Kombucha

Scientific Name(s):Yeast/bacteria fungal symbiont

Common Name(s): Kombucha tea , kombucha mushroom , Manchurian tea , combucha tea , spumonto , tschambucco , teekwass , kwassan , kargasok tea , “fungus” Japonicus , Manchurian “fungus” , Dr. Sklenar's kombucha mushroom infusion , champagne of life , t'chai from the sea

Uses

There is no good evidence to support the pharmacologic claims for kombucha.

Dosing

There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage recommendations for kombucha.

Contraindications

No longer considered safe.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Cases of nausea and allergic responses have been reported.

Toxicology

The fermented tea associated with kombucha has been suspected as fatal in one user.

Botany

Kombucha is not a fungus or a mushroom, but rather a gray, pancake-shaped patty that grows up to six inches in diameter. The patty is placed in a mixture of black tea and sugar to ferment. Technically, the fermentation becomes a mixture of yeast and bacteria (ie, Bacterium xylinum , Bacterium gluconicum , Acetobacter ketogenum and Pichia fermentans ).

History

Kombucha tea has grown rapidly in popularity over the past year and has been touted as a miracle cure for a wide variety of illnesses, ranging from memory loss to premenstrual syndrome. 1

The name kombucha is derived from the Japanese in that it is brewed in a seaweed (kombu) tea (cha). In Western countries, the product is typically propagated in black tea. Users float growing spores on the surface of brewed, sweetened black tea. The mycelium double in mass approximately every week. The mass is then divided and the new portion is propagated on a new tea media. In this manner, kombucha mycelium can be propagated at a rapid rate for commercial distribution. Units of the fungus can sell for $50 each. 2

As the growth matures, it ferments the beverage slightly. This fermented tea is drunk for its purported medicinal properties. Drinking fermented teas has long been popular in Eastern countries, and the use of this particular mycelial growth may date back several centuries.

Despite extravagant claims for its pharmacologic activity, some experts believe that the tea fulfills the FDA criteria identifying a fraudulent product, including: reference to non-US medical studies, an appeal to a person's vanity, ancient origins and alleged cures for a wide variety of ailments. 1 Some of these claims include curing cancer, rheumatism, aging and intestinal disorders.

Chemistry

The fermentation process induced by kombucha is said to produce substantial amounts of glucuronic acid, which is normally synthesized by the body. 1 Fermentation products may also include alcohol (0.5%), hyaluronic acid, chondroitin-sulfate acid, mukoitin sulfate, heparin, lactic acid 3 and usnic acid. 1

Uses and Pharmacology

There is no good evidence to support the pharmacologic claims for kombucha. Because kombucha tea is a product of bacterial fermentation, it may contain compounds that affect the bacterial flora of the gut.

One report on Dr. Sklenar's kombucha mushroom infusion (1960s) as a cancer therapy indicated that there was no solid medical data available on its usefulness in cancer treatment. 4

Screening of “Kargasok tea” (kombucha tea) for anorexia and obesity has also been reported, but not validated. 5

Dosage

There is no clinical evidence to support specific dosage recommendations for kombucha.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Cases of nausea and allergic responses have been reported.

Toxicology

No kombucha-related deaths have occurred, although Iowa health officials have reported the first suspected death linked to the tea. 6 Regulatory agencies are investigating the possibility that kombucha may be a source of bacterial pathogens. 2 In one case, an 83-year-old person with multiple health problems drank 0.5 cup of a kombucha mixture for a 3–week period. Upon examination, laboratory results indicated AST/MLT greater than 2000 IU/L, lactate dehydrogenase peaking at 4000 IU/L and a prothrombin time over 25 seconds. The APAP (acetaminophen) level was “trace.” 3

Bibliography

1. Foster RD. Kombucha: mushroom with a mission. Natural Health . 1995;March/April:52-55.
2. Marin R, Biddle NA. Trends: taking the fungal-tea plunge. Newsweek . 1995;Jan 9:64.
3. Kombucha Tea, Poisindex , Product Reference: 4985284.
4. Hauser SP. Dr. Sklenar's kombucha mushroom infusion - a biological cancer therapy. Documentation No. 18 [in German]. Schweizerische Rundschau fur Medizin Praxis . 1990;79:243-246.
5. Kwanashie HO, Usman H, Nkim SA. Screening of 'kargasok tea' I: anorexia and obesity. Biochem Soc Trans . 1989;17:1132-1133.
6. Hearn W. Mushroom tea: toxicity concerns about new 'cure-all.' American Medical News . 1995;38:16.

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