Kombucha & Liver Damage

Jug of icead tea
A pitcher of kombucha tea beside two tall glasses and fruit. (Image: Dan-Edwards/iStock/Getty Images)

Kombucha is a fermented tea that is purported to stimulate your immune system, improve digestion, boost liver function and prevent cancer. No scientific evidence backs any use for this drink, which is made by adding a colony of bacteria and yeast to tea and sugar and letting the brew ferment for one to two weeks. Kombucha can, in fact, carry a risk of adverse health effects, including possible liver damage. Consult a doctor before trying kombucha tea.

Status

Kombucha tea is among the herbal remedies that are suspected of being hepatotoxic, or damaging to the liver. The possible toxic constituents are unknown, according to the “Medical Journal of Australia.” Kombucha contains B vitamins, vinegar and many other chemical compounds.

Reports

Kombucha tea, frequently made at home in conditions that are not sterile, can easily become contaminated during the fermentation process. Home-grown kombucha tea has led to cases of jaundice, which causes your skin and the whites of your eyes to turn yellow, according to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Jaundice may be an inidication that your liver is overloaded or damaged. There also is at least one case report in medical literature of liver damage associated with kombucha, according to “The Pill Book Guide to Natural Medicines,” by Michael Murray.

Lead Contamination

Kombucha tea brewed in ceramic pots can become contaminated with lead. The acids in the tea can leach the lead from the pots’ glaze. People have suffered lead poisoning from this scenario in the past, notes the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Lead poisoning can damage your liver as well as your kidneys, nervous system, reproductive system, thyroid function and immune system.

Considerations

Commercially available forms prepared with sanitation procedures and measures to protect purity of the culture may be safer than homemade preparations, notes Murray. You should not use homemade kombucha if you have a compromised immune system. You can easily find starters for kombucha on the Internet and via social networking. In this case, a patty of already-fermented tea is passed on. This patty will grow and split into smaller pieces during the next round of fermentation, which are again passed on.

Kombocha’s popularity comes and goes, according to the March 2010 "New York Times" article “A Strange Brew May Be a Good Thing,” by Malia Wollan. It was on the rise in the early 1990s, for example, until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1995 linked it to one severe illness and one death, though the CDC stopped short of pinpointing the tea as the cause. In those cases, the women drinking the tea experienced metabolic acidosis. Stomach problems, yeast infections and gastrointestinal toxicity also have been associated with kobmucha.

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