Piping Hot Drinks May Lead to Cancer of the Esophagus, Study Says

What are the side effects of drinking piping hot beverages? Researchers share their findings.

Beverages over 149 degrees Fahrenheit (65 degrees Celsius) may increase the risk of tumors in the esophagus, which resides in the chest area below the throat, according to Mariana Stern, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine and urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and 22 other scientists from 10 countries. They met at the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France, in 2016 to determine if drinking coffee, yerba mate (a beverage consumed in some countries in South America) or other very hot beverages causes cancer. Their results were published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

“Enjoy your coffee or mate, but make sure it’s not very hot,” said Stern. “There is physical evidence that very hot beverages can contribute to cell injury in the esophagus and thus contribute to cancer formation.”

The group scoured more than 1,000 studies on over 20 different types of cancer. The scientists concluded drinking any beverage hotter than 149 degrees Fahrenheit is “probably carcinogenetic to humans,” placing scalding hot drinks in the same category as DDT, frying food at high temperatures, consumption of red meat and the human papillomavirus.

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According to the National Coffee Association, coffee waiting to be served should sit at 180-185 degrees Fahrenheit (82-85 degrees Celsius).

In the United States, the average coffee drinking temperature is around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius). The temperature varies between 99-190 degrees Fahrenheit (37-88 degrees Celsius), Stern said.

“We were now able to evaluate more carefully the effect of mate itself from the effect of temperature, and we concluded that the observed links between mate drinking and cancer of the esophagus seem to be largely driven by drinking mate very hot,” Stern said. “Similar associations are seen for other very hot beverages, like tea or coffee.”

Stern and her colleagues noted that drinking yerba mate at very high temperatures — between 150 and right below the boiling point of 212 degrees Fahrenheit (66-100 degrees Celsius) — is common practice in certain countries in South America, including Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.

A cup of coffee a day may keep liver cancer away

The scientists downgraded a cup of joe from “possibly carcinogenic” and hot mate from “probably carcinogenic” to safe for consumption as long as neither are scalding hot.

In 1991, the WHO gave coffee that classification based on a much smaller database of studies. Now, the scientists highlighted some studies that associated coffee with cancer when the real culprit was probably tobacco smoking, which is highly correlated with heavy coffee drinking, according to the report.

In 2015, Stern participated in a WHO group that concluded consuming processed meat — bacon, salami, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats — causes cancer.

However, the news about coffee was not grim. The researchers estimate that a cup of coffee a day decreases the risk of liver cancer by 15%. In other words, the scientists are giving coffee lovers a free pass to drink as much coffee as their bladders can handle.

“For many cancer types, we found clear evidence that coffee is not carcinogenic,” Stern said. “In fact, we found that coffee protects against some cancers such as liver and uterine endometrium cancer.”

by Zen Vuong

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