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4 Surprising Reasons to Ditch Kombucha

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Kombucha is a sweet fermented tea that is made with “tea fungus,” or a floating network of bacteria and yeast.

Kombucha tea fungus will absorb and sometimes even magnify pollutants.

Kombucha tea fungus is also called a SCOBY, an acronym for “symbiotic community of bacteria and yeast.”

Kombucha first showed up in northeast China. Around 1,600 years ago, it then traveled to Japan where it was used to cure the digestive problems of the Emperor Inkyo. As trade routes expanded, the tea made its way into Russia and eventually Germany, France, North Africa, and Italy.

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As popular as it is, kombucha is a wild and unpredictable ferment. You can safely ferment your own cultured vegetables at home, teeming with friendly bacteria, by using the Veggie Culture Starter.

These days, kombucha is available worldwide. You can buy it at most grocery stores, or you can make it at home with tea fungus, black tea, and sugar. Kombucha wouldn’t have survived for thousands of years if it didn’t have something to offer. But kombucha isn’t without risk.

In a recent review, researchers warned against pregnant women, lactating mothers, and those with compromised immune systems drinking kombucha. (1)

Are there health benefits to kombucha? Yes. Both folk medicine and animal studies tell us that kombucha has a lot to offer.

Is kombucha on The Body Ecology Diet? No. Read on to find out why.

4 Reasons to Reconsider Kombucha Tea

  1. Kombucha may contain Candida yeast.

In a study from 1995, investigators found that two samples of homebrewed kombucha (from a pool of 32) were contaminated with Candida albicans—the same opportunistic yeast that can take over your gut and invade your body. (2)

While this is one small study concerning two samples (that came from the same home), it drives home the fact that kombucha is a wild ferment.

You never really know what’s in your tea fungus or SCOBY. And microbes work together—the presence of one can easily trigger the growth of another.

Scientists can tell us about general trends. For example, there are specific strains of yeast and bacteria that show up in tea fungus again and again. That said, the SCOBY in your homebrewed kombucha changes according to its environment. It can become contaminated, housing molds and fungi that cause illness.

  1. Kombucha contains alcohol.

One of the trends that researchers have noticed is that tea fungus contains yeast. And many of the strains in kombucha are the same yeast strains that are used in beer and wine production. (3)

Indeed, kombucha contains far more yeast than bacteria. One yeast—known as Zygosaccharomyces bailii or Z. bailii—is common in both kombucha and the food industry.

Z. bailii is extremely robust. (4) It can live off of food preservatives and spoil “shelf-stable” foods such as:

  • Fruit concentrates
  • Wine
  • Soft drinks
  • Syrups
  • Ketchup
  • Pickles
  • Salad dressing

When the yeasts in kombucha feed on sugar, they produce alcohol and gas. Like Candida, Z. bailii also produces acetaldehyde as it feeds on sugar. (5) Acetaldehyde is an irritant, carcinogen, and air pollutant that is found in cigarette smoke and car exhaust. At high enough levels in the body, it can lead to a rapid pulse, sweating, skin flushing, nausea, and vomiting. (6)

If you’ve ever had a hangover, you have felt the effects of too much acetaldehyde.

When brewing kombucha, the alcohol content increases with time (around the sixth day) and then slowly decreases. (7) One study found that kombucha contains as much as 5.5 g/L of alcohol—or 2.8% alcohol. (8) Kombucha that is allowed to brew for a longer period of time contains less alcohol (but possibly more acetaldehyde).

  1. Kombucha may contain heavy metals and fluoride.

The tea fungus (or SCOBY) floating around in your kombucha is biosorbent. Like a magnet to iron, it binds to contaminants and heavy metals.

Biosorbents are used to clean up the environment and wastewater.

Indeed, several studies have found that a kombucha tea fungus effectively removes heavy metals like copper, chromium, and arsenic from wastewater. (9)(10)

Other research shows that kombucha itself contains small amounts of lead and chromium. There have even been a few documented cases of lead poisoning from kombucha. (11)(12)

If you’re concerned about fluoride, a 2008 study published in Food Chemistry found kombucha to contain as much as 3.2 mg/g of fluoride. (13) This is significantly more than what’s found in unfermented black tea.

Kombucha tea fungus will absorb and sometimes even magnify pollutants.

When making kombucha at home or buying from a manufacturer, both air quality and water quality matter. So does your storage vessel—pass on stoneware that may be coated with a lead or cadmium glaze.

  1. Kombucha contains sugar.

Common table sugar—which also goes by the name of cane sugar, beet sugar, or sucrose—powers the fermentation of kombucha.

Yet a considerable amount of sugar is left unfermented in kombucha. (14)

In 2001, researchers at Bucharest University found that a little over 34% of sugar remains after seven days of fermentation. After 21 days, this percentage drops to 19%. This is why kombucha still tastes sweet—even though it’s fermented.

The Only Reason to Drink Kombucha

For the reasons listed above, kombucha isn’t on The Body Ecology Diet. It falls into the category of a wild ferment and is too much of a threat to a recovering immune system. The sugar in kombucha also feeds Candida yeast.

But many people report feeling better when they drink kombucha.

The only reason to drink kombucha is because it makes you feel healthier. After all, no diet or study contains more wisdom than your body. At Body Ecology, we know that kombucha is popular. But this information is for people who don’t feel good when they drink kombucha—and they don’t know why.

The sugar, the small amount of alcohol, and wild strains of yeast in kombucha are enough to keep you from reaching your health goals.

What To Remember Most About This Article:

Kombucha is a celebrity favorite, but how does it fit into a healthy diet? Researchers have warned that pregnant and nursing women and those with compromised immune systems should avoid kombucha. Kombucha has some health benefits, but it is not on The Body Ecology Diet.

Here are four things you may not expect to find in your fermented tea:

  1. Candida yeast. Researchers have found kombucha contaminated with opportunistic Candida. Since kombucha is a wild ferment, you never know what you're going to get.
  2. Alcohol. Yeast in kombucha that feed on sugar produce alcohol and gas. Kombucha yeast also produce the irritant, carcinogen, and pollutant acetaldehyde that can cause rapid pulse, sweating, flushing, nausea, and vomiting when consumed in excess.
  3. Heavy metals and fluoride. Research confirms that kombucha may contain small amounts of lead and chromium; there have been documented cases of lead poisoning from kombucha.
  4. Sugar. Despite the fermentation process, a large amount of sugar is left unfermented in kombucha. 19% of sugar may remain in the tea after 21 days of fermentation.

REFERENCES:

  1. Jayabalan, R., Malbaša, R. V., Lončar, E. S., Vitas, J. S., & Sathishkumar, M. (2014). A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 13(4), 538-550.
  2. Mayser, P., Fromme, S., Leitzmann, G., & Gründer, K. (1995). The yeast spectrum of the ‘tea fungus Kombucha’. Mycoses, 38(7‐8), 289-295.
  3. Teoh, A. L., Heard, G., & Cox, J. (2004). Yeast ecology of Kombucha fermentation. International journal of food microbiology, 95(2), 119-126.
  4. Martorell, P., Stratford, M., Steels, H., Fernández-Espinar, M. T., & Querol, A. (2007). Physiological characterization of spoilage strains of Zygosaccharomyces bailii and Zygosaccharomyces rouxii isolated from high sugar environments. International journal of food microbiology, 114(2), 234-242.
  5. Marsh, A. J., O'Sullivan, O., Hill, C., Ross, R. P., & Cotter, P. D. (2014). Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples. Food microbiology, 38, 171-178.
  6. Swift, R., & Davidson, D. (1998). Alcohol hangover. Alcohol Health Res World, 22, 54-60.
  7. Reiss, J. (1994). Influence of different sugars on the metabolism of the tea fungus. Zeitschrift fuer Lebensmittel-Untersuchung und Forschung, 198(3), 258-261.
  8. Chen, C., & Liu, B. Y. (2000). Changes in major components of tea fungus metabolites during prolonged fermentation. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 89(5), 834-839.
  9. Razmovski, R., & Šćiban, M. (2008). Biosorption of Cr (VI) and Cu (II) by waste tea fungal biomass. Ecological Engineering, 34(2), 179-186.
  10. Mamisahebei, S., Khaniki, G. R. J., Torabian, A., Nasseri, S., & Naddafi, K. (2007). Removal of arsenic from an aqueous solution by pretreated waste tea fungal biomass. Iranian Journal of Environmental Health Science & Engineering, 4(2), 85-92.
  11. Phan, T. G., Estell, J., Duggin, G., Beer, I., Smith, D., & Ferson, M. J. (1997). Lead poisoning from drinking Kombucha tea brewed in a ceramic pot. The Medical journal of Australia, 169(11-12), 644-646.
  12. Sabouraud, S., Coppere, B., Rousseau, C., Testud, F., Pulce, C., Tholly, F., ... & Descotes, J. (2009). [Environmental lead poisoning from lead-glazed earthenware used for storing drinks]. La Revue de medecine interne/fondee... par la Societe nationale francaise de medecine interne, 30(12), 1038-1043.
  13. Kumar, S. D., Narayan, G., & Hassarajani, S. (2008). Determination of anionic minerals in black and kombucha tea using ion chromatography. Food chemistry, 111(3), 784-788.

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  • Raina

    I don't normally comment on articles but I have had this one sent to me a few times and I have to say it is a very vague fluff piece. Writing about how kombucha "might" or "may have" all the things listed in the article is frustrating to see.
    It is already known that people with compromised immune systems should avoid this. As with every single other food or product out there, it does not work for everybody. There is no point in us 'demonizing' one food, and often its not about the PRODUCT its about the BODY and person. There are so many variables.

    I wrote an article on my blog that lays out even more, including:
    Why alcohol is not a valid argument - every single fermented food contains trace amounts of alcohol, it's called 'healthy low alcohol' and its not a new thing. It may be felt by someone who is alcohol sensitive - but its not 'bad' for you.
    Why it doesn’t work for everyone (why would you keep drinking something that made you feel ill? this goes for pop or anything else too)
    Negative References made were caused by incorrect method of preparation, NOT the product/drink itself
    How there are too many variables in the argument!

    I can often appreciate valid arguments, its keeps the fire fueled and our interest up, there is passion and that's a good thing!

    Read more here in my educational blog about these issues: http://www.lutznutrition.ca/dance-of-opinions/

  • Sarah Safford

    I've recently been diagnosed with acute tubular necrosis after a biopsy which followed a trip to the ER where they told me I had acute kidney failure. I'm not sure it has anything to do with the homemade Kombucha I had been drinking for the month before but I am suspicious. I am allergic to mold...could it be a reaction? In the ER they told me I was very dehydrated and maybe in that weakened state I was more vulnerable? The nephrologist who ordered the biopsy can't find any definitive causes but said this condition could be related to heavy metals. Is there any way to test the Kombucha to see if is somehow contaminated or contains hevay metals?

  • Melly

    This bothers me that this whole article about bashing kombucha is to promote your product.

  • danieltb

    One would think that the amount of heavy metal toxins in any given kombucha would have to depend on the tea used; according to the chart near the bottom of http://suppversity.blogspot.com/2013/12/commercially-available-teas-not.html the "cleanest" teas to use would be Indian white tea and Sri Lankan green tea.

  • http://jjvirgin.com/heres-healthy-drink-total-fraud/ Here’s Why This “Healthy” Drink is a Total Fraud - JJ Virgin

    […] more I researched kombucha, the less I liked it. Another blog on Body Ecology offers four more good reasons to pass up this “healthy” […]

  • https://evolvehealth.wordpress.com/2016/04/17/melt-off-fat-with-these-five-easy-steps/ Melt off fat with these five easy steps! | The Evolution of Health

    […] As I learned from my Dad, there is no pure healthy and unhealthy. Beans are full of fiber and protein, but can cause leaky gut if improperly prepared. Spinach is wonderful brain-food, but occasionally contains high levels of lead. Kombucha has helpful probiotics that can aid your stomach or upset it. […]

  • Viktro

    While reading through some of the posts that were relating to similar negative effects in regards to drinking kombucha while having candida albicans infections is that most were identical to the Jarisch Herxheimer Reaction. These symptoms actually occur when candida is Dying Off due to their release of mycotoxins which are known neurotoxins. It is not only a sign that you have a candida infection, but more importantly that the candida is being eradicated, or killed! The severity of the reaction is based upon the severity of the candida infection. If the reaction is too harsh, then you limit the amount of kombucha that is consumed. Over time when the reactions lessen in discomfort, you can gradually consume more in order to fully eradicate the candida infection. And as in everything else... moderation is key.

  • Nancy

    I have been making and drinking Kombucha for 21 years! Started in Poland and brought it to America. We drink alot of Kombucha and our family of have been very healthy. Drinking Kombucha while breastfeeding made me have tons of milk! Kombucha cleans the blood of toxins - I know because one time I had drunk a bit too much of an herbal tincture (made with grain alcohol and my head got quite dizzy - after drinking a cup of Kombucha, I was totally clear headed after 15 minutes. Kombucha cleanses our bodies from toxins. I dont give any credit to 2 batches from the same house coming up with candida - sorry very far fetched. I know in my research over the years that Kombucha is actually very good for getting rid of Candida. Also, I do not drink my Kombucha until a true fermentation has occurred - there has to be a good fizz before I start drinking it - that's when I know the sugar has been used up to ferment. In order to do that, either you have a warm house or a electric warming pad under the crock. I only make original Kombucha and never flavor it - that is the American way - to always flavor their drinks - totally unnecessary -and possibly detrimental (adding more sugar even natural and stopping the fermentation.

    I know that Solzenitzyn was healed of serious cancer in the gulag using Kombucha (young birch leaves were added when brewing the black tea) and Ronald Reagan's staff found Kombucha for him when he had cancer (on his nose). The history of Kombucha tells me alot more than these piddly tests done one 32 test cases with 2 from the same house having candida. Give me a break! As far as any alcohol in Kombucha - I am very sensitive to alcohol - very -and have never gotten a tiny little buzz from drinking quarts of Kombucha in a day.

    Don't drink it - don't drink anything you don't believe in - but find something healthy to drink instead if Kombucha scares you.

  • Jamie

    Jan - I completely appreciate your frustration about seeing so much conflicting health information online! As a society, we have become accustomed to seeing final, one-size-fits-all verdicts from supposed "authorities" (like the FDA/USDA) that it can feel very conflicting and suspicious when we see conflicting information on something online.

    The important thing to remember is that in real life, there are very few "one size fits all" situations when it comes to food! We are all bio-individual, and what our bodies need, want, and can effectively use - or will respond badly too - varies widely from person to person based on our individual histories, environments, and gut health!! Real Food of every kind also naturally varies significantly depending on when and where is was grown, how it was handled, etc.

    In many, many cases, there's won't be a single "right" or "wrong" answer. For many people kombucha is a healthy, life-giving beverage, and for some others it will be a hindrance. Rather than get suspicious or frustrated, we are all far better served by learning to listen to our own bodies and making confident choices about what is right FOR US, whether its the popular option or not. :)

  • http://www.foodforconsciousness.co.uk kenny

    If you are concerned about the dangers of kombucha you might want to consider the tibetan culture Jun as it is a more robust culture, to combat the possible contamination by wild yeasts i periodically use pau d' arco and cats claw as a tea to brew it with, this sterilises the culture `and eradicates any wild yeast that may have turned up in the mix. jun also feeds on honey so you do not have to risk compromising your white blood cells with dangerous refined sugars.

  • Leanne

    Is water kefir the same?

  • ellen

    Do you feel the same about water kefir? I use sugar to make the kefir. Appreciate your response, thanks!

  • orin

    Scinia it is designed to be this way confusing,not all the information right front, so than you always keep trying mean keep buying and the problem never being solved... so i am there with you for me Kombucha helped with the addiction to a very sugary drinks and with my PMS and overall health i feel great. My point do what feel good for your body learn to be aware and listen to it, by that you'll know what work best, vegan, paleo, vegetarian, or whatever the next fab diet eat organic, fresh wholesome god giving food and you will be just fine.

  • Susan Wilson

    What about water kefir? I know you feed it sugar. Is it bad for you also?

  • David

    Sad that this article is riddled with indiscrepancies and half truths.
    Just some are:
    1/ It's referred to as a "tea Fungus", yet 'fungus' is a totally different organism to bacteria and yeast - and not present in a Kombucha culture at all.
    2/ The claim that "The tea fungus (or SCOBY) floating around in your kombucha is biosorbent" is a bad thing is potentially misleading. If true, it is actually probably a good thing as it means that the scoby (which isn't eaten) is absorbing contaminants out of the liquid and into the scoby, thus purifying the kombucha liquid that is consumed.
    Furthermore, any (metal/chemical) contaminates that may be present can only be there because they were in the ingredients used to start with so to say that "Kombucha tea fungus will absorb and sometimes even magnify pollutants" is both absurd and ignorant. You CANNOT 'magnify' pollutant levels in a closed system. The only accurate and helpful comment here is that you avoid potential contamination by using only good quality ingredients and glass containers.
    3/ The comments on alcohol just about made me fall of my chair laughing considering we live in an alcohol saturated society.
    4/ Footnote 14 to substantiate sugar levels is strangely missing.

    Oh, an Scinia, really weird that YOU drinking Kombucha made your husband's facial hair go gray?

  • bernadette murphy

    I believe for some people Kombucha would be beneficial but I have personally never tried it because I have an autoimmune disease and have struggled with candida for years and a naturopath had advised that it may not be a good thing for a person with my history to take. I have how ever recently got into other fermented foods and have been making my own sauerkraut and kimchee, i would be interested to hear your advice on lacto fermented vegetables and fruits for those with compromised immune systems and gut issues.

  • Sarah

    I had to stop as well, nausea, stomach cramping and loose stools. Did more harm than good. No bueno for me, but everyone's different.

  • Judy

    I have to agree with Donna on this one. I have Candida and drinking kombucha makes me miserable - emotionally and physically. And yes, there is alcohol in a lot of kombucha products. If the culture in the kombucha bottle is live, it's culturing and one of the by-products is alcohol.

  • MotorPsychGirl

    Yes, well, it hasn't been around for over 1,600 years for nothing. Unless you eat 100% organic, you are filling your body up with all sorts of nasty carcinogens every day. Bottom line, I agree with the first commenter...if you listen to your body and it tells you it is good, do it. Everyone has an opinion...listen to your insides.

  • http://andrea@crossroadsforhealth.com Andrea

    I've been making my own Kombucha for months now. I love it, and it doesn't make me feel unwell. I think anything made at home can be contaminated, and only you know the quality of your water, sugar, and tea, as well as air quality and cleanliness. One should always listen to their body because everyone is different and responds differently according to their age, health, etc... The problem with all of the information that is coming out is really the marketing behind it. Everyone is an expert with the "truth," which we know is/has to be relative to the individual. It's effective for some, but not for all. We've lost the ability to be more humble with our healthy offerings...or it's in the small print. If you feel well and have a routine that works for you, take it all with a grain of salt, and recognize the marketing machine behind the information.

  • Serena

    I'm really glad I saw this article! Just yesterday my dad purchased some Kumbucha from a new health food store in town. He bought one for me and one for himself. It's all sort of new to us and his flavor had a slimy mass at the bottom. I looked it up on the Internet and we discovered it was the SCOBY. Not long after I ate a cup of yogurt and then got ready for bed. About an hour or so later I was having really bad cramps, gas, and bloating. I thought maybe I had just ate a bad cup of yogurt or something when I read this article it made sense. I've been on an anti-candida diet before too, so I know now I'll probably be avoiding this particular beverage in future. Thanks Bodu Ecology!

  • Jan

    What about kombucha tea that you buy in the store. synergy brand or GT's?

  • Jan

    I am starting to get feed up with all the information and books that come out everyday about health. It is looking like all of you are friends and promote each other's books even though they have different philosophies. I always liked your information it seemed like you know what your talking about. But now your telling us kombucha isn't good for you, but you sell the kits. If it has heavy metals in it why would you sell it? Then on the same page you recommend another new diet.
    Tell me who can we believe anymore? The only one that seems honest is Underground Wellness and he says it's getting crazy too.
    Totally confused as to what is good and what to eat!

  • Scinia

    Body Ecology had previously warned against kombucha and luckily i read it while i used to drink that fermented concoction. Too bad, i had consumed for at least 3-4 months before realizing its bad effects. The side effects were stomach cramping, dark circles below eyes and surprisingly it led to graying of my husband's facial hair. Hope people wake up to its hoax benefits. Thanks.

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