Originating in the Far East around 2,000 years ago, Kombucha — also known as mushroom tea — is a fermented tea from the plant Camellia sinensis: the same plant from which black tea is produced. Kombucha’s brewing process involves a week-long fermentation of already-fermented black tea with sugar, fungi, and bacteria.
Yucks — why would anyone want to drink ‘doubly-fermented’ tea?
Well, it is believed that a variety of acidic compounds produced in the fermentation process benefit health through detoxification and anti-oxidation. It’s also often claimed to have stronger anti-cancer properties than other teas.
Can it prevent colon cancer, diabetes, and hyperglycemia?
D-saccharic acid 1,4 lactone (D-saccharolactone) is the main contributing factor to the hype surrounding kombucha. It is claimed to exert anti-cancer effects in the colon and is studied for its abilities to prevent diabetes and hyperglycemia (high blood glucose).
Studies on D-saccharolactone by itself, or in kombucha have not been performed on humans. Its protective effects in reducing the toxicity of known stressors on the liver have only been consistently shown in rats. As we all know, we are not rats.
While D-saccharolactone is effective when studied in-vitro (in a controlled environment outside of a living organism), it has not been determined if these observed effects extend to oral consumption of kombucha.
Unfortunately, while a compound can be very promising in-vitro, it may not ultimately do very much at all when consumed.
You can die from drinking kombucha
Since fermentation is involved in the preparation of kombucha, improper sanitation in the process results in cross-contamination — leading to the growth of toxic fungi and bacteria — and worse, the risk of death!
The strains of toxic bacteria and fungi present in improperly brewed kombucha are not known. Researchers are not entirely sure which specific strains of bacteria and fungi are responsible for promoting health, and which are dangerous — unlike that of spirulina (algae sometimes used as a supplement), where microcystin — a kind of toxin which contaminates spirulina — is known and routinely checked for by producers.
For the most part, the consumption of kombucha tea has been associated with the harming of subjects. An increase in home-brewed kombucha intake has resulted in death. Death has also been reported in other instances, alongside many cases of nonlethal hepatoxicity, gastrointestinal toxicity, unspecified acute illness, and acute renal failure.
Just stay away from kombucha
While kombucha tea can be produced safely, the above case studies suggest that daily kombucha ingestion should be limited to 4oz (125mL) and such a low dose may preclude the benefits that might otherwise be observed with its consumption.
Ultimately, it seems that there is no proven or significant benefit of drinking mushroom tea.
Taking into account that there’s hardly any evidence for its health effects but plenty of case studies on the havoc it can wreak on your body, the consumption of kombucha tea seems like a pretty big gamble to me. It would suck to die from drinking something supposedly beneficial to your health.
Thanks for reading! If you want an evidence-based approach to optimizing your nutrition, a good place to start is understanding how much protein you need daily. Be sure to check that out!