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The embattled kombucha: Maybe not so good for you


Yesterday afternoon I hit the Whole Foods jackpot: The store was offering samples of everything from blueberries to cheese to rosemary-garlic dinner loaves. Because I was thirsty, and sort of intrigued, I let a man push some kombucha-extract-infused green-apple soda on me. A few sips and a trip to the garbage can later, I felt...odd.

Some people (yes, I'm one of them) are afraid of kombucha, a form of black tea and sugar that's fermented with the help of bacterial and fungal cultures. Others attribute to it supernatural powers. Michele Berman, MD, offers a doctor's perspective on the contentious beverage:

Most of the reports of human consumption of kombucha tea are case reports of toxicity, in some cases, life-threatening. The greatest danger from kombucha seems to arise in "home brew" versions that have become contaminated because of improper preparation and/or when kombucha interacts with alcohol or prescription drugs.

Observed adverse effects of kombucha consumption include hepatitis, xerostomia, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, shortness of breath, restless legs, abdominal pain, hypotension, and tachycardia. In most cases, patients fully recovered after discontinuation of kombucha and symptomatic treatment. However there are case reports of serious and sometimes fatal cases of hepatic dysfunction and lactic acidosis.

In addition to oral ingestion, skin application of kombucha is also used as a topical analgesic. Such use has resulted in cutaneous anthrax infections from kombucha stored in unhygienic conditions; such conditions make kombucha preparations a potential medium for the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

Kombucha tea is not regulated by the FDA because it falls in the category of folk medicines, herbal remedies and dietary supplements. It was recently pulled from stores because of its alcohol content.

Photo by ben.chaney

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