“Sheer” or Noon” Chai is a popular traditional salted cuisine in Kashmir and consumed by various J&K ethnic populations. This beverage (salted tea) is believed as a central Asian word i.e., Sheer Chai”by the populace of Kashmiri pandits and as Noon Chai by Kashmiri Muslims. Sheer Chai uses unique tea leaves that resemble the leaves of pure green tea. The beautiful pink tea gets its hue from a touch of applied baking soda as it is being prepared. The chlorophyll in the tea leaves react with the soda that gives it a reddish color and turns pink after adding milk to it.Sheer chai has a savory taste which belies its appearance of a strawberry-milkshake. Salt and baking soda are paramount ingredients. Salt serves as an electrolyte to resist high altitude starvation and baking soda is the agent that turns it pink. It is taken every day, almost by all, irrespective of gender or sex, in the mornings and afternoons.Kashmir is a zone of high prevalence of gastric cancer and the consumption of the salted beverage is higher in Kashmir as compared to Jammu and other regions. It is believed that it has digestive properties, possibly due to the content of soda bicarbonate.A high salted tea consumption is independently linked to a high risk for gastric cancer. Epidemiologically and experimentally, dietary sodium chloride has been established as being capable of growing the incidence of gastric cancer. Consumption of this pink salty Chai is considered a risk factor in gastric cancer.
Gastric cancer remains a major threat to the globe, and is the world’s third most common cancer. The prevalence of gastric cancer is high in some geographical areas in India. Dietary factors are believed to contribute to extensive geographic variation in gastric cancer prevalence.There is a marked variation in the incidence of gastric cancer among various ethnic groups residing in the same geographical area, pointing to hosting genetic factors or socio-environmental factors peculiar to a specific racial group. The correlation of certain epidemiological influences and the occurrence of gastric cancer may to certain degree be due to some unusual eating patterns. It is projected that dietary improvements could reduce the global prevalence of gastric cancer by as much as 50 percent.
Epidemiological trials carried out predominantly in Asian countries suggest that excessive salted food consumption raises the incidence of gastric cancer. Salted tea has strong methylating activity and contributes to access to certain active, potential carcinogens, nitrosamines or their precursors. Hot salt tea is regularly drunk, resulting in extremely high sensitivity to methylamine, ethylamine, dimethylamine, diethylamine, and nitrate. Such amines are classified as nitrosatable precursors in human diets and can be converted into N-nitrosamines under ideal gastric conditions (pH, nitrite, existence of catalysis of nitrosation) or in achlorhydric stomach.In the two-stage model of gastric carcinogenesis, salt exerts an enhancing impact at both initiation and promotion stages.In comparison with low salt consumption, a progressive significant increase in the risk of gastric cancer is observed from moderately high to high salt intake. Tea ingested at high temperatures will cause the gastric mucosa to suffer thermal damage.
Sheer Chai can trigger thermal damage to the gastric epithelium, if taken at high temperatures. Therefore, inflammatory reaction results in inflammation and the production of oxygen and nitrogen free radicals that encourage carcinogenesis.A transient corollary of precancerous modifications contributing to the development of gastric cancer with a high salt intake occurs in persistent active gastritis. For certain situations, this may progress to atrophic gastritis with glandular tissue destruction accompanied by intestinal metaplasia, dysplasia, early gastric cancer and eventually advanced gastric cancer.A heavy consumption of salt removes the stomach lining and can become contaminated with H. Pylori or may be more prone to intensify infection.
Healthy eating is the best and safest lifestyle option which will reduce the likelihood of multiple serious health problems. The adverse consequences of possible carcinogenic dietary compounds exist and their intake should be taken carefully.A dietary change requiring less consumption of Sheer” Chai may be a realistic approach for minimizing gastric cancer among the J&K ethnic population.
(The author is Ph.D Scholar SKUAST Jammu)