold outdoors to a piping hot cup of tea, coffee or hot chocolate.

While it might seem obvious that such beverages should cool before consumption to minimize the risk of suffering a burned tongue, do we truly know the long-term dangers that could come from hot beverage injuries?

The word “injury” might sound like an extreme term if we’re just considering a scalded tongue or a mouth sore, but the bigger risks come long after a person swallows something that’s too hot.

In the esophagus, pains from a burn can last much longer than just a few minutes, and the enduring risks carry much larger concerns than a remedy like an ice cube or drinking a cool beverage could fix.

What such risks? Cancer.

Dozens of studies have been conducted by researchers in recent years to show links between the temperature of hot beverages and the risk of esophageal cancer. One study, published by the International Journal of Cancer in 2019, specifically examined the association of preferred tea drinking temperature and the future risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (ESCC) growth.

“Our study was the first prospective study to measure actual beverage drinking temperature in the general population (in more than 50,000 people) and assess the future risk of esophageal cancer in those people during the follow-up period of more than 10 years in average,” Dr. Farhad Islami, the lead author of the study, told AccuWeather in an email.

How hot is too hot? Turns out, according to the study, there is a temperature limit, and it’s not necessarily based on individual tolerance.

The team also identified a beverage temperature range that appeared to be more closely associated with higher esophageal cancer risk. According to Islami, individuals who regularly consumed beverages hotter than 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) greatly increased their risks.

Islami, a scientific director focused on cancer disparity research at the American Cancer Society, added that his team did expect to see a higher risk of esophageal cancer in the hot tea drinkers but also added that their results “substantially strengthen the existing evidence supporting an association between hot beverage drinking and ESCC.”

Esophageal cancer is among the most common forms of cancer and also among the most deadly. According to a study from the National Institute of Health, it is the sixth-leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

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