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Kombucha Tea Deaths

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 4/29/2010

There is no clear evidence of kombucha tea deaths. However, one death may possibly be related and a couple of other incidences are similar and severe but not fatal. Learn about these incidences and see what you think.

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    Kombucha Tea

    A Kombucha culture fermenting in a jar Kombucha is a fermented tea used for medicinal purposes. The beverage is made by incubating the kombucha mushroom (which is actually a mixed culture of yeasts and bacteria and not a mushroom) in tea (most commonly in black tea) and sugar for about seven days. After it is fermented, the tea is highly acidic.

    During the incubation period, the thin, gelatinous "mushroom" duplicates itself by making a "baby" on top of itself. This offspring can be given to others to start their own cultures.

    There are claims (which have not been determined scientifically) that kombucha tea can increase longevity and cure a number of diseases, including AIDS and cancer. Although it has been used for many years, there are some concerns about its safety.

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    Have their been any Kombucha Tea Deaths?

    Below are a couple of reports of possible toxicity and death related to kombucha tea.

    Iowa, 1995

    This first report appeared in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, prepared by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

    On April 1, an unconscious 59 year old woman was taken to a hospital. Blood samples on arrival indicated a low pH level and a high lactic acid level. She suffered cardiac arrest but was revived. Her condition continued to deteriorate. On April 3, she died.

    One hour prior to being found, she was reported by family members as being fatigued with no specific medical complaints. She did take medications, including those for hypertension, mild renal insufficiency, and anemia. According to her daughter, the woman was drinking about 4 ounces of kombucha tea daily.

    Toxicology reports indicated no poisoning from prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, cyanide, or carbon monoxide. Autopsy reports and the woman's clinical history did not support a cardiogenic cause (death related to the heart).

    On April 10, another woman (a previously healthy 48 year old) from the same town was admitted to the same hospital for complaints of shortness of breath. She also had low pH and high lactic acid levels and suffered from caridac arrest (which she was revived). Her condition improved and she was discharged from the hospital on April 13.

    She reported drinking kombucha tea 2 months prior to the incidence (the "mushrooms" used by both of the women came from the same "parent" mushroom). Initially, she incubated her tea for 7 days and consumed 4 ounces a day but had increased the incubation period to 14 days and the amount to 12 ounces before the incident.

    These two women were not the only ones in their town who consumed kombucha tea. A 115 other people also consumed it (from the same source as the two women) and none of them reported an unexplained acute illness.

    California, 2009

    According to the Journal of Intensive Care Medicine, a 22 year old male (who was newly diagnosed with HIV) complained of shortness of breath (along with a temperature of 103° F) within 12 hours after ingesting kombucha tea. His blood samples also indicated low pH and high lactic acid levels. He survived.

    Unlike the two women who brewed their own tea, he bought his from a West Hollywood health food store.

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    Although there is no clear evidence of kombucha tea deaths, the authors of the report on the 22 year old concluded "Consumption of this tea should be discouraged, as it may be associated with life-threatening lactic acidosis."

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    Sources Used

    CDC: Unexplained Severe Illness Possibly Associated with Consumption of Kombucha Tea -- Iowa, 1995 -

    Cancer Decisions: Kombucha Reconsidered - Conclusion -,english/

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    Photo Credit

    Image in the public domain.

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