Even Hot Water May Cause Cancer

No, you are not misreading today’s blog headline. According to the American non-profit Environmental Working Group, more than 1,400 chemicals and chemical groups are currently identified as known or likely carcinogens.  Humans are exposed to them on a daily basis through industrial applications, consumer products, food, water and air.

In a recent study, EWG found traces of more than 400 different cancer-causing chemicals in samples of blood, urine, hair and other bodily tissues.  While the mere presence of a carcinogen in the body does not necessarily indicate a health risk, nine of these substances were detected above regulated safety standards, indicating “non-trivial cancer risks.”

In a study just released by the World Health Organization, drinking very hot beverages has now been classified as “probably carcinogenic to humans,” based on limited evidence.

(Keep in mind that WHO once classified coffee as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” also based on limited evidence.  That has since been revised.)

The drinks themselves are not necessarily carcinogenic.  Instead, it is the temperature of the drink.  Beverages hotter than 65 degrees Celsius (149 degrees Fahrenheit) could cause significant scald burns in the esophagus, leading to an increased cancer risk.  Esophageal cancer is the eighth most common form of cancer worldwide, accounting for 5 percent of all cancer deaths.

The good news is that Western cultures don’t normally consume drinks this hot.  The hot water coming out of your faucet is usually below 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit).  The bad news is that many other cultures – including South America, the Middle East and Africa – often consume tea and maté at these temperatures and even hotter.

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