Maybe We Should Remember the “Hot” Part of the Prohibition on “Hot Drinks”

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,, available at 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 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). 

Author: Jeff Lindsay

11 thoughts on “Maybe We Should Remember the “Hot” Part of the Prohibition on “Hot Drinks”

  1. Interesting. Just a general comment: One of my pet peeves concerns the way study results so often get publicized in relative but not absolute terms. We really need to know both to make sense of things.

    For example, if a study demonstrates that “Drinking orange juice doubles the risk of getting big toe cancer,” that doesn’t mean much in practical terms if the risk of getting big toe cancer is only 0.01% to begin with. Foregoing orange juice in this situation would probably be a net health loss.

    By way of comparison, the lifetime risk of getting various cancers are:

    — esophageal cancer, 0.5 %
    — skin cancer, 2.6%
    — female breast cancer, 12.4%
    — colorectal cancer, 4.2%
    — lung cancer, 6.2%
    — prostate cancer, 11.1%

    Of course, figures like these are complicated by the fact that some cancers are much deadlier than others, etc.

    But whatever you do, don’t smoke.

    As for the health benefits of the Word of Wisdom, well, all I’ll say is that it strikes me as no better and no worse than other religious dietary codes. I do think I would have enjoyed sharing a bottle of wine with Brigham Young.

    — OK

    (Figures from

  2. My wife is a wine drinker; I am not. She is mostly responsible with her drinking, but every once in a while she puts her health at risk with her drinking, and it is inadvertent. It happened last October, and it was a good thing I was around and sober. Because I do not drink, I don't have that same risk. She appreciates the fact that she can always rely on me to be sober in situations where there is some benefit to that. Our animals do too. Animals can easily suffer at the hands of drunk people. I have seen that firsthand.

  3. Brigham Young is definitely an interesting person. I think I'd prefer to share a cup of Postum with Joseph Smith (we each have our separate cups of course – below 140° F too).


  4. I can't help but wonder — if her McDonald's coffee was really that hot (180-190 degrees!), maybe Stella Liebeck was better off spilling it in her lap than drinking it and risking esophageal cancer. McDonald's might have saved a bundle with this argument.

    (I kid, of course.I understand that Liebeck's injuries were very serious.)

    — OK

  5. It should be mentioned that in the study he noted it wasn't the tea that was dangerous, it was the hot. He mentioned that anything ingested that could damage the lining of the esophagus raised the chance of cancer. Be it scalding tea or scalding jam. It's just that one is more likely to consume scalding tea than scalding jam.

    So then, is iced tea and iced coffee safe for our health?

  6. In some nations without clean, chlorinated tap water, iced drinks are a major health risk because while the drink itself may be safe, the added ice cubes may come from tap water or from ice machines that harbor bacteria (a problem that also occurs in the US — they can be highly contaminated and may have some nasty species of microbes). Many people who are careful to avoid tap water in their travels to, say, Mexico or other nations without reliable, safe, chlorinated water have fallen ill after overlooking the ice added to their drinks. This may be one of the reasons why many Chinese people warn against cold beverages.

    It's interesting that here in China, there is a great aversion to cold drinks, frozen foods, and also to cold air from air conditioners. Many older people are concerned that exposure to cold air from an air conditioner will make you ill, and that iced drinks or ice cream will make you sick. At the same time, when it's winter, they want to leave windows open to get fresh air. I think there are reasons for these things based on experience long ago — perhaps hot drinks have been the best way to ensure water was safe, and cold or room temperature drinks may have been more likely to have bad water. And in the old days, winter was a time with a lot if indoor air pollution. Opening windows meant safer air. But when the outside air is rather polluted in some cities, that doesn't work so well any more. So perhaps your iced drinks are relatively safer for health than piping hot drinks, but many of my Chinese friends might disagree.

  7. wouldn't spicy or acidic foods also be of concern as well? I have to be careful with these as I have acid reflux, a risk factor for cancer.

    I am sure God cares about our physical health (e.g., trying to reduce cancer risks) but there are so many really healthy things that can end up hurting a body depending on its sensitivities (e.g,. the staff of life could mean cancer for two of my kids with Celiac, for example).

    That said, it seems wise to not drink drinks that are so hot they could burn human tissue. 🙂

  8. Yes, this probably is a good time to concentrate on what "hot" means.

    So much more simple than what bus just ran over the POX and what that means.

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