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April 26, 2014, last updated April 9, 2015

By Louise Carr, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of Doctors and
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness professionals and other members
of our Editorial Board]

You probably saw a bottle of this in your local health food
or grocery store and wondered why anyone would pay top
dollar for a fermented tea. After a quick sniff, your doubts
increased. But then you read the reports into kombucha
health benefits. This lightly sparkling, fermented tea drink is
said to improve
joint function, improve digestion and
immunity, aid in detoxification and even cure cancer. Is it
worth a try?

Once solely a product coming out of hippie or health
enthusiast's kitchens, kombucha is now readily available in
major grocery chains.

More and more people are also brewing it at home –
kombucha is no longer the preserve of the hippie
generation. But kombucha tea is also linked to reports of
toxicity and incidences of nausea, unconsciousness, and
even lead poisoning. Is kombucha safe? Does kombucha
actually help your health?

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a little like a do-it-yourself yogurt making
experiment – you produce the drink by fermenting a
symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or "SCOBY", in
sweetened tea. The "mother", also called the "kombucha
mushroom" of the yeast is then brewed in tea.

Black tea is preferred, although you can also use green tea
and white tea. You need the sugar source for the
fermentation process to happen. At the end of the
fermentation period you have a fizzy, vinegary-tasting tea
drink and a grey, flat disc you use to start another culture
or pass onto an interested friend.

Kombucha is variously described as mushroom tea or
seaweed tea although the drink is neither associated with
mushrooms nor does it contain seaweed. The colony you
use to produce the tea contains numerous fungi and

Is Kombucha Safe?

Messing around with bacteria seems like a recipe for
disaster. And according to safety reports into the tea, it
appears that there is a strong risk of contamination if you
ferment the beverage yourself. PH levels need to be
carefully controlled and all equipment must be scrupulously

The bacteria used to make kombucha can be of several
types, including Bacterium xylinum, Bacterium gluconicum,
Bacterium xylinoides, Bacterium katogenum,
Saccharomycodes ludwigii, Schizosaccharomyces pombe,
Brettanomyces bruxellensis, , Torula, Pichia fermentans and
Candida stellata.

You need to prevent the culture
fom becoming
contaminated and turning into mold
. Itt sounds obvious,
but if mold appears on the surface of the kombucha culture
you need to throw it out and start again.

A 2000 study from the Defence Research and Development
Establishment, India found home-prepared kombucha was
essentially non-toxic when consumed at reasonable doses.

However, as every batch of kombucha tea is composed of
different levels of microorganisms, it is almost impossible to
say whether any other batch would be equally as non-toxic.

Dangers of Kombucha Tea

Kombucha tea is not regulated by the FDA  --- yet ---, but
the FDA has issued warnings that consumers should be
careful in brewing and using the tea.

Kombucha tea, once it is brewed
, is extremely acidic. It is
believed to be the culprit in at least one death and several
close calls with a condition called "acidosis", in which your
blood becomes dangerously acidic.  This can lead to heart

In fact, the American Cancer Association reports on two
cases from 1995. In one case, two women had been
sipping kombucha tea for about 2 months, when they fell
ill. One woman died of heart attack two days after being
admitted to the hospital. The other woman's heart also
stopped beating but she was able to recover in the hospital
after intensive care.

Studies such as a 1997 report from Texas Tech Health
Sciences Center and Veterans Affairs, Amarillo suggest
kombucha can cause problems like nausea, headache,
jaundice, liver inflammation, shortness of breath and even
unconsciousness. However, whether these reactions come
from drinking a particularly unusual batch of kombucha or
a regular strain of the tea is unclear.

Kombucha is one of several types of diet/slimming
supplements responsible for acute liver failure, according to
a 201 study from Mount Sinai Medical Center.

Brewers need to be careful what they use to make the tea
– according to a 1998 study from Royal Prince Alfred
Hospital, Camperdown in Australia. One person suffered
lead poisoning after brewing the tea in a ceramic pot. A
dangerous amount of lead from the glaze on certain
ceramics can leach into the liquid due to the tea’s acidity.

Why go to all the trouble of brewing the tea and trying to
avoid poisoning yourself or causing an explosion with a
build-up of carbon dioxide? Because you listen to the
stories from people who claim to have been drinking
kombucha for years and have used it to beat cancer, cure
baldness, increase their energy levels, boost their immune
system and detoxify their bodies.

Does kombucha actually work? We looked at results from
the available scientific studies to see whether there is any
evidence for these claims.

Kombucha is a Diabetic Treatment?

According to a 2012 study from the National School of
Engineers of Sfax, University of Sfax, Tunisia, kombucha
tea has
hypoglycemic and ant-ilipidemic properties.

Drinking the tea helps people suffering from diabetes avoid
serious health complications associated with the disease,
for example metabolic disorders and liver or kidney
dysfunction, so say the results of the study conducted on
diabetic rats.

Before we can recommend this as a diabetic treatment,
however, we would like to see this study's results
replicated in other universities around the world.  

Drink Kombucha as a General Health Tonic

Advocates of the fizzy tea drink claim that regular
consumption boosts immunity and improves general health,
meaning you suffer from fewer colds and your body fights
off infections better.

A 2014 study from the Institute of Microbiology and
Biotechnology, University of Latvia showed drinking
kombucha tea had antioxidant benefits, and helped improve
immunity, suggesting it is “suitable for prevention against
broad-spectrum metabolic and infective disorders.”

Kombucha Reduces Oxidative Stress

Drinking kombucha tea helps reduce oxidative stress in
diabetes, according to a 2013 study by Jadavpur
University, India. The mechanism that helped prevent
oxidative stress and its impact on diabetic complications
was the tea’s antioxidant effect, according to researchers.

Kombucha Provides Protection against Liver Injury

Kombucha may provide benefits to people with liver
damage, although studies have only taken place on mice
and anyone suffering from liver disease should consult
their doctor before trying the tea as a “cure”.

A 2014 study from China Agricultural University, Beijing
found certain strains of bacteria in kombucha tea had a
liver-protective effect.

Does Kombucha Help Heal Ulcers?

Certain reports into the health benefits of kombucha
highlight the tea’s ulcer-healing properties. It is still not
clear whether kombucha actually has an effect on ulcers
but a 2010 study from IPGME&R, Calcutta, India showed
kombucha was as effective as black tea, with its high
antioxidant qualities, at
healing ulcers.

Probiotics in Kombucha Offer Health Benefits

While the evidence for kombucha’s power to cure ulcers or
help diabetes sufferers is not conclusive, it is true that most
kombucha preparations contain live bacteria. Friendly live
bacteria can aid digestion and may even improve immunity,
according to numerous reports.

Branded kombucha produced in controlled circumstances
can state whether the drink contains strains of good
bacteria but it is difficult to know whether your homemade
drink has the same benefits.


At the end of the day we just don’t know enough about
kombucha to say how it may affect health.

Claims that it can cure or prevent cancer are purely
speculative, and there is not enough evidence to fully
support other health claims, or even say whether it does
anything at all...except, in come cases, endanger your life.

According to a 2003 report from Peninsula Medical School,
Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, UK which
systematically reviewed the clinical evidence, “the largely
undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented
risks of kombucha. It can therefore not be recommended
for therapeutic use.”

That's the recommendation all of us should follow for now
on kombucha.

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Kombucha tea has been linked to several cases of