Public Release: 

Popular 'Cure-All' Tea Can Cause Toxic Reactions

Center for Advancing Health

Kombucha tea, a popular alternative health beverage that has been touted as a cure for everything from wrinkles to cancer, has landed at least four people in the hospital with dangerous side effects.

Radhika Srinivasan, MD, of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and her co-authors have documented four patients who developed symptoms ranging from nausea to jaundice after drinking home-made Kombucha tea. Their findings are reported in the October 1997 Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The beverage (also known as Manchurian or Kargasok tea) is made by steeping Kombucha "mushrooms" (actually an aggregate of yeast and bacteria covered by a permeable membrane, available in health food stores) in tea and sugar to create a tonic. Claimed therapeutic powers include: curing cancer, lowering blood pressure, increasing vitality, increasing T-cell counts, relieving arthritis pain, cleansing the gall bladder, alleviating constipation, fighting acne, eliminating wrinkles, and restoring gray hair to its original color.

Srinivasan and her co-authors, however, identified these four patients in whom the effects were far from healthy:

  • A 55-year-old woman with a history of heavy alcohol consumption developed jaundice two months after she started drinking two glasses of Kombucha tea a day. She stopped taking the tea and the symptoms disappeared after six weeks.
  • Another woman complained of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches and neck pain after consuming a half-glass of tea a day for several months. She was hospitalized two days and her symptoms were resolved. After being discharged from the hospital, she began drinking the tea again. Her symptoms returned and she had to be rehospitalized.
  • A third patient came to the hospital complaining of shaking, shortness of breath and extreme restlessness after consuming the tea. The patient was treated for a presumed allergic reaction and discharged the same day.
  • A fourth developed shortness of breath and throat tightness an hour after drinking the tea. This patient was also treated for a presumed allergic reaction and discharged.

The researchers caution that "these four cases highlight the use of a specific alternative therapy with [the] potential for toxicity." Neither the tea?s claimed therapeutic benefits nor its adverse side effects have been reported widely in scientific literature.

Srinivasan and co-authors warn that this "health" beverage could in fact be harmful to some consumers, even though no direct link could be made between drinking the tea and the adverse reactions reported, because of the small number of cases and the unethical aspects of testing the tea for toxicity in humans. The authors also urge that patients who experience unexplainable symptoms and the physicians who treat them consider that those symptoms could be side effects from alternative therapies, such as drinking home-brewed Kombucha tea.

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Dr. Srinivasan can be contacted at (806) 354-5494.

The Journal of General Internal Medicine (JGIM), a monthly peer-reviewed journal and the official journal of the Society of General Internal Medicine, publishes original articles on research and education in primary care.

Release posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health . For information about the Center contact Richard Hebert at (202) 387-2829 or rhebert@cfah.org

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