Health Care Professional Information

Common Name

Champagne of Life, Manchurian Fungus, Manchurian mushroom, Tea Fungus, Kargasok Tea, Haipao, Fungus Japanicus, Combucha, Kwassan, Spumonto, T’Chai from the Sea, Tschambucco

Clinical Summary

Prepared by fermenting sweetened black tea with a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria, Kombucha tea has been used to treat a wide variety of symptoms as well as certain diseases such as cancer, AIDS and diabetes (3). The high caffeine and sugar content of the tea may account for increased energy some users have reported following consumption of the product (4). In vitro and animal studies show potent antioxidant, immunostimulating (5), hypolipidemic (20), and hepatoprotective (6) (18) (19) (21) effects with limited toxicity (7); however, clinical studies in humans are lacking (8).

Because of the fermentation process, Kombucha can easily become contaminated. Allergic reactions, jaundice, serious illness and occasionally death have been associated with the consumption of home-grown Kombucha tea (9) (10) (11). It may also reduce the absorption of drugs that are sensitive to the pH level of the stomach (12).

Purported Uses
  • Acne
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cancer treatment
  • Constipation
  • Diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • GI disorders
  • Headaches
  • Health maintenance
  • Hemorrhoids
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Hypertension
  • Immunostimulation
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Stress
Constituents
  • Alcohol (0.5%)
  • Acids: acetic acid, gluconic acid, lactic acid, glucuronic acid, hyaluronic acid, chondroitin sulfate acid.
  • Bacteria: Acetobacter species
  • Yeasts: Brettanomyces, Zygosaccharomyces, and Saccharomyces species
    (1) (2)
Mechanism of Action

Preparation of Kombucha tea yields a slightly carbonated, acidic, fermented drink. Researchers have demonstrated Kombucha's antimicrobial activity against a large number of pathogenic microorganisms even at neutral pH and after denaturation. This suggests that Kombucha contains antimicrobial compounds other than acetic acid and large proteins (13). In addition, Kombucha tea has been shown to have high levels of B vitamins (14). Because of the method of culture, it is easy for Kombucha to become contaminated with other organisms. Contamination with Anthrax (10) and Aspergillus (14), a fungus that is dangerous to people with lowered immune systems, have been reported. Green tea can stimulate the Kombucha fermentation better than black tea, however it is generally not used (3).

Warnings
  • Growing Kombucha in unsanitary conditions has resulted in contamination.
  • Lead poisoning has been associated with Kombucha tea brewed in a glazed ceramic pot.
Contraindications

Patients with suppressed immune systems should not consume Kombucha beverages produced in an uncontrolled environment (1).

Adverse Reactions

Case Report (Topical): Cutaneous anthrax was observed in 20 people who had applied Kombucha grown in unhygienic conditions (10).
Case Report (Oral):
Severe illness and death (9) (17) have been associated with the consumption of Kombucha tea.
Lead poisoning was observed following consumption of Kombucha tea brewed in a lead-glazed ceramic pot (15).
Hepatotoxicity (2) and gastrointestinal toxicity including allergic reactions, jaundice and nausea, vomiting, head and neck pain have been reported (11).
Yeast infections were also observed after consumption of kombucha tea (12).
Myositis, associated with pleural effusions, pericardial effusion with tamponade, and 'mechanic's hands', has been reported following consumption of Kombucha tea (22).

Herb-Drug Interactions

Kombucha tea is acidic. This may affect the bioavailability of drugs that depend on the pH levels of the stomach for dissolution and absorption(12).

Literature Summary and Critique

Kombucha has not been studied in clinical trials (8).

Dosage (Inside MSKCC Only)
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References
  1. Mayser P, Fromme S, Leitzmann C, Grunder K. The yeast spectrum of the 'tea fungus Kombucha'. Mycoses 1995;38:289-95.
  2. Perron AD, Patterson JA, Yanofsky NN. Kombucha “mushroom” hepatotoxicity. Ann.Emerg.Med 1995;26:660-1.
  3. Greenwalt CJ, Steinkraus KH, Ledford RA. Kombucha, the fermented tea: microbiology, composition, and claimed health effects. J Food Prot. 2000;63:976-81.
  4. Majchrowicz M. Kombucha: a dubious “cure”. GMHC.Treat.Issues 1995;9:10.
  5. Dipti P, Yogesh B, Kain AK, Pauline T, Anju B, Sairam M et al. Lead induced oxidative stress: beneficial effects of Kombucha tea. Biomed.Environ.Sci. 2003;16:276-82.
  6. Pauline T, Dipti P, Anju B, Kavimani S, Sharma SK, Kain AK et al. Studies on toxicity, anti-stress and hepato-protective properties of Kombucha tea. Biomed.Environ.Sci. 2001;14:207-13.
  7. Vijayaraghavan R, Singh M, Rao PV, et al. Subacute (90 days) oral toxicity studies of Kombucha tea. Biomed.Environ.Sci. 2000;13:293-9.
  8. Ernst E. Kombucha: a systematic review of the clinical evidence. Forsch.Komplementarmed.Klass.Naturheilkd. 2003;10:85-7.
  9. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unexplained severe illness possibly associated with consumption of Kombucha tea—Iowa, 1995. JAMA 1996;275:96-8.
  10. Sadjadi J. Cutaneous anthrax associated with the Kombucha “mushroom” in Iran. JAMA 1998;280:1567-8.
  11. Srinivasan R, Smolinske S, Greenbaum D. Probable gastrointestinal toxicity of Kombucha tea: is this beverage healthy or harmful? J Gen.Intern Med 1997;12:643-4.
  12. Kombucha—toxicity alert. Crit Path.AIDS Proj. 1994;31-2.
  13. Sreeramulu G, Zhu Y, Knol W. Kombucha fermentation and its antimicrobial activity. J Agric.Food Chem. 2000;48:2589-94.
  14. Gamundi R,.Valdivia M. [The Kombucha mushroom: two different opinions]. Sidahora. 1995;34-5.
  15. Phan TG, Estell J, Duggin G, Beer I, Smith D, Ferson MJ. Lead poisoning from drinking Kombucha tea brewed in a ceramic pot. Med J Aust. 1998;169:644-6.
  16. MICROMEDEX(R) Healthcare Series. 120. 2004. Thomson MICROMEDEX.
  17. SungHee Kole A, Jones HD, Christensen R, et al. A case of Kombucha tea toxicity. J Intensive Care Med. 2009 May-Jun;24(3):205-7.
  18. Murugesan GS, Sathishkumar M, Jayabalan R, et al. Hepatoprotective and curative properties of Kombucha tea against carbon tetrachloride-induced toxicity. J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2009 Apr;19(4):397-402.
  19. Bhattacharya S, Gachhui R, Sil PC. Hepatoprotective properties of kombucha tea against TBHP-induced oxidative stress via suppression of mitochondria dependent apoptosis. Pathophysiology. 2011 Jun;18(3):221-34.
  20. Aloulou A, Hamden K, Elloumi D, et al. Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats.BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 May 16;12:63.
  21. Bhattacharya S, Manna P, Gachhui R, Sil PC. Protective effect of kombucha tea against tertiary butyl hydroperoxide induced cytotoxicity and cell death in murine hepatocytes.Indian J Exp Biol. 2011 Jul;49(7):511-24.
  22. Derk CT, Sandorfi N, Curtis MT. A case of anti-Jo1 myositis with pleural effusions and pericardial tamponade developing after exposure to a fermented Kombucha beverage. Clin Rheumatol. 2004 Aug;23(4):355-7.

Consumer Information

How It Works

Bottom Line: Kombucha tea has not been shown to treat cancer or AIDS in humans.

Kombucha is a symbiotic culture of yeasts and bacteria that grows inside a semi-permeable membrane. Kombucha tea is prepared by fermenting sweetened black tea with Kombucha for seven to ten days. Kombucha tea, a slightly carbonated and acidic drink, has been used to treat a wide variety of symptoms and diseases. Kombucha tea has high levels of caffeine, sugar and B vitamins which may account for some of its purported benefits. Kombucha has been shown to have wide antibiotic and antioxidant effects in animals; however few benefits have been shown in humans.

Contamination associated with fermentation of Kombucha tea has resulted in serious adverse effects.

Purported Uses
  • To treat atherosclerosis (hardening of arteries)
    Scientific evidence is lacking to back this claim.
  • To treat cancer
    Animal studies have shown Kombucha to have antioxidant effects; however human studies are lacking.
  • To treat diabetes
    No scientific evidence supports this use in humans.
  • To treat AIDS
    This claim is not backed by research.
  • To lower blood pressure
    No scientific evidence supports this use in humans.
  • To stimulate the immune system
    Animal studies have shown Kombucha to have immune stimulating activity; however there is no evidence to support this use in humans.
Patient Warnings
  • Growing Kombucha in unsanitary conditions has resulted in contaminated products.
  • Lead poisoning has been associated with Kombucha tea brewed in glazed ceramic pots.
Do Not Take If

You have a suppressed immune system (contaminated Kombucha beverages can activate the immune system).

Side Effects
  • Stomach problems
  • Yeast infections
  • Anthrax contamination
  • Allergic reaction
  • Jaundice
  • Head and neck pain
  • Impairment of liver function
  • Myositis (muscle inflammation)
E-mail your questions and comments to aboutherbs@mskcc.org.