Kombucha Tea: What's it All About?

The word on the street is that a gelatinous, mushroom-shaped colony of micro-organisms, known as kombucha, produces a tonic that boosts immunity and energy levels, improves digestion, prevents liver toxicity, repairs kidney damage caused by environmental pollutants, relieves arthritis pain, and fights underarm odor. Can it be true?

Kombuca is a colony of bacteria and yeast that grows into a spongy, slippery, pancake-like mass that resembles a large mushroom. The colony, also referred to as a SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast) is used as a "mother" culture, which is added to brewed tea and sugar and set aside at room temperature to ferment for one to two weeks. The result is a tangy, effervescent drink with an acidic, vinegar-like edge.

The mother culture grows in the tea to produce new colonies that can be peeled off from the original. These new colonies are used to make fresh batches of kombucha tea and are often shared among friends. Starter cultures can also be purchased in some health food stores and from online markets. Commercially produced kombucha beverages are now also widely available.

The health-promoting compounds in kombucha tea appear to be acetic, lactic and gluconic acids, which kill toxic bacteria, introduce healthful bacteria and package toxic substances for removal from the body, according to Columbia University experts.

Though a relatively new trend in the United States, kombucha tea was used as a healing remedy in ancient China and Russia. As of mid-2010, however, all reports of benefits from drinking Kombucha tea are from personal anecdotes, a handful of laboratory studies and a few animal studies. While some of the research appears promising, no clinical studies have been performed on humans to confirm real benefits. As a result, no one can say for sure.

Meanwhile, isolated but serious incidents of life-threatening medical problems, such as liver dysfunction and blood abnormalities, have been linked to home-brewed Kombucha tea consumption. As a result, leading health experts discourage drinking home-brewed kombucha beverages, especially by anyone with liver disease or any disease that compromises the immune system.

Kombucha is classified and regulated as a dietary supplement, not as a food product, by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Beverage manufacturers who include kombucha as an ingredient in their products can make unapproved health claims on labels and packaging, as long as their product is safe and their claims are not misleading. A disclaimer must be included on the product label, stating that FDA does not approve the claims.



Bauer, B. " Kombucha Tea: What are the Health Benefits?" Mayo Clinic. 26 June 2009. Web. 16 June 2010.

Columbia University: Go Ask Alice! "Kombucha-diet supplement?"  04 July 2008. Web. 16 June 2010.

Gharib, O.A., "Effects of kombucha on oxidative stress induced nephrotoxicity in rats."  Chinese Medicine. 27 November 2009. Web. 16 June 2010.

Murugesan, G.S., Sathishkumar, M., Jayabalan, R., Binupriya, A.R., Swaminathan K., Yun, S.E.  "Hepatoprotective and curative properties of Kombucha tea against carbon tetracholoride-induced toxicity."  Journal of Microbiology and Bioltechnology. 2009 Apr; 19(4):397-402. Web. 16 June 2010.

SungHee Kole A., Jones HD, Christensen R., Gladstein, J. "A Case of Kombucha Tea Toxicity."  Journal of Intensive Care Medicine 2009 May-Jun; 24(3): 205-7. Web. 16 June 2010.