Kombucha Tea: Do the Negatives Outweigh the Positives?

By: Carlene Helble-Elite Nutrition Intern

The beverage industry provides a plethora of options for those seeking something fizzy, a drink with a kick, or beverages with advertised health benefits. Kombucha is a popular ‘health drink’ that uses a grouping of bacteria and yeast mixed in with tea. Ancient China is credited with the creation of this fermented tea, although many countries across the world have their own versions.

Kombucha is made by first obtaining a colony called the ‘mother’ which floats at the top of the batch of tea. The colony is saved for each brew (think of sourdough starter) and even passed along to friends so they can brew their own. After creating a large batch of tea (it can be green or black tea), sugar, and the colony are mixed together. The fermentation process then begins and for one to two weeks, the tea sits unrefridgerated.

Kombucha fans say the health benefits are numerous and include stimulation of the immune system, cancer prevention, improved liver function and digestion. The tea is also touted as a probiotic food. Up until the time of this post, there has not been a major medical journal that has done a report on kombucha. These claims are not scientifically proven and sometimes it may seem that personal stories are what keep this fermented tea popular. While it is possible that there are some benefits, there is no evidence at this point to prove it.

There have been, on the other hand, been major reports of ill effects including GI distress and allergic reactions. The FDA cautions, ‘the risk of contamination is high’ because it is often created within personal kitchens in non-sterile containers. Aspergillus, a fungus that produces a nasty toxin, is a particular concern in kombucha. Over a decade ago, the CDC filed two reports of metabolic acidosis one resulting in major illness and another in a death. The cases had possible, but not definite connections to daily intake of kombucha. To be on the safe side, the American Cancer Society advises those with compromised immune systems should avoid this beverage.

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