Image: ABC. By Bernie Hobbs.
Most of us enjoy a good cuppa. And for a cuppa to be good it needs to be hot. But should we cool our relationship with one of our favourite beverages, given that research has linked drinking hot tea to cancer?
Probably not, unless you drink your tea scaldingly hot — in which case you’re increasing your risk of one kind of cancer of the oesophagus.
The link between hot drinks and cancer has been bandied around for decades — the first article proposing it was published in 1939. But a clear association between drinking scalding hot tea and an increased risk of oesophageal cancer was firmly established in a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2009.
And the hotter the tea, the higher the risk.
How hot is hot?
The study took place in northern Iran, a region where people drink a lot of tea, and they like it hot – as high as 80 degrees Celsius. The area also has one of the highest incidences of squamous cell oesophageal cancer in the world, with around 15 people per 100,000 suffering from the disease.
The researchers found that regularly drinking very hot tea (over 65 degrees Celsius) was associated with an eight times higher risk of oesophageal cancer, while drinking hot tea (60 to 65 degrees) was linked with double the risk.
These tea temperatures are exceptionally hot by our standards, “particularly where people add milk to their tea. That reduces the temperature considerably” says Professor David Whiteman, head of the Cancer Control Group at QIMR Berghoffer.
And while heat is the factor increasing the risk, nobody really knows exactly how it is having this effect. But the most plausible hypothesis comes down to chronic inflammation as a result of regular scalding hot drinks, says Professor Whiteman.