The Kombucha Tea Health Trend – What Does the Evidence Say?
Published on the 17 May 2018
Published on the 17 May 2018
When nursing clients, it is important to have an understanding of what contributes to healthy lifestyles. Sometimes trends exist that are not ‘healthy’, despite popular belief in society.
So, what does the evidence show regarding kombucha tea?
What should healthcare professionals be aware of when managing clients that regularly consume kombucha?
Kombucha can be described as a probiotic drink based on black or green tea (NSW Government n. d.) and it is fermented and acidic (Dickmann et al. 2017).
Fermentation ideally occurs at a temperature of 25 degrees Celsius for 10 days, to create high-quality kombucha (Neffe-Skocinska et al. 2017).
Kombucha tea is often consumed to achieve a ‘healthy gut’ (NSW Government n. d.).
Other commonly suggested benefits of kombucha include:
(NSW Government n. d.; Aidoo 2015; Villarreal-Soto et al. 2018;Leal, Suarez et al. 2017)
One 2015 study (Aidoo) indicated that kombucha tea had more antioxidant and phenolic properties than non-fermented tea, thereby concluding that kombucha’s antioxidant-rich nature may ‘protect cells against oxidative damage and possibly cancer’ (2015).
Holbourn and Hurdman (2017) reported a case in which a person had ‘drank kombucha tea’. The asthmatic woman had ‘severe metabolic lactic acidosis’ and recovered after being treated and stopping the consumption of kombucha tea. Holbourn and Hudman state that there is a connection between kombucha tea and lactic acidosis.
When searching the Cochrane Database, only one result was found for ‘kombucha’. Ernst (2003) completed a systematic review on the clinical evidence for kombucha.
The author’s review concluded that ‘the therapeutic use of kombucha could not be recommended owing to the lack of clinical efficacy and associated serious adverse events’ (Ernst 2003).
It is clear that this review is not very recent, therefore more studies high in the evidence hierarchy are needed to conclude whether the benefits outweigh the risks for drinking kombucha fermented tea.
Jayabalan, Radomir, Loncar, Vitas and Sathishkumar (2014) also completed a review on kombucha. It was found that ‘there is still a dispute over the beneficial effects of kombucha drink. There has been no evidence published to date on the biological activities of kombucha in human trials’.
It is evident in this review (Jayabalan et al. 2014) that more research is necessary regarding the benefits and risks of drinking kombucha tea.
Recently, Villarreal et al. (2018) highlighted that more research is needed on kombucha to better evaluate its microbiology.
One must also consider the variety and different make-up of kombucha drinks.
The type of tea leaf used, sugar content, length of fermentation and tea fungus can all impact on the ‘bio-activity’ or health benefits and risks of the drink (Jayabalan et al. 2014).
It is also highlighted that kombucha should not be made in lead-glazed containers (e.g. lead-glazed ceramic pots) (WebMD 2017). Instead, kombucha should be prepared in glass, stainless steel or plastic vessels.
Ideally, kombucha tea is to be made in sanitary/sterile conditions with correct hand-hygiene practices (WebMD 2017).
WedMD (2017) convey that kombucha tea is ‘possibly unsafe for most adults’ and ‘likely unsafe’ for people with low immunity.
Some reported risks of kombucha include:
Overall, it appears from the outlined evidence that kombucha tea drinks are consumed by some people for the aim of achieving potential health benefits.
There appears to be some evidence that certain health benefits exist. However, there is clearly a need for further high-quality research into the risks and benefits of kombucha fermented tea drinks.
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Madeline Gilkes focused the research project for her master's of healthcare leadership on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline is also a qualified weight management practitioner and Registered Nurse. Her vision is to prevent lifestyle diseases, obesogenic environments, dementia, and metabolic syndrome. She has a master of healthcare leadership, a graduate certificate in aged care, and a bachelor of nursing. Madeline works as an academic and has spent the past years in the role of clinical facilitator and clinical nurse specialist (gerontology & education). She is due to complete her Graduate Certificate in Adult and Vocational Education at CSU before November 2018.