Does kombucha tea have any health benefits?

It's called the 'elixir of life' by some, but it also could make you sick

Published: February 28, 2015 06:00 AM

Q. I keep seeing kombucha tea for sale at stores. What is kombucha, and is it safe?

A. This fizzy, sweet yet tart non-alcoholic drink is made from a combination of black tea and sugar that’s fermented with a culture of yeasts and bacteria referred to as a “kombucha mushroom.” Kombucha originated in East Asia and by the turn of the 20th century was being brewed in Europe. More recently it has grown in popularity in the U.S. and commercial preparations have hit shelves at many health food stores and supermarkets. Its growth is in part due to claims that kombucha helps prevent cancer and heart disease, bolsters liver function, and boosts immunity.

Kombucha may be sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S., but as with other supplements manufacturers are not required to prove it is safe and effective as long as they do not claim it can cure any disease or specific health condition. But that hasn’t stopped others calling it the "elixir of life," even though to date there is no reliable research that backs up any of the health benefits alleged by kombucha boosters.

Safety-wise, there are reasons to be wary of the drink. While the kombucha mushroom that drives the fermentation is available from commercial manufacturers, most people prepare kombucha from homemade mushrooms that are passed between friends. It’s possible for these yeast and bacteria cultures to become contaminated with illness-causing molds and fungi. There also have been reports of stomach upset and allergic reactions.

Given those concerns and the lack of solid evidence of its health benefits, we recommend avoiding kombucha.

—Ian Landau

Read more about supplements and find out why vitamin C won't cure your cold, and why men shouldn't take saw palmetto pills for an enlarged prostate.

Editor's Note:

A version of this article also appeared in the March 2015 issue of Consumer Reports on Health

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