Kombucha – Food Fad or Panacea?
Home remedies have been around as long as we have, but does that mean we should base our health decisions on them?
Humans are a pattern orientated species, it’s how we have survived since the earliest days, tracking the moon and stars to predict when we should hunt and plant food. As we know however association does not mean causation.
Kombucha is growing in popularity but is that down to genuine benefits or the work of the marketing men? It’s certainly something that comfortably fits into the bracket of ancient self-medicated remedy, so let’s take a look…
What is Kombucha?
A quick Google search will tell you that kombucha probably originated in Northeastern China and is a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks, also known as mushroom tea or Manchurian Mushroom. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a ‘symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast’.
Whichever way you look at the description, it hardly sounds gloriously appetising. But if it performs health wonders, then who cares about the taste?
If you do an online search of the benefits of kombucha you get about 12 million hits with the possible benefits including: HIV treatment, gout, anti-ageing, aids digestion, a detox, cancer prevention, good for joint health, boosts the immune system, prevent memory loss, PMS and more.
Does it Work?
It all sounds wonderful of course but sadly there is very little clinical evidence on kombucha right now, in fact there have been no human trials conducted to corroborate these positive claims, although (and probably because of the sheer lack of formal human studies) there are thousands of anecdotal stories out in the public domain.
On PubMed there are currently 105 studies published on kombucha with one systemic review of the available clinical evidence in 2003 by Ernest. The review concluded no studies were found relating to the efficacy of the remedy.
So far the benefits appear to solely lie with those individuals and companies selling the product.
The authors further concluded that the largely undetermined potential benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha.
Suddenly it ‘s not sounding so clever…
The documented risks of kombucha are the following:
a) Jaundice, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, toxic hepatitis,
b) Metabolic acidosis and disseminated intravascular coagulation, resulting in cardiac arrest and death
c) Anthrax infection of the skin
d) Lactic acidosis and acute renal failure
Most of the side effects were reversed as soon as use of the ‘remedy’ was stopped. It should be noted the side effects are rare now but will probably increase as the popularity of kombucha increases and more people make their own.
So in conclusion, I would say that, even though it will not kill you, the possible positive effects claimed in the public domain should certainly be taken with a bit more than a pinch of salt.
Connect here with WatchFit expert Henry van der Walt
- Kombucha: a systemic review of the clinical evidence. Ernest E, et al. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturlikheid. 2003
- A case of kombucha tea toxicity. SungHee Kole A, et al. Journal of intensive care Medicine. 2009 May-June
- A case of hepatotoxixicity related to kombucha tea consumption. Galeda M, et al. S D Med. 2016