Is Raw Kombucha Tea Healthy?

Kombucha tea has become a marketing sensation, with many health claims thrown about. Did the Chinese use it to live longer? Do Russian peasants use it to fight cancer?

If you read the back of the bottled kombucha you'll find in health food stores, such as, "Kombucha Wonder Drink," and many others, the answer is most definitely yes. With all the hype, it's not surprising even some people on raw food diets are embracing so-called raw kombucha tea because you can drink it without pasteurization.

In his book, "Kombucha The Miracle Fungus," Harald Tietze praises the beverage, writing that in Qin Dynasty China, kombucha tea was, "a beverage with magical powers enabling people to live forever"(1).

With the claims so grandiose, it makes you wonder: What exactly is kombucha, is there any truth to the health claims, and is the beverage safe?

What Is Kombucha, and How Is It Made?

Kombucha Tea BrewKombucha, not to be confused with the tasty kabocha squash, is a fermented and sweetened beverage usually made from black tea. It's fermented with a variety of yeasts and bacteria which form a fungus sometimes referred to as a mushroom by the devoted, although it's not a mushroom.

Made at home, it usually remains unpasteurized, creating what many refer to as raw kombucha tea. The major store brands, such as "Kombucha Wonder Drink", are almost always pasteurized.

So what kind of chemical transformation is going on during the brewing process?

Kombucha is, like carcinogenic alcohol and vinegar, a product of the fermentation process.

Fermented foods and beverages were historically used by many cultures, in part to escape the ravages of contaminated water (which is why American colonists drank hard cider at most meals, ancient Greeks and Romans drank wine, and early Egyptians drank so much beer) and to preserve food for times of scarcity by halting the decomposition process via the production of microbe-killing acids.

But the finished product is often very different than its fresh constituent parts, and there are consequences to that transformation. Below are some of the more interesting acid, caffeine, and pH levels in kombucha depending on brewing methodology.

Organic Acids and Caffeine In Various Kombucha Brews (7)


Acetic Acid

Glycolic Acid

Formic Acid

Oxalic Acid



Loose Leaf Pu-Erh







Pu-Erh #135







Clipper Chinese Green







Kombucha Manna







Tibetan Mushroom







Pu-Erh #135














Twinings Earl Grey







K Zoo

14200 71 25 0.6 n/a 2.8
All measurements are milligrams per liter.

High Acid Content Of Kombucha Tea

What really catches the eye in the table above is the high acid content, particularly the acetic acid.

What is acetic acid? You'll find it on chemists' shelves in containers affixed with a skull and crossbones and a warning label that tells you to ingest it under no circumstances. Acetic acid can eat through your skin, and I'm sure it wouldn't do any favors to your digestive system.

When we ingest a food or beverage with acetic acid in it, we're basically taking a bet that we've diluted it enough with water or another substance to make it safe. Table vinegar, for instance, is watered down to 2.4 to 3.5 percent acetic acid. Most people consume it irregularly in small quantities, such as a few tablespoons on top of their salad a few times a week, so there is often no overt sign of distress. When people eat it regularly and in larger amounts, though, problems like osteoporosis, hyperuricemia (too much acid in the blood), and hypokalemia (the acid has leached too much potassium from the body) can result (8).

Kombucha Tea tends to be between 1 and 2 percent acetic acid, but unlike vinegar, which is usually used sparingly, some people drink glasses of beverage daily. This raises questions about the long term safety of the drink.

The Safety Of Kombucha Tea

There's good reason to believe kombucha isn't safe. There are numerous medically-documented cases of kombucha causing severe harm, including sometimes-fatal liver dysfunction, lactic acidosis (2), gastrointestinal toxicity (3), and even anthrax infection (4).

In one set of patients, two experienced what appeared to be symptoms of allergic reaction, a third became jaundiced, and the fourth experienced nausea, vomiting, and head and neck pain brought on by kombucha tea (3).

Kabocha Brown Tea

Another concern is the brewing process. While large-scale commercial brewing operations are likely to be safe, some home-scale brewers make mistakes rendering the tea toxic. For instance, in one case, a patient used a ceramic pot that leached lead into the tea. When drunk, this tea resulted in lead poisoning (5). Raw foodists who make their own because many commercial blends are pasteurized might have issues if they do not properly stop harmful bacterias and contaminants from getting into the tea.

One set of researchers, after reviewing the studies on Kombucha and the available case studies, concluded that, "While Kombucha tea is considered a healthy elixir, the limited evidence currently available raises considerable concern that it may pose serious health risks. Consumption of this tea should be discouraged, as it may be associated with life-threatening lactic acidosis (2). 

But Doesn't Kombucha Improve Health?

A lot of impressive health claims are thrown around about Kombucha, but so far there's no evidence to support them. The drink has not been heavily studied, but of the handful of human trials, none have shown any significant benefits. Trials on rats are mixed between mild benefits and no benefits.

No significant new research has emerged since a 2003 review of all the studies on Kombucha. That review concluded, "...the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha. It can therefore not be recommended for therapeutic use. (4)"

Raw Kombucha Tea: There's A Better Way

People drinking raw kombucha tea thinking it will heal or invigorate them are making the same mistake many do: assuming outside forces heal the body. Only the body heals itself, and it will do so when we supply the conditions and forces that allow it to get on with the work.

This rather damning praise from a growyouthful.com article on kombucha shows the mindset:

"When you start using it, drink a small amount, and drink more water during the day. Perhaps start with 50 or 100 ml, and watch for any effects. Some people notice gas, stomach-ache, nausea, fatigue, pimples, rashes, diarrhea, or a headache. These effects are temporary, normal, and the result of beneficial bacteria repopulating your gut, and the dislodging of toxins into your bloodstream. Additional water helps excrete these toxins through your liver and kidneys as quickly as possible. People with disease or severe toxic conditions may experience a healing crisis if they drink too much too soon. (6)"

Such noxious "normal" side effects are detox, most likely, but not beneficial detox of a previously-existing condition brought on because the kombucha tea is healing. It is the body desperately trying to deal with yet another dietary assault and struggling to return to a state of equilibrium. It no more is healing than coffee "gives energy."

Kaboucha Tea WatermelonI have no doubt drinking small amounts of Kombucha, even irregularly, won't cause major repercussions for most. My concern is for those who merrily proceed drinking the tea for years.

I wouldn't want to be in their shoes 20 years down the line anymore than I'd want to be a light drinker, who proceeds through life thinking one or two glasses of wine a day won't do them any harm, when it actually causes cancer.

Do you want to heal from a disease, thrive like never before, or lose weight? You can, but the answer won't be found found in vitamin pills, some fermented tea, or your doctor's office.

The answer is the adoption of a healthy lifestyle and diet. Instead of trying to add something to your diet like raw kombucha tea with the hope it'll cure you, start thinking about removing the foods and behaviors that cause ill health. Basically, that means a raw food diet based around fruits and vegetables, way more sleep, a healthy amount of sun, and other factors.

Following Up:

Learn how to eat a healthy raw food diet.

Figure out how raw kombucha tea fits in with the foods that are healthy and harmful.


1) Tietze, Herald. 1995, "Kombucha The Miracle Fungus," Tietze Publications, p. 7.
2) SungHee Kole A, Jones HD, Christensen R, Gladstein J. "A case of Kombucha tea toxicity." J Intensive Care Med. 2009 May-Jun;24(3):205-7.
3) Srinivasan, Radhika. et al. "Probable Gastrointestinal Toxicity of Kombucha Tea." Journal of General Internal Medicine Volume 12, Issue 10, pages 643–645, October 1997
4) Ernst, E. "Kombucha: a systematic review of the clinical evidence." Komplementarmed, Forsch. Klass Naturheilkd. 2003 Apr;10(2):85-7.
5) Phan TG, Estell J, Duggin G, Beer I, Smith D, Ferson MJ: Lead poisoning from drinking Kombucha tea brewed in a ceramic pot. Med J Aust 169: 644-646, 1998
6) "Kombucha". Accessed on September 15, 2010. Accessed at: http://www.growyouthful.com/recipes/kombucha-minus-ads-minus-lts.php
7) Combined table of kombucha brewer data. Accessed on September 12. Accessed at: http://users.argolink.net/purfarms/komchem/komchem.htm
8) Lhotta, Karl; Höfle, Günther; Gasser, Rudolf; Finkenstedt, Gerd (1998). "Hypokalemia, Hyperreninemia and Osteoporosis in a Patient Ingesting Large Amounts of Cider Vinegar". Nephron 80 (2): 242–3. doi:10.1159/000045180. PMID 9736833.

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