The Kombucha Tea Health Trend - What Does the Evidence Say?
Published: 17 May 2018
Published: 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, CDE, RN, is a Fellow of the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. She focused her Master of Healthcare Leadership research project on health coaching for long-term weight loss in obese adults. Madeline has found a passion for preventative nursing. She has transitioned from leadership roles (CNS Gerontology & Education, Clinical Facilitator) in the acute/hospital setting to education management and primary healthcare. Madeline’s vision is to implement lifestyle medicine to prevent and treat chronic conditions. Her research proposal for her PhD involves Lifestyle Medicine for Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Madeline is a Credentialled Diabetes Educator (CDE) and primarily works in the academic role of Head of Nursing. Madeline’s philosophy focuses on using humanistic management, adult learning theories/evidence and self-efficacy theories and interventions to promote positive learning environments. In addition to her Master of Healthcare Leadership, Madeline has a Graduate Certificate in Diabetes Education & Management, Graduate Certificate in Adult & Vocational Education, Graduate Certificate of Aged Care Nursing, and a Bachelor of Nursing. She is working towards her PhD. See Educator Profile