Tea is a soothing drink, and past studies have linked it to health benefits, from helping encourage weight loss to even fighting certain types of cancer. But make sure you let it cool a bit before you take that first sip. A recent study published in the International Journal of Cancer suggests that piping hot tea may raise your risk of one particular type of cancer.
In previous studies, researchers have found potential links between hot drinks—tea, maté, coffee—and the risk of cancer of the esophagus. Although it’s not a common type of cancer, esophageal cancer is expected to strike nearly 18,000 people in the United States this year, according to the American Cancer Society, and more than 16,000 people will die of the disease.
In the latest research, a group of doctors—led by Farhad Islami, MD, PhD, of the American Cancer Society—spent 10 years tracking the health of more than 50,000 people in a region of Iran where tea is a ritual of everyday life. (Nearly all participants were tea drinkers.) After comparing the health of regular tea drinkers to those who drank less, the researchers found that people who downed more than three cups of tea a day at temperatures above 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 Celsius) nearly doubled their risk of developing esophageal cancer.
While previous studies have found a link between hot beverages and this type of cancer, this is the first study to accurately pinpoint the temperature at which a hot liquid becomes risky, according to lead study author Dr. Islami. He and colleagues theorize that constant abrasion caused by drinking the hot liquids triggers inflammation and irritation that may spur the growth of cancer. While the results are unsettling, it may help to know that out of the more than 49,000 tea drinkers in the study, only 317 developed esophageal cancer. In other words, the overall risk is still small.
Study results also showed that although black and green teas have antioxidants that can help reduce cancer risk, there are other unknown compounds in the teas that may have an adverse reaction when made too hot. “It’s advisable to wait until hot beverages cool down before drinking,” Dr. Islami told CNN. If you’re looking for more ways to lower your risk, check out 30 simple ways to prevent cancer.