If you like your coffee or tea extra hot, this may be cause for concern: Drinking very hot beverages may increase your risk for esophageal cancer, according to a new World Health Organization report.
An international panel of 23 scientists analyzed previous research and cited three key studies that suggest people who drink their coffee or tea at higher temperatures are more likely to get esophageal cancer than people who take their drinks less hot.
Researchers aren’t sure why, but say the scalding drinks may damage the cells in your esophagus.
The hot beverages could as much as double your risk for esophageal cancer, according to Mariana Stern, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology at the University of Southern California and one of the members of the WHO panel.
But it’s important to note that the average person’s risk for esophageal cancer is very small to begin with: only .5 percent, according to the National Cancer Institute.
What temperature beverage raises your risk for cancer?
Drinks above 149 degrees Fahrenheit are in the danger zone, according to the WHO report.
You probably don’t stick a thermometer in your morning cup, so we called the National Coffee Association to find out the temperature of the average coffee. According to a spokesperson, the industry standard is 140 degrees, which is in the clear.
But a Mr. Coffee spokesperson says their machines heat water up to 177 to 185 degrees, and that temperature will drop only a few degrees by the time it hits your mug. So if you’re drinking your coffee immediately, it’s possible that it’s still in the red zone.
Same goes for tea: Water boils at 212 degrees, so it may be on the right or wrong side of the WHO cutoff depending on how long you let it sit before drinking.
Wait—aren’t coffee and tea good for you?
The same WHO report says that drinking coffee is linked to a decreased risk of liver cancer. Other research suggests that java slashes your risk for diabetes, melanoma, heart disease, and stroke.
And tea may help lower your risk of stroke and heart disease, decrease your blood pressure, boost your brain power, and help you lose weight, according to studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
Those benefits are likely due to compounds in the drinks such as antioxidants.
“The important information for us to glean from this report is that potential cancer risk from drinking hot beverages like coffee and tea has little to do with the beverage itself, but the temperature of the water when you are drinking it,” says Men’s Health Nutrition Advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D.
It’s important to remember that the development of cancer is complex, he says. Many factors play a role, including your genetics and how often you engage in a potentially “risky” activity like drinking very hot tea.