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What You Should Know About Kombucha Before You Drink

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.

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.

veggie-culture-starter_4

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: A Reminder

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.

This all comes back to the Principle of Uniqueness. It's all about what works best for you. But for some, 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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33 thoughts on “What You Should Know About Kombucha Before You Drink”

  • Hi there mates, how is everything, and what yyou wish for to say on the topic of this paragraph, inn my view its genuinely amazing in support of me.

    Reply
  • Brunon Kowalski Jun 13 at 8:49 pm

    I've been drinking Kombucha for a 6 month now and frankly I feel no positive effects. Maybe even some negative. Time to quit and start to ferment some cucumbers.

    Reply
  • The study you cite to indicate adverse effects of kombucha contains this quote:



    “However, all of these cases were very isolated and involved only a small number of individuals. Moreover, there is no substantial evidence to confirm the toxicity of any kombucha tea or the occurrence of illness by earlier studies (Vijayaraghavan and others 2000).”



    Moreover, cases of heavy metal poisoning appear to be the result of fermentation or storage in compromised ceramic vessels which contain heavy metals that are leached in the kombucha under acidification. All in all, a very sloppy article full of hysteria with very little in the way of facts to support the claims, but better than the old article you had, and have revised.



    Candida albicans has only ever been isolated from two samples, from the same household in Germany, yet the article you cite has this to say:



    “Thus, subjects with a healthy metabolism do not need to be advised against cultivating Kombucha.”



    On top of that, kombucha nearly always contains the yeast Zygosaccharomyces bailii, a confirmed antagonist of C. albicans, and sometimes contains Saccharomyces boulardii, also a confirmed Candida antagonist.

    Reply
  • Amber Van Sweden Mar 1 at 9:57 am

    FABULOUS article! Finally! It all makes sense to me now why I feel SO bad after drinking kombucha! I know so many people LOVE it & claim it has an abundance of health benefits, but just like sugar, gluten & so mnay other controversial foods, kombucha isn't for everyone! I NEVER drink alcoholic beverages & I swore I felt a buzz after drinking a couple bottles. I swear the feeling I felt after the first one was the same dizzy feeling I get when I eat sugar. I KNEW kombucha wasn't for me! I'm very grateful to read this article because it puts reason behind how I felt. Thank you for this information!

    Reply
  • Bret Bouer Jan 11 at 10:39 am

    I strongly disagree with this article. It is poorly founded and lacks evidence. She says in the article that the Kombucha scoby accumulates metals and toxins. That means that it purifies the water! The scoby that accumulates the toxins is not consumed and it is thrown away.

    As far as the sugar goes her claims are exaggerated. Read the label of most kombuchas and they have very little sugar.

    As far as the fluoride goes that comes from non-organic teas. This is why I make my own, I use organic green tea.

    She even sensationalizes the alcohol issue. I have drank 1 gallon of kombucha in a day and I have felt no effect from the alcohol. I don't consume alcohol at all so I have a low tolerance for alcohol. If it were in there I would have noticed.

    This article is very misleading. Kombucha is a health food/beverage that has proven the test of time. Anyone who says otherwise is simply creating a sensational article to drive traffic to their site to sell more of their product. I expected more from Donna Gates.

    Reply
    • Carlos Andrés López Pazmiño Mar 9 at 8:01 am

      Bashing Kombucha to sell that product. Seriously, pay no attention. K is wonderful.

      Reply
  • !?!?!
    1) Candida itself is not an issue - it is naturally in the body. It's overgrowth is.
    2) The levels of alcohol in kombucha are lower than in boza - a traditional kids breakfast beverage. Laughable point.
    3) If the SCOBY is a biosorbent, then it is actually beneficial, as it will be adsorbing/absorbing the contaminants in the tea making it healthier! Shooting down your own argument. Fluoride comes from the tea and (in the case of USA) - the poisoned fluoridated water. Whatever you put in - that's what you will get. It can't generate Pb, Cr, etc. unless you add them with the ingredients!
    4) Has sugar? Yes, if you add too much. Make up you mind if the sugar was used to make lots of alcohol or stayed around as excess. Mainly acids are made, if you do analysis on the final liquid.

    Reply
    • Carlos Andrés López Pazmiño Mar 9 at 7:58 am

      Just bashing Kombucha to promote his/her product. Pay no attention.

      Reply
  • 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/

    Reply
    • Layla Woods Jan 9 at 8:29 am

      I like your response .... Obviously people will always try to make us feel bad about reaching for healthy alternatives ... they want us to drink Coke or Pepsi :)

      Reply
  • Sarah Safford Sep 6 at 10:10 am

    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?

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

    Reply
  • 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.

    Reply
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