“WHAT? Hot drinks are prohibited? WHY?” These are the usual responses Mormons get when they tell people they don’t drink coffee, tea or other hot drinks. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a doctrine called the Word of Wisdom in which Mormons are counseled “hot drinks are not for the body or belly.” It has been said by some Mormons that the reason behind this counsel is because hot drinks such as coffee and tea have addictive ingredients, such as caffeine.
The counsel found in the Word of Wisdom, also known as the Lord’s Law of Health, encompasses all substances that are harmful for the body. Some people, even Mormons themselves, have debated what falls into the category of ‘hot drinks’. But would they still debate if they knew the World Health Organization has confirmed that ‘hot drinks’ are not good for the body?
A recent study by the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that “drinking very hot beverages, which they defined as anything above 149F (65C)…is linked to higher risk of cancer of the esophagus” (Time Magazine). This is because high temperature drinks “scald delicate tissues in the esophagus; that damage may then trigger [a] more rapid turnover of the cells, which can in some cases lead to out-of-control malignant growth” (Time Magazine). It is important to note that drinking hot beverages does not increase the risk of all types of cancer. Dr. Otis Brawley, Chief Medical and Scientific Officer at the American Cancer Society, says that the risk of cancer is increased where the hot beverages hit such as the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach.
While this 2016 study only accounts for hot drinks above 149F (65C), it is interesting to note that the warning against hot drinks being harmful was given in 1833 as part of the Word of Wisdom or the Lord’s Law of Health. This shows that the Lord sees things humans cannot and that He has knowledge of all things. Some Latter-day Saints in the 1800s might have wondered why ‘hot drinks’ were prohibited especially since there was no scientific support to it. Who would have thought that after 183 years, the WHO would conduct a study on the harmful effect of ‘hot drinks’.
The study did mention that coffee under 149F (65C) will not increase the risk of cancer but the Lord’s Law of Health still stands—that coffee and tea are not good for the body. The scientific evidence for this principle might take another century to breakthrough but Mormons are counseled to obey regardless of the existence of evidence.
So what can we learn from this? We learn that the Word of Wisdom was given to us as a guiding principle and not a restriction; and we must trust that the Lord knows what’s best for us, even if there is no human or scientific evidence available to support it. Evidence may surface many years in the future, or maybe not even in our lifetime. The Lord’s Law of Health will help us take care of our bodies and we will be blessed if we choose to obey that Law.