Dangers from Kombucha

Kombucha is fermented black tea, and its proponents claim kombucha has many health benefits. But there are some precautions to consider when drinking kombucha, even if there are few kombucha dangers.

Kombucha is fermented black tea, and its proponents claim kombucha has many health benefits. Credit: blanaru/iStock/GettyImages

Are There Kombucha Dangers?

Kombucha is typically fermented black tea, although the fizzy drink can be made with green tea or oolong tea, according to Food Source Information (FSI) at the Colorado Integrated Food Safety Center of Excellence. Any kombucha risks may be infection-related, resulting from poor hygiene during production, according to FSI.

Kombucha allergy issues seem to be another complication from drinking the fizzy beverage, according to the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic states that most reports of adverse effects involve stomach upset, infections and allergic reactions.

This tea drink is often made in home kitchens, according to FSI. Ingredients will vary, as will adverse health reactions. Adverse health reactions are rare, FSI states, but the starter liquid used to make kombucha, which contains yeast, can become contaminated with wild yeast, bacteria or toxic mold.

The best way to avoid contamination is to practice good hygiene, FSI reports. This means keeping hands and all equipment sanitary. Also, use food-safe fermentation vessels and cover the fermentation vessel tightly with a clean, fine-weave cloth to prevent contaminantion.

Read More: The Health Benefits of Kombucha – and How to Pick the Right Bottle

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha has been produced in northeast China since at least since 220 BCE, according to FSI. People drank it because it was thought to detoxify and energize the body. In Japan, in 414 AD, it was used to help the emperor with his gastrointestinal problems.

Kombucha had found its way to Germany by the early 20th century, according to an article in the June 2014 Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. It first became commercially available in the United States in 1995.

Kombucha is made with a starter, called a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, according to FSI. The starter is made of fermented bacteria and yeasts, along with some cellulose.

People often drink this fermented tea for its supposed health benefits, but these haven't been proven. A primary part of this drink's healthy reputation stems from its antimicrobial properties.

Kombucha does contain trace amounts of alcohol, remnants from the fermentation of the starter. However, in order to be sold as a non-alcoholic refrigerated beverage, it must have less than 0.5 percent by volume. Good production and packaging methods help producers keep the alcohol content below that level, according to FSI.

Read More: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

Kombucha Risks and Benefits

Toxicity reports involving this fizzy tea are rare and scattered, according to the authors of the June 2014 report in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. According to the Mayo Clinic, acids from tea used to make the fizzy drink can leach lead from improperly-manufactured ceramic pots used to ferment the drink.

This beverage does contain caffeine and a small amount of alcohol. Eight ounces of manufactured kombucha provides 36 calories and 2 grams of sugar, according to the USDA Branded Food Products Database. An 8 ounce serving of kombucha will also have a small amount of caffeine, according to the FSI.

Academic studies on humans have yet to prove much about the drink's benefits. The authors of the report in Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety reviewed research and studies involving kombucha. At that time, there had been no human studies involving kombucha, and that hasn't changed, according to FSI.

The director of UCLA's Center for Human Nutrition, Dr. Zhaoping Li, professor of medicine, agrees with this assessment, according to a February 2019 article in Time magazine. There are no well-controlled studies which show that kombucha is loaded with health benefits, he stated in the article.

The fizzy beverage does have beneficial bacteria and yeasts, according to FSI. Comprehensive Reviews states that kombucha can be an important part of a sound diet. Nutritionists in the Time article agreed. Maria Zamarippa, a dietitian from Denver, stated in the Time article that the fermented tea drink has beneficial probiotics that can support gut health. She added, however, that the drink is no substitute for a healthy diet.

Read More: CFUs vs. Strains: The Ultimate Probiotic Explainer

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