When I was a girl, I remember peeking into a bowl which housed contents that I considered gross-looking. Inside of this bowl was a rather transparent brown liquid with a floating squishy ‘blob’ on its surface. Underneath the blob, was its ‘baby’ that would soon be moved to its own bowl to start a new batch. This was too freaky to comprehend—floating blobs having babies? My mother explained that she was making kombucha (yes, the same trendy stuff that you buy for $3 or more at Whole Foods can be made for practically nothing in your kitchen). The so called blob is considered the mother mushroom or the starter culture, made from yeast and bacteria. She was growing it to help heal herself from Crohn’s Disease.
Having been around for centuries in China and Eastern Europe, this cultured tea has been touted as a healing elixir for a slew of health problems. From curing arthritis and cancer to Aids and allergies, supposedly this tonic does it all. According to this NY Times article, people in the bay area are so crazy about kombucha that they not only grow their own cultures, but sell the babies on Craigslist. Perhaps the main reason behind any health benefits, if any, is that there are probiotics found in the tea which is helpful to the digestion system. I would venture to say that there are far more safe ways to get your daily probiotics than from a culture of yeast and bacteria: kefir, kimchi, Sauerkraut, etc.
Mother Nature Network reports from an article via The Portland Daily Sun that many of the commercially made kombucha drinks have been pulled off the shelves due to high levels of alcohol: 1% and above, which the government deems an alcoholic beverage. And you wondered why it was making you feel so good? After companies take the alcohol levels down to 0.5%, they will be back on the market, but it the kombucha companies will need to pasteurize it to make sure it doesn’t exceed the proper alcohol levels. Hmm, if it’s pasteurized, probiotics will be destroyed in the heating process and what would be the remaining health benefits of drinking it?
Dr. Andrew Weil has reported on his website that he does not support these famed health benefits and says,
I don’t recommend kombucha tea at all. I know of no scientific studies backing up the health claims made for it. Beyond that, there’s evidence that kombucha tea may have some antibiotic activity. If so, by drinking the tea you could be unnecessarily taking antibiotics, which could encourage development of resistant strains of bacteria.
Some batches have contained aspergillus, a toxin-producing fungus. This would actually pose significant risks to people with compromised immune systems such as those with AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. I would particularly caution pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly, children and anyone with a compromised immune system against drinking kombucha tea.
Perhaps there was a slight amount of fungus in my Synergy Kombucha drink I sampled about a year ago that gave me a bit of a stomach ache after drinking it?
Not to discredit anyone who has had good results from kombucha, but I must report that my mother’s use of kombucha stopped after a while, as she found it was not helping to heal her chronic disease. Any believers out there? I’d love to hear any stories of those who’ve found it helped to heal their particular ailment!