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kombucha tea benefits & risks

I still remember the very first nutrition class I took as an undergraduate student. That’s where I was told that drinking tea was bad for you because it contained caffeine. I was thrilled at the time because I couldn’t stand tea. By avoiding tea, I felt like I wasn’t missing out on anything. My how things have changed.

First, my tastes have matured and I am proud to say that I have come to appreciate tea and enjoy all varieties. But we’ve also learned a lot more about tea and caffeine, and their potential health benefits.

In case you were wondering about where I was going with my drawn out story about tea, I did have a point: Kombucha is often consumed as tea. When walking up and down the aisle at your favorite supermarket, you might find they carry Kombucha tea.

What’s interesting about Kombucha tea is that it is often referred to as “Kombucha Mushroom” or “Manchurian Mushroom.” This is ironic because the word Kombucha translates to “tea made from kombu seaweed.” What’s even more ironic is that Kombucha is not made from mushrooms or seaweed at all. It’s actually made by combining black tea, sugar, and yeast together and then letting it sit for about a week or so. By the end, the hope is that you end up with this blob of gelatinous goo.


Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 550 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.


What Is Kombucha Tea?

Why those ingredients and why let it sit until it forms this not-so-appetizing gelatinous goo? Combining these ingredients and letting it sit for an extended period of time allows it to grow fungi and bacteria (which is basically what the gelatinous blob is made from). I realize consuming bacteria does not sound appetizing, but these are supposed to be beneficial bacteria–bacteria that will promote health (not harm it). This process is basically creating a fermented food. If you’ve ever had yogurt, sourdough bread, kimchi, or sauerkraut, you’ve consumed a food that has gone through a similar fermentation process.

After a week of letting this mixture sit and form it’s gelatin-like blog, you drink it. And again, by doing so, you’re hoping to consume those beneficial bacteria found in that gelatinous blob. Supposedly, Kombucha tea has been around for at least 2,000 years. It was said that drinking it would cure illnesses. But actual scientific analysis of these claims didn’t start happening until the 1930s.

Benefits of Drinking Kombucha

What has Kombucha tea been used for? Some claim that Kombucha tea improves digestion, boosts immunity, lowers blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and more–everything from weight management to curing cancer.

Unfortunately, when we really get down to it, we find that Kombucha tea may not be effective for improving or preventing any health condition or disease. You may hear of people regularly consuming Kombucha tea and feeling better as a result, but at this time, we simply don’t have the research to support its use. In fact, most of the research on the health benefits of Kombucha were performed in Russia in the early 20th century.

I should mention that not all Kombucha is created equal. The species of bacteria and fungi can vary depending on where and how it was grown. How can we possibly get an accurate picture of what’s going on when we don’t really know what we’re comparing? Because of this, we can’t really say how much Kombucha tea we should or can safely consume. We don’t have a safe dosage. My perspective is always this: if it’s not causing harm, then don’t stress about it. But does it cause harm?

Nowadays, if something about Kombucha does get reported, it’s because someone had an adverse or negative reaction to it. While Kombucha is considered non-toxic, the problem we usually see is that depending on how and where it was grown and fermented, other unsafe microorganisms can grow and pose risks.

Dangers of Drinking Kombucha

There have been reported cases of illness (like liver problems and allergic reactions) and at least one death. Some of the reported side effects of consuming Kombucha tea are nausea, lightheadedness, throat tightness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin, which may be a sign that it’s harming the liver), shortness of breath, and even unconsciousness.

How could this happen? Here are some potential problems with it.

Let’s say you were to make a homemade version. The type of bacteria and fungi that you will end up with in your version of the tea is really dependent on what bacteria and fungi are lying around your kitchen. There may be good bacteria and fungi in your kitchen, or not so good. When drinking store-bought Kombucha tea, the same rule applies. Are they making this stuff in a fairly clean environment, or are they a little loose with their hygiene?

The type of Kombucha tea you end up with is really a product of the environment in which you grow it.

You also need to be careful about where you store your Kombucha tea. There have been reported cases of lead poisoning because folks stored their tea in a ceramic pot which contained a lead-based glaze. Glass is typically the safest vessel to grow and store Kombucha tea.

The Bottom Line

Kombucha tea is probably not going to provide many health benefits, if any at all. But if it’s not harming you, enjoy! Just be sure to monitor how you feel after consuming it. To lower risk of any unintentional side effects, if you’re consuming store-bought Kombucha tea, be sure it’s a reputable company. It may not be a bad idea to do a little bit of research and find out what the company does to ensure the safety of its product. If you’re making it at home, be sure your kitchen is clean!

Listen to Dr. Neal address this topic on Episode 550 of the podcast Optimal Health Daily.

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