Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Kombucha: It tastes nasty so that means it's good for you, right?

 I had thought that after reading several research articles on Kombucha, I could make a conclusion as to whether or not it was beneficial to my health. But the truth is, the only conclusion I've come to after reading so much about the drink is that more research is needed to say if Kombucha is a true health drink or just an overpriced tea.
Glasses of Kombucha
CC BY 2.5 ~Twon~
Kombucha is a tea, usually black, that has sugar and the Kombucha “mushroom” added [2-5]. The “mushroom,” which ferments the tea, is really a colony of yeast and bacteria [2].
The health claims for Kombucha are numerous, including cancer prevention, aiding in digestion, getting rid of headaches and toxin eradication [2, 5]. However, a lot of these claims seem to stem from research done in the early 20th century in Russia, with methodology unknown [4].
One of the oldest claims to fame for Kombucha is that the helpful bacteria in the drink (probiotics) can help aid in digestion. Unfortunately, this claim lacks sufficient evidence [4].
There is some interesting research on the effects of Kombucha and glucose absorption on mice with diabetes [1]. However, that was only one study. My former statistics teacher would argue that since their p-values were p < 0.05, the researchers would have a 50/50 chance of getting a similar result if they repeated the study. Thus, as she was fond of saying, “treat the results as interesting, but not conclusive.”
Kombucha "Mushroom"
CC BY 2.5 ~Twon~
There is also some evidence that Kombucha may have the ability to detoxify the body because it contains glucuronic acid [5]. Although, some people debate if there is glucuronic acid in Kombucha or if it is just 2-keto-gluconic acid [5]. Patients suffering from cancer lack L-lactic acid in their connective tissue and can have a high blood pH. Kombucha may be able to re-balance the lactic acid concentration [5]. The catch being that The American Cancer Society does not recommend people with suppressed immune systems drink Kombucha [4].
On the other hand, if you have normal blood pH, drinking something that acidifies your blood would not be good. In 1995, the CDC did a case study in Iowa on two women who were hospitalized because of acidosis, or high acidic levels in the bloodstream. Both women drank Kombucha, their starters “mushrooms” coming from the same parent. The CDC was unable to conclusively link their illnesses to Kombucha use [3]. Negative side effects from drinking Kombucha have been reported, such as stomach ache, allergic reaction (especially for people who are sensitive to acids), and yeast infections [2, 5, 6]
Kombucha with "Mushroom"
CC BY 2.5 ~Twon~
The only finding that does seem to be clear is that Kombucha can be very dangerous if brewed and stored improperly. If Kombucha is made or stored in ceramic or lead crystal containers, the lead in the container can leach into the drink, causing issues with heavy metal poisoning [2-4].
Now, after all of this, Kombucha has been ingested since the Tsin Dynasty (220 BC) [5], and people have seemed not to kill themselves off en masse by consuming it, or at least no report of such that I could find. As Crawford says, “when consumed in moderation, Kombucha is probably safe to drink” [4]. Please keep in mind though, that a daily dose is considered to be 4 ounces [3]. I think after all my research, I side with Dr. Bauer; there seems to be little to no evidence on Kombucha's health benefits, and some pretty nasty side effects. I personally will not be buying Kombucha any time soon, mostly because the possible negative side effects scare me.

**Note: I am not a doctor. This is not meant to be medical advice.

1. Aloulou, A., Hamden, K., Elloumi, D., Ali, M. B., Hargafi, K., Jaouadi, B., Ayadi, F., & Elfeki, A. (2012). Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. BMC complementary and ALternative Medicine12(63), doi: 10.1186/1472-6882-12-63
2. Bauer, B. (2011, June 25). What is kombucha tea? does it have any health benefits?. Retrieved from
3.CDC. (1995, December 08). Unexplained severe illness possibly associated with consumption of kombucha tea --iowa, 1995. Retrieved from
4. Crawford, N. (2011, July 03). Is kombucha safe to drink?. Retrieved from
5. Dufresne, C., & Farnsworth, E. (2000). Tea, kombucha, and health: a review. Food Research International,33, 409-421.
6. Gharib, O. A. (2009). Effects of kombucha on oxidative stress induced nephrotoxicity in rats. Chinese Medicine4(23), doi: 10.1186/1749-8546-4-23
7. Kallel, L., Desseaux, V., Moktar, H., Stocker, P., & Ajandouz, E. H. (2112). Insights into the fermentation biochemistry of kombucha teas and potential impacts of kombucha drinking on starch digestion. Food Research International49, 226-232.
8. Morshedi, A., & Dashti-Rahmatabadi, M. H. (2010). Chronic consumption of kombucha and black tea prevents weight loss in diabetic rats. Iranian Journal of Diabetes and Obesity2(2),

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Radioactive Bowl

Radioactive Bowl in Lead Sheets. Doesn't look scary does it?

Being married to a computer/science geek offers me many learning opportunities. For example, since being married to my husband, I've seen people shrink quarters with lots of electricity and some copper wire, I know some bits and pieces about Linux and why it is better than Microsoft, I also know many different ways to put out a fire.
Recently, a friend of my husband's, we'll call him Gary, was shopping at an antiques store. After some time spent rummaging around the store, looking through loads of useless and uninteresting items, he spotted something that made his geek brain jump for joy, releasing large quantities of dopamine, seratonin, and any other happiness neurotransmitters that just happened to be lying around. (Or so I imagine, I wasn't there).
What was the object, you may ask.
An old radio? An antique cell phone the size of a brick? A dilapidated computer?
No, none of these things.
What he found was a red bowl created by the Fiesta company.
Now, before this experience, I would have never guessed that a computer/science geek would have any interest in old ceramics, but I would be, and was, wrong.
You see, in the 1940s Fiesta glazed their dining ware with Uranium oxide, specifically the colors red and ivory. Not only is uranium oxide highly radioactive, it also causes heavy metal poisoning. On dish wear. Which you eat off of. (In a side story, the US government eventually took Fiesta's stores of Uranium oxide, not because it was toxic and they were putting it on dishes, but so that the government could build the atomic bomb).
So, with this knowledge and the desire to impress his friends, Gary bought the red bowl.
A few days passed, and Gary decided to show off his new purchase to a group of friends. The friends, all being geeks themselves, viewed the bowl with a mixture of awe and trepidation. (Again, I wasn't there, so this is just how I imagine it going).
Quickly, a Geiger counter was pulled from one of the numerous shelves. It beeped in alarm, warning the gaggle of geeks that this bowl has high levels of radiation. Higher than say, normal background radiation, which we all experience on a day-to-day basis.
Another gadget was pulled from the shelves. This one to indicate the amount of alpha particles the bowl emits. Normally, around low level or background radioactive items, this gadget would not beep at all, or if it did, not very often. Around the bowl, however, it beeped about twenty-five times a second. This is exciting for many reasons, one because it means that there is a lot of radiation on the surface of the bowl and that anyone near the dish is being exposed to high levels of radiation. Secondly, Uranium decays into a large number of fun elements, Radon being one of them (see decay chain of Uranium 238 here Did I say exciting? Read disturbing.
Alpha particles being detected with a Ludlum 1" Alpha Scintillator 

“I'm not comfortable with that in my house.” One of the wise geeks proclaims.
My husband, being young and apparently unafraid of radiation says, “Can I take it to work and analyze it?”
The wise geek whose house they were at tried to convince my husband that he would not be able see much, even with more advanced meters and detectors.
My husband was unmoved.
Gary tried to hand my husband the bowl, at which point he jumped back, his hands up so as not to come into contact with the dish.
“I'm not touching that. Put it in a plastic bag.” My husband's logic to this statement, as he told me later, is that alpha particles can not go through paper, and therefore are unlikely to go through plastic.
It is at this point in the story where I must stop and contemplate my wedding vows. I have to wonder if normal run of the mill wedding vows are sufficient for men and women marrying computer/science geeks. Should there be addendum? Something like, I promise to love, honor, and obey. May be void if you build sex robot to replace me, blow up the kids, or bring home highly radioactive material (see bananas ( for definition on “high radioactivity”). Anyway, I digress.
Because it's fusion.
My husband takes the bowl to work, with much the same result, only this time his manager insists that someone immediately wrap the bowl in lead sheets. According to my husband, the manager offers himself up, because he's older and has less to lose than say, my husband, the one who has been touting the dish around all day.
The night after my husband took the bowl to work, we are driving to dinner.
“Oh,” he casually mentions, “did I tell you about the radioactive bowl?”
“Radioactive bull?”
“No,” he scoffs, as if I'm the one being ridiculous, “radioactive bowl.”
“Oh. No you didn't.”
He then fills me in on the previous day's events.
One question, and really only one question matters after he tells me about his friend's cool find. “Where's the bowl now?”
“At home in the garage.”
“You mean where I park my car?”
“It's okay. It wrapped in lead sheets! Perfectly safe!”
My husband, it seems, has missed the point.
“Uhh, sweetheart, next time you decide to bring home something with higher than background radiation, at least give me a heads up. Okay?”

As much as I love my husband, and I do love my husband, sometimes I just have to take a breath, smile, nod, and walk away. And in this instance, if I didn't walk away I might go the way of Marie Curie.

Please tell me I'm not alone in this strange world of geekdom, and other readers who are romantically involved with geeks have bizarre stories like mine. Submissions of the same may be left here (of course, don't forget to wrap them in lead sheets....).