Heard of Kombucha yet? The centuries-old beverage is now popping up in farmers markets and grocery stories. Its fans claim it has multiple health benefits. For a lot of people, the fermented tea first popped up in 2010. That’s when media reports suggested it was the tea – and not a court-forbidden cocktail – that set off Lindsay Lohan’s alcohol monitoring bracelet. Suddenly, the ice-cold health tea was hot.
Kombucha, sometimes called “mushroom tea,” is made by fermenting yeast and bacteria in black tea. Just like vinegar, the brewing process can create alcohol, but Kombucha sold in grocery stores has virtually none. There’s no mushroom involved - the blob of yeast and bacteria used to make it just looks like one.
Jordi Miller works at a local indoor cycling studio. She drinks Kombucha nearly every day, after being introduced to the drink by a friend in January. “On the days I don’t have it, I feel sluggish and heavier.”
The taste is a little vinegary, so you’ll see it offered in a lot of different flavors meant to mask the tang. Miller’s favorite is Buddha’s Brew Blueberry, after trying everything from Grapefruit Rosemary to Orange Hibiscus Ginger. Miller started drinking it for the digestive benefits, to help with, as she puts it, “the flow.”
“It works within 45 minutes, but without the cramping and without pain. It’s just, ‘Oh, I have to go.’”
Other Kombucha drinkers say the tea does everything from prevent cancer to ease arthritis. Not so fast, say doctors.
“Patients often come to me with health remedies they hear about from friends, or the internet,” says Rachel Park, M.D. As an internal medicine physician in Dallas, she often talks with patients about “natural” health remedies they want to try. “I tell them that, just because something doesn’t require a prescription, doesn’t mean it should not be taken seriously. The jury’s still out on Kombucha. I recommend patients with a compromised immune system avoid it.”
There have been no human studies of Kombucha benefits. A CDC report in 1995 described the death of a woman potentially linked to Kombucha, as well as the hospitalization of another. Both were linked to home-brewed Kombucha. Other residents of the town who had used the same yeast and bacteria source for the fermentation process reported no symptoms (Prevention, 1995).
Miller only drinks store-bought Kombucha. But with a price tag that rivals your morning Starbucks, home brewing Kombucha’s getting more and more popular. Google Trends shows searches for “Make Kombucha” keep climbing – just check out the chart below.
Source: Google Trends
Home brewers of Kombucha share “baby mushrooms,” grown from the original yeast and bacteria membrane. Home brewers should be particularly careful, as the potential for contamination – along with unintentionally high alcohol content – is significant.
The bottom line? If you have questions about Kombucha, talk with your doctor. If you need an internal medicine or family practice physician, the Answers2 line can help you find a Methodist Family Health Center near you, that takes your insurance. They’re available Monday through Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., at 214-947-0033.
Chris Hawes Greer lives in Dallas, where she enjoys running the Katy, indoor cycling, and the occasional free yoga class.