Kombucha Tea: What’s the Real Deal?

If you’re one of the many people who takes celebrities seriously as a source of information on nutrition and fitness, you might be wondering if there’s anything to kombucha tea, the latest (but certainly not the last) trendy drink that’s reportedly loved by everyone from Lindsay Lohan to Madonna.

The short answer is “not really”. According to Mark Stengler, ND, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies, “When the movie stars tout its benefits, you know it’s something to be wary about”.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that’s made by taking a large pancake-like culture of bacteria and yeast (called the “mushroom”) and allowing it to ferment in a jar with black tea and sugar for about a week. The mushroom “floats” in the tea and eventually produces a “baby mushroom” that floats on the surface of the liquid—the baby mushroom can then be used as a “starter” culture for another batch of brew. Aficionados passed along these “mushrooms” and treated them like heirlooms. The tea is now sold commercially at many health food stores—the best-known brand is GT Kombucha by Synergy drinks.

Kombucha tea has been promoted as a cure-all for everything from baldness to insomnia, from chronic fatigue to multiple sclerosis, from AIDs to cancer. There is virtually no serious scientific support for any of these claims. “Overhyped products like kombucha hurt the credibility of the nutrition industry”, adds Stengler.

There have been a few published studies showing that kombucha has antimicrobial activities. The exact mechanism by which the tea is able to fight microbes is unknown, but properly fermented kombucha may contain helpful probiotics (beneficial bacteria) as well as compounds like acetic acid, which appear to be effective against some pathogens. None of these very few positive studies was done on humans, and there have been several documented cases of severe toxicity and illness in both humans and animals after consuming homemade varieties of the brew.

The commercial variety of kombucha tea is unlikely to make you sick, but it’s unlikely to do much of anything else except put a dent in your wallet. It’s advertised as being a good source of probiotics but there are far better and cheaper ways to get these healthful bacteria in your diet—yogurt, kefir, fermented olives, homemade sauerkraut and the Korean dish kim-chee are all excellent sources.

Ralph Moss, PhD, the widely recognized authority on integrative and alternative treatments for cancer recently summed it up this way:

“I have stopped drinking kombucha tea and will seek other, less problematic elixirs. For now, I am back to drinking Chinese tea (Camilla sinensis). There is about 100 times as much research on tea, especially green tea, as there is on kombucha. In addition, the cost of Chinese tea is about 4¢ per teapot compared to the $4 or so that I forked over for each bottle of kombucha”.

SHARE IT: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestGoogle+Share on StumbleUpon


  • Sarah Bearden

    Hi Jonny: I have to agree with this article. I am the Marin California chapter leader for the Weston A. Price Foundation and for the life of me I cannot understand why they take a favorable view of something that is made from black tea and white sugar! (Usually they are promoting more paleo type foods).

    Though I write this next bit with a little humor, I will tell you that the first time someone “gifted” me a kombucha pancake, I first sat with it and soon felt a very strong urge to destroy it. I intuitively didn’t want that thing in my house. But how to get rid of it? I didn’t want to bury it because just the idea of putting it in the earth made me feel as though I would be giving it something it wanted. I started to see this thing not as a gift from a good friend, but as something akin to the Borg from Star Trek – a being with a huge collective consciousness and intentions of mind control! (Yes, I know this sounds paranoid). Then I recalled how my friends always seemed a little spacey when they talk about kombucha, almost as though they might have been taken over from within through its evil intentions! So I admit it – I abused and killed my gifted baby pancake by keeping it in its jar without feeding it any sugar and I also put it out on the deck to get fried by the sun. “Die, evil pancake, die” I thought. But I still had to get it off the property somehow. So I snuck out in the dead of night one evening before trash pick-up day, and tossed the jar with its evil contents into the trash bin. I breathed a huge sigh of relief the next morning as the trash truck came and tipped the bin into its maws , grinding and pulping its contents as it drove down my driveway and out of my life. We are now a “kombucha-free zone”.
    Seriously though, what CAN you say about a substance that has otherwise intelligent nutritionists promoting the health attributes of something that demands black tea and white sugar for its own sustenance and noone knows the true origin of? 🙂

  • Hi Dr. Jonny,

    Can you link to a single case of these so called several documented cases of severe toxicity and illness in both humans and animals after consuming homemade varieties of the brew you speak of?

    The IOWA 1995 case specifically is NOT linked to Kombucha, despite current misinformation. The FDA could not make a connection between Kombucha and toxicity. In fact, if you research the topic, you will find she died of peritonitis, a perforated stomach that got infected. Not Kombucha related.

    It is my understanding that in actuality, there is not a single CONFIRMED case of Kombucha toxicity. Both (that’s right 2) cases found online are about possible connections – and those people were very sick already, so the connection is absurd.

    Your article is disappointing because it does nothing but parrot incomplete information and doesn’t even bother to provide links. In my humble opinion, your readers deserve more information.

    Green Tea is nice but contains none of the beneficial enzymes or acids that Kombucha contains. Fermented foods have been a part of diet for all humans throughout time. They provide the body with what it cannot make itself by pre-digesting your food for you.

    Thank you.

    Hannah Crum
    Kombucha Kamp

    • Chana

      Go Hannah! Ignorance is not always bliss… I feel sorry for them. That was a concise and very diplomatic reply. I was tempted to say much more but not with such finesse. 🙂

  • Erin

    What are your thoughts on the addictive aspect of Kombucha tea?

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jonny bowden and Joe Dowdell, Reclaim Your Mojo. Reclaim Your Mojo said: Kombucha Tea: What’s the Real Deal? http://bit.ly/bhJEQZ […]

  • Ailu

    The kombucha in the stores is waay over priced. I grow and bottle my own kombucha. I realize it is not an elixir that will grant me everlasting life, but I do see it as part of a balanced diet, which includes fermented foods. In our family, we drink it in place of wine or beer. Much more healthier, imo. And like the post above, there really is no verifiable documentation that kombucha has harmed anyone. It’s ridiculous really, kinda like claiming yogurt or sour krout is dangerous to eat. lol Oh and another misconception, the sugar is eaten up by the bacteria, there is hardy any in the finished product.

  • cathy nyman

    I’ve been making home-made kombucha tea for 3 months now, my husband and I feel great , I sterilize all my equipment ,like you should do with making anything ,we have bought the store bought kind when wev’e run low and to get the nice glass bottles to store ours in when it’s finished brewing to the PH we like, I don’t know where you get your sources but people all over the world are drinking kombucha tea with no ill side -effects.

  • tracy

    So should we discount Hollywood’s support of the gay movement too then? Perhaps we should seek from our own soul or wealth of life experiences whether the stars are supporting something worth believing. Do research yourself before you decide to indulge in something the stars support. Sometimes it might be a good thing…sometimes not.

Leave a Reply