Health Benefits Of Kombucha And Potential Risks

By:    Published: February 22, 2012

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One of the fastest growing health trends of the last few years has been kombucha. This drink has gained more and more fans as claims of its health benefits have spread. However, few people know very much about kombucha, including whether the health benefits associated with it have actually been researched or proven. In this article, you’ll learn exactly what kombucha is as well as what kind of health changes you can expect as a result of drinking it.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a drink made from a colony of bacteria and yeast. Once the colony has been developed, it is added to sugar and tea, and then fermented. There are a number of nutrients and ingredients in the final product, including B vitamins, vinegar and other chemical compounds. Kombucha can be made with different types of tea and sometimes has flavors added, such as mango, fennel or cayenne.

Where Do You Find It?

Kombucha tea can be found in a number of health stores, cafes and other places selling organic products. It has become very popular in recent years due to its purported health benefits. In fact, while the poor state of the economy has led to reduced sales of soda and bottled water, the sales of kombucha and other healthy juices increased by 25 percent between 2008 and 2010, according to the New York Times. In 2009, one company called Millennium Products sold over a million bottles of their kombucha. Even major brands like Red Bull are now making kombucha.

In addition to pre-bottled products, many individuals have started making their own kombucha at home. This requires special fermenting equipment and the patience to wait while the drink ferments, but for those who drink it regularly it is much more affordable than buying bottled kombucha.

Potential Health Benefits

There are a variety of health benefits that have been linked to drinking kombucha. It is these reported health claims that have contributed to the sudden and dramatic rise in sales, and the increase in home-brewing of kombucha. Health benefits that have been associated with drinking kombucha regularly include:

  • Stimulating the immune system
  • Preventing some types of cancer
  • Improving liver function
  • Improving digestion
  • Relieving constipation
  • Relieving gastrointestinal disorders
  • Treating hypertension
  • Treating diabetes
  • Helping with fatigue
  • Relieving stress
  • Relieving osteoarthritis
  • Getting rid of headaches
  • Helping with atherosclerosis
  • Getting rid of acne
  • Relieving hemorrhoids
  • General health maintenance

Although many of the manufacturers of kombucha claim that their version of the tea can deliver these health benefits, there has yet to be a sufficient amount of scientific studies completed on the drink to confirm that these health benefits are real. Therefore, these are only considered to be claimed health benefits rather than actual proven health benefits. At the moment, there is no way of knowing whether drinking kombucha tea will actually help with any of the conditions listed above until further research has been conducted.

Potential Risks

Despite the purported health benefits of kombucha, many doctors and medical professionals remain wary of the drink. Part of this is due to a lack of published studies about whether the drink actually delivers on its health claims. Furthermore, some doctors believe that the drink could contain a toxin-producing fungus called aspergillus, which could be detrimental to a person’s health rather than beneficial.

In years past, kombucha has been linked to some serious health risks. According to the New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) linked kombucha as the possible cause of the death of one woman and the illness of another. Meanwhile, certain types of fermenting practices can be dangerous. For example, home-brewed kombucha may be made in non-sterile conditions, and if the drink is made in ceramic pots, it could lead to lead poisoning.

Other negative health effects have also been reported. Some people find that the drink causes:

  • Upset stomach
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Head pain
  • Neck pain
  • Yeast infections
  • Allergic reactions
  • An increased risk of hepatotoxicity and gastrointestinal toxicity

However, despite cases that have linked kombucha to illness or discomfort, the drink remains popular.

Bottom Line

If you are thinking about drinking kombucha, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor first to learn whether you could experience any negative reactions from the drink. The groups of people that have been identified as potentially at-risk for health complications from drinking kombucha are pregnant women, children, the elderly and those who have a compromised immune system. Additionally, those who are allergic to any of the ingredients in kombucha, such as yeast, should avoid the drink. For the time being, The Mayo Clinic advises individuals to avoid drinking kombucha tea until there have been definitive studies completed on the health benefits and potential health risks of this particular drink.

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