People who love hot drinks or soup in the cold weather may not be aware of the damage it can cause to the esophagus. In Chinese culture, this practice is common because it is the best way to immediately warm up the body. Although it feels good to keep warm in this manner, we are not aware that the scalding temperature may cause esophageal burns or physical damage to the esophageal mucosa. In the long run, the damage may lead to cancer.
Similarly, when we entertain guests at home, we always say ’chan jit (趁熱), which means we invite the guests to consume the tea or food while still hot. Often, we swallow or gulp the drink at an almost boiling point without minding the burn. As many may not be aware, the risk of having cancer is twice higher for those who frequently drink at 65°C-69° C, and eight times more if it is above 70°C. On the other hand, if one sips the tea after brewing for just two minutes, they are five times more likely to contract cancer than those who let their tea brew for at least four to five minutes.
It is believed that the damage to the esophageal cells causes esophageal cancer because of the high temperature. Reports and studies have shown that taking food at boiling temperature leads to burns and chronic inflammation of the esophagus. Though the esophagus mucosa’s epidermis can heal without intervention, the continual stimulation of the high temperature on the mucosa may trigger cancer.
The World Health Organization defines hot drinks as any liquid or beverage at 50°C-65°C and scorching drinks over 65°C. Their research has pointed out that consuming liquids at such temperatures increases the risk of esophageal cancer. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer report in 2018, beverages that exceed 65°C are classified as 2A carcinogens. Previous studies have also shown that taking boiling food/liquid aggravates the throat’s mucous membrane and hurts the esophagus, which generates the possibility of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma. And this is twice the risk of one developing squamous cell carcinoma. Animal testing results have further confirmed this case. To prevent esophageal cancer, everyone should pay more attention to their dining habits. Though drinking hot drinks is not an absolute cause for the carcinogen, this habit may lead to cancer. The next time you drink or eat something hot, it is better to blow across the drink’s surface to cool it before consuming it.
To conclude, it is recommended to drink water at around 40°C because at this temperature, it neither over-stimulates the oral cavity, esophagus, and gastrointestinal tract nor causes vasoconstriction. In terms of somatosensory, taking a sip should not burn your mouth and tongue.