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),

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