Some recent hot news points to the risks of drinking very hot beverages. A new study suggests that drinking piping hot tea regularly can nearly double the risk of esophageal cancer. It’s a reminder that may be word “hot” in the Word of Wisdom’s recommendation against “hot drinks” might be worth considering in our approach to healthy living.
The reference for the new study is Farhad Islami et al., “A prospective study of tea drinking temperature and risk of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma,” Cancer Epidemiology, March 20, 2019, https://doi.org/10.1002/ijc.32220, available at Wiley.com. It’s getting attention in many places such as CNN. Here’s an excerpt from their report:
Researchers found that tea
drinkers who liked their beverage to be warmer than 60 degrees Celsius
(140 degrees Fahrenheit) and consumed more than 700 ml of tea per day —
about two large cups — had a 90% higher risk of esophageal cancer, when compared to those who drank less tea and at cooler temperatures.
The study looked at more than 50,000 people in Golestan, a province in northeastern Iran.
people enjoy drinking tea, coffee, or other hot beverages. However,
according to our report, drinking very hot tea can increase the risk of
esophageal cancer, and it is therefore advisable to wait until hot
beverages cool down before drinking,” said Dr. Farhad Islami, of the
American Cancer Society and the study’s lead author.
In 2009 the lead author published a systematic review of previous research also pointing to the link between hot beverages and esophageal cancer. See Farhad Islami et al., “High-temperature beverages and Foods and Esophageal Cancer Risk — A Systematic Review,” International Journal of Cancer, 125/3 (Aug. 1, 2009): 491–524; doi: 10.1002/ijc.24445, available at NIH.gov. His survey indicated that, “Overall, the available results strongly suggest that high-temperature beverage drinking increases the risk of EC [esophageal cancer].”
Those of us who enjoy herbal tea or any kind of hot beverage would do well to be careful about drinking it very hot and in large quantities. Esophageal cancer is a terrible way to die, as I learned when a friend of mine passed away from that dreadful disease. Not that any form of cancer is particularly pleasant, of course.
Hot drinks in the US during the early days of the Church pretty much were coffee and tea, and that’s still largely true in many parts of the world. The “hot drinks” prohibition became interpreted more specifically as tea and coffee, which has led many to assume that the issue may be stimulants or caffeine in particular, though members can drink cola drinks all day and still go the Temple, or eat way too much meat or way too much in general and still pass the low bar for Word of Wisdom compliance.
A divine MSDS (material data safety sheet) loaded with technical specifications and information on specific compounds has not yet been revealed for tea, coffee, or any other substance, so we don’t really know if there’s a genuine health or spiritual concern regarding any of the numerous compounds in these beverages in their incredibly diverse forms (please visit one of the tea malls in Shanghai to see the delightful diversity in teas, and to find some really amazing herbal teas as well which I love). Perhaps the main thing is simply showing a little faith by not imbibing some particular substances that may be fine for most people in modest amounts.
There’s a lot to tea culture here in China and I must admit I’m quite curious. Maybe in the millennium of after the Resurrection, if not sooner, we will be able to try in good faith all sorts of great Chinese teas — as long as we keep the temperature down in the non-carcinogenic range. Meanwhile, there is no end to the amazing herbal teas one can find here. But caution is advised even there, not just for the temperature but also for the chemistries involved. Frequent ingestion of tea made from soursop, a.k.a guanabana (not a Chinese thing, but popular in some nations) has been associated with increased risk of Parkinson’s disease. Soursop actually contains a potent neurotoxin, so go easy on the fruit or the infusion, and don’t even think of smoking it! Maybe it will be on the list of the next generation update to the Word of Wisdom. I’ll be happy to learn and receive more when the time is right.
A parting health tip: even healthy foods like spinach are unhealthy in large amounts or when consumed too frequently. Spinach, for example, has oxalic acid which can form calcium oxalate solids in the body and lead to kidney stone formation. A son of mine who was having spinach salads every day at BYU learned this the hard way. Ouch! Celebrate the diversity of this planet by eating a wide variety of foods. And please, not too much diet cola. Our bodies weren’t designed for those chemicals. My concern is not just over the artificial sweeteners plus caffeine, but also the mess of chemicals in the poorly regulated artificial caramel color which ought to make us a tad nervous, IMHO).