Kombucha has been in the news a lot lately because many brands got pulled off store shelves because of elevated alcohol levels — a move that had Lindsay Lohan fans speculating if the fermented drink set off her alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet. The flurry of coverage about the fizzy beverage pushed one enterprising company, Kombucha Wonder Drink, to quickly send me a sample of its product with this happy message: “It’s been pasteurized from the start (since 2001) because our founder was aware of the potential for alcohol in a raw product.”


So yesterday I tried Kombucha Wonder Drink — and enjoyed the fizzy, refreshing beverage. I’m also not sure I’ll ever drink kombucha again.


Why not? Well, the slew of kombucha-related articles have me wondering if kombucha is good for me. Now, I never believed the far-fetched claims that kombucha cured cancer or AIDS as some people claim, but I did think that the drink’s claims of antioxidant properties and promotion of healthy digestion sounded plausible. Plus I liked the not-too-sweet, slightly tart taste. I even took a kombucha-making class, brewing my own kombucha at home for a while.


But today, I read GOOD’s rundown of kombucha’s questionable health claims — which included a link to an article penned by Dr. Andrew Weil, whose opinion I value. Here’s what Weil says:

I don’t recommend kombucha tea at all. I know of no scientific studies backing up the health claims made for it. Beyond that, there’s evidence that kombucha tea may have some antibiotic activity. If so, by drinking the tea you could be unnecessarily taking antibiotics, which could encourage development of resistant strains of bacteria….


There have also been reports in the medical literature of adverse reactions including nausea, vomiting and headaches among those who drink more than four ounces of kombucha tea daily. Allergic reactions, jaundice and head and neck pain have also been reported. I would particularly caution pregnant women, nursing mothers, the elderly, children and anyone with a compromised immune system against drinking kombucha tea.

Weil’s warning that there are “no scientific studies backing up the health claims” is quite the contrast from the claims on G.T. Kombucha’s website. The popular kombucha company claims “Kombucha is a miracle” right on its home page, which has a tab called “Health Benefits.” That section claims “extensive literature” and “independent medical research” backing up kombucha’s health claims — but provides no details on how one might find this literature and fails to mention that no clinical studies exist on the matter — a fact even long-time kombucha makers and drinkers recognize. For those wishing for more hardcore proof of G.T.’s health claims, the company doles out this ridiculous advice:
To find out additional information on Kombucha, simply type in “Kombucha” as a search term at a site like google.com or yahoo.com.
I think it would be a better idea to get additional information from Weil. To be sure, I’ve never gotten sick or felt ill after drinking kombucha, and my guess is that an occasional glass of kombucha — especially the pasteurized kind — is unlikely to do harm. But that’s only a guess — and perhaps I should take Weil’s recommendation more seriously, choosing to enjoy drinks I actually know more about.


What about kombucha-drinking MNN readers? Will you continue to enjoy kombucha?


See also:

Kombucha tea: Risks and benefits

Andrew Weil says no to kombucha
"I don't recommend kombucha tea at all," says the natural health guru about the popular fermented beverage.