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When Alcohol, Cigarettes and Tea Don't Mix Well, Says Study

Timothy Boyer Ph.D.'s picture
Drinking overly hot tea not recommended for smokers

While the ills of drinking too much alcohol and smoking cigarettes are well known risk factors of esophageal cancer, research shows that adding on a particular tea drinking habit actually increases the risk of esophageal cancer even higher.


A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reports that people who smoke and drink alcohol significantly increase their risk of developing esophageal cancer if they also have the habit of drinking their tea very hot.

Esophageal cancer is the development of cancerous, or malignant tumors in the cells of the upper digestive system behind the windpipe that can be caused by tissue damage and exposure to carcinogenic agents. This damage and exposure to the soft tissues can change how the cells lining the esophagus behave leading to non-cancerous, or benign, conditions such as cysts or esophageal webs and rings; or, if a person is unfortunate, a malignancy that destroys the muscular tube behind the windpipe and then spreads to other parts of the body.

Like many cancers, the sooner esophageal cancer is detected, the higher the likelihood a person will survive. Unfortunately, warning signs and symptoms of esophageal cancer may not become evident until the cancer has progressed to a relatively advanced stage of disease.

The most common symptom of having esophageal cancer is difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia. Other symptoms of esophageal cancer include:

--weight loss
--painful swallowing
--pain in the throat, chest (behind the breast bone, or sternum) or back
--fatigue or malaise
--loss of appetite
--regurgitating food

China as it turns out is among the countries with the highest incidence of esophageal cancer, presumably due to a higher than average consumption of alcohol combined with frequent smoking and/or long-term exposure to environmental pollutants such as smog.

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Previous research has suggested that consuming overly hot beverages such as tea might be a potential risk factor for esophageal cancer as well. However, until recently, a relationship between drinking overly hot tea in combination with alcohol and tobacco exposure has not been evaluated toward defining a possible increased risk of cancer.

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine study, researchers from China followed 456,155 participants ranging in age from 30 to 79 for nearly 10 years and found a synergistic association between drinking tea that is overly hot with excessive alcohol drinking and/or cigarette smoking. The combination of all 3 habits led to an elevated cancer risk 5 times higher than the risk of developing esophageal cancer in participants who had none of the 3 habits.

The researchers concluded that drinking tea at high temperatures is associated with an increased risk for esophageal cancer when combined with excessive alcohol or tobacco use, and therefore should be avoided when smoking and drinking are habitual in a person's life. However, habitually drinking overly hot tea alone, does not appear to increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer.

For help on how to stop smoking, here's how to Double Your Chances of Quitting Successfully with This Smoking Cessation Program.

Reference: Annals of Internal Medicine Feb. 6, 2018 "Effect of Hot Tea Consumption and Its Interactions With Alcohol and Tobacco Use on the Risk for Esophageal Cancer: A Population-Based Cohort Study" Canqing Yu, PhD et al.

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