Consume Kombucha At Your Own Risk

Kombucha tea has been claimed to be the beverage that will fix many health conditions. Everything from immunity, improved digestion and just about every disease known to mankind.  The results are almost magical among believers of this beverage. Just recently my local health food store put in a Kombucha sample bar. They have three flavors for tasting and you can buy it by filling the glass container provide for sale as well. It is being manufactured by a local producer. I wouldn’t buy it this way as there is so much foam even in the sample cup, so I’d be losing some of the actual liquid. The store also sells it by other manufacturers as well. The bottled kombucha doesn’t seem to have this fizz when poured from the bottle.

You would think that this beverage, being a fermented product, would be excellent. However, there are many foods that can provide us with the benefits of fermentation, and safer also.

Most of the benefits were studied in experimental models only and there is a lack of scientific evidence based on human models. Nonhuman studies regarding antimicrobial, antioxidant, liver protection, and anticancer properties of kombucha tea have  seen carried out on biological activities are reported in a lengthy report titled A Review on Kombucha Tea – Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Table 2 in this report shows results on mice and rat studies. Existing reports have suggested that the protective effects of kombucha tea are as good as those of black tea. However, more studies on kombucha tea and its composition are needed before final conclusions can be made.

Kombucha is a fizzy drink made with brewed black tea sugar, and a mixed colony of live bacteria and yeast, called SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). The SCOBY itself contains a  wide variety of different bacteria and yeasts. In the report mentioned above, as SCOBY breaks down the various bacteria can develop. This can be risky, especially in the home brewed type of kombucha.

Many microorganisms grow rapidly with moisture, nutrients (sugar, fats, and protein), temperatures between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and pH levels between 4.5 and 10.  Unfortunately as kombucha properly ferments, it becomes more acidic and creates an inhospitable environment for many of the bad bacteria to form.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report in April 1995 that linked homebrewed kombucha with the illness as two women who were hospitalized with severe acidosis. One woman died of cardiac arrest and the other was brought to the hospital after her heart stopped. Other cases of hepatitis, one of severe muscle weakness and inflammation of heart muscle. Lead poisoning occurred after kombucha tea, which was acidic, was brewed in ceramic containers. None of these cases were attributed to bacterial contamination of the beverage, but authorities warn that contamination is possible if home brewing is not carried out carefully.

In the cases of the two women who became seriously ill and with one death, the CDC explains that one of the women was a 59-year old was found unconscious in her home by a neighbor and was transported to a local hospital. On arrival in the emergency department, respiratory therapy was initiated with oxygen. One hour earlier, she appeared fatigue but had no specific medical complaints.  Analysis of arterial blood samples indicated severe metabolic acidosis. She also had elevated levels of lactic acid.  She suffered cardiac arrest and was resuscitated, but her condition continued to deteriorate and she died. Her daughter reported that, during the previous two months, the patient had drank approximately 4 oz. of Kombucha tea daily. She had recently increased her consumption threefold to 12 oz. that kombucha was the cause of death.

In the case of the other woman reported to become seriously ill, she had increased the length of the fermentation time from 7 days to 14 days, and she  could hardly manage swallowing the very acidic tea but did so anyway.  It was later determined that the individual had severe preexisting conditions that made them susceptible to acidosis.

These two cases of illness were investigated to determine if kombucha played a role in the development of metabolic acidosis or other toxic effects. It was concluded that kombucha is not harmful at about 4 oz. per day, however, potential risks are associated with excessive consumption or consumption by the individual with a pre-existing health problem. (CDC 1995).

Many commercial processors bottle kombucha. The main food safety hazard is acid-resistant pathogens. Bottling kombucha at a pH (plus or minus) 4.2 will ensure no pathogen growth.

Another hazard is bottling an actively fermenting kombucha beverage. Carbon  dioxide will build up inside the container causing pressure. As the pressure exceeds the ability of the container to hold it, leakage or breakage occurs. Best to buy this liquid in glass bottles.

Other factors reported in many of the articles that I have researched includes shelf life. Spoilage from mold can occur or alcohol can build up at (plus or minus) 0.5%. Typically, as a little carbon dioxide builds up, acetic acid production will cease.

There are some concerns about the alcohol content in kombucha, which can range anywhere from 0.5 to 2.5% depending on the brew. Another reason why getting the benefits of fermented foods from probiotics and antioxidants from yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kimchi would be a  wiser choice.