Hidden Dangers of Kombucha Tea by Will Lampe

KombuchaKombucha tea is a fermented black tea, which originated in China during the Qin dynasty around 250 BC. The tea is sometimes called a mushroom tea, as the culture resembles a mushroom. However, the culture is a mix of yeasts and bacteria, which live in symbiotic harmony. The common yeasts and bacteria associated with Kombucha are Saccharomyces and Acetobacter. The increase in consumption of Kombucha in recent years has been attributed to its “healing” properties, which supposedly include, a decrease in blood pressure, increased T-cell counts, curing cancer, and returning of grey hair to its normal color. However, none of these statements have been confirmed via scientific research. There have also been several documented cases of home brewed Kombucha causing great harm to the people who ingested it. During the fermentation period, the culture may be contaminated with other fungal and bacterial species including Candida and Aspergillus, which can cause disease in susceptible individuals. People have also suffered from hepatotoxicty (liver damage), renal failure, and lactic acidosis (an unhealthy build up of lactic acid) due to Kombucha ingestion.

A recent article from the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine documents the case of a 22-year-old male, who suffered from severe hyperthermia, lactic acidosis and acute renal failure 15 hours after Kombucha ingestion. The patient was combative and confused and required intubation to help him breathe. He fully recovered after being put on heavy duty antibacterial drugs and was released three days later. The doctors believe that his ingestion of the Kombucha was what caused his symptoms, however, they are still unsure of the exact mechanism of the symptoms. The CDC reported another case of Kombucha toxicity in 1995, when two women from Iowa suffered from severe lactic acidosis and respiratory failure after ingesting Kombucha. One of them ended up dying and both had obtained their Kombucha from the same source. However, 115 people had consumed the tea from the same culture and these were the only two that got sick.
You can view more info on this case from the CDC website by clicking here. Cases of lead poisoning have also been documented in people who have home brewed Kombucha in ceramic pots with lead based glaze which is an additional hazard in home brewing your own culture.

This article is not meant to deter anyone from consuming Kombucha, as I am an avid Kombucha drinker myself and I will continue to drink it on a regular basis. If you think of the thousands of people who drink Kombucha everyday, these few documented cases make up a very, very, small percentage of the Kombucha drinker population. Also, these cases of toxicity resulted from the consumption of homebrewed cultures and not from the store bought variety. If you are thinking of drinking or brewing homemade Kombucha, make sure that it has been prepared properly in order to minimize risk. Also, the beneficial aspects of Kombucha may hold true but more research is needed to confirm them. I just wanted to highlight the fact that consuming Kombucha, like most things in life, poses some small risk to the user and necessary precautions are needed in order reduce that risk.



Alison SungHee Kole, A Case of Kombucha Tea Toxicity, Journal of Intensive Care Medicine: May/June 2009.

Dr. Andrew Perron, Kombucha "Mushroom" Hepatotoxicity, Annals of Emergency Medicine: November 1995.

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