The ASCO Post’s Integrative Oncology series is intended to facilitate the availability of evidence-based information on integrative and complementary therapies sometimes used by patients with cancer. In this installment, Yen Nien Hou, PharmD, DipIOM, LAc, and Jyothirmai Gubili, MS, focus on kombucha—a fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened black tea that includes the culture of bacteria and yeast—because of its popularity as a functional food.
Yen Nien Hou, PharmD, DipIOM, LAc
Jyothirmai Gubili, MS
Common names: Champagne of life, Manchurian mushroom, tea fungus, kargasok tea, haipao, combucha, spumonto, tschambucco
Kombucha is a fermented beverage containing sweetened black tea and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. Green tea and oolong tea are also used in lieu of black tea. Thought to have its origins in China, kombucha has gained worldwide popularity as a functional food. Proponents claim that it confers a variety of health benefits that include lowering cholesterol and blood pressure as well as exerting immunostimulatory and anticancer effects.
The symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts is composed of various acetic and lactic acid bacteria and yeasts that include Saccharomyces species. After fermentation, kombucha is a concoction of various sugars, polyphenols, fiber, ethanol, amino acids, and water-soluble vitamins—all thought to be responsible for its health benefits.1,2
Preclinical studies indicate that kombucha has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immunostimulatory,3 hypolipidemic,4 and hepatoprotective5 effects. However, clinical data are lacking, except for a small, uncontrolled trial involving 24 subjects with non–insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. The authors reported that daily consumption of 60 mL of kombucha for 90 days was associated with normalized blood sugar values.6
Further research is needed to assess the potential health benefits of kombucha and to determine the mechanisms underlying its actions.1,7
Topical use of kombucha has been associated with a case of cutaneous anthrax.8 Oral consumption of kombucha has been associated with the following:
Because kombucha tea is acidic, it may affect the bioavailability of drugs that depend on gastric pH for dissolution and absorption.9
Brewing kombucha requires live symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. When making this beverage at home, following good hygiene is important to avoid contamination. Always talk to your health-care provider to find out whether kombucha tea is appropriate for you, especially if you are immunocompromised.
Dr. Hou is the Manager of the “About Herbs” website, maintained by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s Integrative Medicine Service, and Ms. Gubili is Editor, both at the Integrative Medicine Service, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.
Jun J. Mao, MD, MSCE
DISCLOSURE: Dr. Hou and Ms. Gubili reported no conflicts of interest.
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