Kombucha: The Cure For All Diseases?

By Austen Smith, DO, Family Medicine ResidentSCOBY aids the fermentation process of kombucha.

Over the past decade, kombucha reached massive popularity in the United States due to its supposed health benefits. But what exactly is this health-crazed tea? Kombucha, a fermented tea, dates back over 2,000 years to Northeast China. When making kombucha, a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, is added to green tea, black tea, or both, along with sugar. The mixture ferments, and the final product contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and probiotics. 

What Are The Kombucha Health Claims?

It's not uncommon to scroll through Facebook and see posts raving about the health benefits of drinking kombucha. While a few articles may lead readers to believe it is the cure-all, some of the most common health claims include:

Common kombucha health claims include weight loss, improved digestion, treatment of diabetes, and more.

  • Improve digestion 
  • Simulate the immune system 
  • Stimulate hair growth 
  • Weight loss 
  • Reduce cholesterol 
  • Prevent and treat arthritis 
  • Prevent and treat cancer
  • Treat insomnia 
  • Treat diabetes 

Where do most of the health claims originate from? 

  • Animal studies 
  • Laboratory findings, such as test-tube experiments 
  • Anecdotes, or hearsay 

Is Kombucha Safe?

As the popularity of kombucha continues to grow, more and more Americans are drawn to the idea of creating their own fermented tea at home. A quick Google search brings many "how to" videos and articles for the DIY'er. However, there can be health risks associated with brewing your own kombucha such as contamination with bad bacteria and over-fermentation. To avoid any problems during the home-brewing process keep the following in mind:

  • Follow the proper techniques for brewing kombucha tea
  • Know how to safely store your kombucha
  • Thoroughly inspect your SCOBY for mold

In addition, kombucha has been implicated in case reports involving hepatotoxicity (liver damage), lactic acidosis, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, gastrointestinal upset, headache, allergic reaction, and infection. These adverse effects may be related to underlying heath conditions, excess consumption, contamination, and/or improper fermentation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states limiting consumption to “approximately 4 ounces daily” may not produce side effects in the healthy population.  

Although kombucha contains ingredients which may improve health, there is currently limited clinical evidence to support the previously mentioned health claims in humans. Clinical studies need to be conducted to determine the safety and health benefits of kombucha. 

I am eager to hear the upcoming research regarding this fermented tea. If you have questions or concerns about introducing kombucha into your diet, contact your physician or other healthcare professional to have a discussion. 

Article post date: 9/11/2019