Scientists in Kenya are investigating possible connections between food and beverage temperatures and esophageal cancer.
Preliminary findings suggest that people who like their food and beverages to be warmer than 60 degrees Celsius are at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
In Kenya, hot food is widely believed to be healthier, while cold food is viewed as dull and unsatisfying.
“Most people prefer hot or warm food because this is the cold season. If you eat cold food, it will affect you. But if you eat hot food, you will feel warm and energetic,” said Regan Dennis, a resident of Nairobi.
For years, researchers have sought to establish the effects of very hot food on the esophagus, the tube through which food travels to the stomach. A study published in the journal “Cancer Epidemiology” identified thermal injury from hot food and beverages as a possible cause of esophageal Cancer.
“It’s an irritant, the heat. You are causing ulceration of the lining. The lining of the esophagus and the throat. And once you cause this constant damage to the lining, it leads to mutation and finally leads to cancer. So it’s carcinogenic to cause constant irritation of the mucus lining,” said John Muiru, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon.
Researchers found that tea drinkers who like their tea to be warmer than 60 degrees Celsius and drank more than two large cups daily have a 90 percent higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
This is bad news for tea-drinkers in Kenya’s Western region, who are among those taking the hottest tea in the world. Their beverage is usually 72.1 degrees Celsius.
“The ideal temperature is the body temperature, which is about 37 degrees Centigrade. Anything above that will be damaging the cells. The cells are designed to survive within the body temperature,” said Muiru.
Esophageal cancer accounts for 11 percent of new cancer cases in Kenya. The latest discovery has had a jarring effect on tea-lovers. But the studies are not conclusive and researchers suggest that the evidence should be evaluated further.
As scientists seek a conclusive answer, tea-lovers begin to grapple with the idea that hotter might not be better after all.
“Food shouldn’t be too hot or too cold. It should be warm,” said Saidi Gitau, a Nairobi resident.