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Kombucha has Ancient Roots. But it’s Untested.

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It’s been spotted in the hands of celebrities, a murky-looking drink with an exotic name: kombucha. The beverage originally hails from China, where it first earned a reputation as a health tonic nearly 2,000 years ago.

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In the U.S., kombucha has gone through several reincarnations. Its benefits haven’t been proved. What has been shown, for the home-brewed versions, is that it isn’t always safe.

Kombucha became popular in the 1980s among the elderly and people with HIV. The drink, at that time largely home-brewed, accrued a reputation for boosting the immune system, increasing energy, improving skin and nails, and reversing the thinning and graying of hair. The beverage was (and still is) made by adding a kombucha “mushroom” — a pancake-shaped mass of bacteria and yeast often obtained by mail order –to black or green tea and sugar.

The mixture ferments for a week, resulting in a slightly fizzy, sweet and sour (some say undrinkable) beverage containing a long list of amino acids, B vitamins and living things: Acetobacter bacteria and Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and other yeasts.

The commercially brewed kombucha now on store shelves is similar in looks, taste and B vitamin content, but its microorganism profiles can differ from the home-brewed form. Its current popularity probably stems from its purported probiotic properties and reputation as an immune booster, says Dr. Brent Bauer, director of the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Labels typically boast a shorter list of microorganisms, often Lactobacillus species and a few other bacteria known for beneficial effects on digestion.

Home-brewed kombucha has had problems. Kombucha is acidic enough to kill most harmful bacteria that might try to grow during fermentation, says Yao-wen Huang, a professor at the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia in Athens. But harmful molds, such as species of Aspergillus, can grow, and in unsanitary conditions, harmful bacteria can too.

The drink’s reputation suffered a blow when kombucha mushrooms contaminated with anthrax led to an outbreak of skin infections in an Iranian village in the mid-1990s. Around the same time, two women in Iowa developed metabolic acidosis — a dangerous buildup of acid in the body — after drinking kombucha; one died.

Soon after, two Australians came down with lead poisoning after drinking kombucha fermented in a ceramic pot for six months. A similar case was reported from France this year. (Investigators surmised that the acid caused lead to leach out of the glaze.)

Several lab studies have pointed to possible benefits. In test tubes, for example, the drink appeared to kill several types of harmful bacteria. In rodents, it increased immune cell activity. A 2000 study reported that mice drinking kombucha for three years lived 26 days longer on average than mice not drinking it. A 2001 study showed that drinking kombucha for 15 days protected rats’ livers from some of the toxic effects of a common painkiller, acetaminophen. And a 2003 study found that kombucha reduced DNA damage in rats exposed to lead.

But that’s where the evidence ends, Bauer says. “My own philosophy is, we better wait for clinical trials.”

The move toward commercial kombucha is probably good, says Dr. Sherwood Gorbach, professor of public health and medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston. “It’s probably safer [than home brew].” But that may also mean it could lack the home brew’s purported, if unproven, benefits.

Sources:
Los Angles Times

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Kombucha

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Kombucha tea is a popular health beverage .Kombucha is the Western name for sweetened tea or tisane that has been fermented using a macroscopic solid mass of microorganisms called a “kombucha colony,” usually consisting principally of Acetobacter-species and yeast cultures. It has gained much popular support within many communities, mentioned by talk show hosts and celebrities. The increase in popularity can be seen by the many commercial brands coming onto the retail market

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Biology of kombucha
The culture contains a symbiosis of Acetobacter (acetic acid bacteria) and yeast, mostly Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Candida stellata, Schizosaccharomyces pombe, Torulaspora delbrueckii and Zygosaccharomyces bailii. The culture itself looks somewhat like a large pancake, and though often called a mushroom, or by the acronym SCOBY (for “Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast“), it is clinically known as a fungus.

The Kombucha Culture, sometimes mistakenly referred to as a mushroom, is a symbiotic, probiotic colony of yeast and bacteria (the friendly type). Kombucha Tea is made by combining the culture, with a mixture of black tea, and sugar. The ingredients are allowed to “ferment“, usually from 7-10 days. The resulting beverage contains dozens of elements, many of which are known to promote healing for a variety of conditions.

History
The recorded history of this drink dates back to the Qin Dynasty in China (around 250 BC). The Chinese called it the “Immortal Health Elixir,” because they believed Kombucha balanced the Middle Qi (Spleen and Stomach) and aided in digestion, allowing the body to focus on healing. Knowledge of kombucha eventually reached Russia and then Eastern Europe around the Early Modern Age, when tea first became affordable by the populace

Traditionally, Kombucha use has spread (for over 2000 years) by the passing of Kombucha Cultures from family to family, and friend to friend.

Russian “tea mushroom”
The process of brewing kombucha was introduced in Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 1800s, and became popular in the early 1900s. The kombucha culture is known locally as chayniy grib, (?????? ???? – ‘tea mushroom’), and the drink itself is referred to as grib (???? – ‘mushroom’), “tea kvass” or simply “kvass”, although it differs from regular “kvass” which is not made from tea and is generally fermented only with yeast and not the other bacteria which ferment tea to form kombucha.

Components:
Kombucha contains many different cultures along with several organic acids, active enzymes, amino acids, and polyphenols.For the home brewer, there is no way to know the amounts of the components unless a sample is sent to a laboratory. The US Food and Drug Administration has no findings on the effects of kombucha. Final kombucha may contain some of the following components depending on the source of the culture: Acetic acid, which provides much anti-microbial activity; butyric acid, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, lactic acid, malic acid, oxalic acid, usnic acid, as well as some B-vitamins.

Health effects:
A review of the published literature on the safety of kombucha suggests no specific oral toxicity in rats, although other reports suggest that care should be taken when taking medical drugs or hormone replacement therapy while regularly drinking kombucha. It may also cause allergic reactions. It is common for urinary samples to obtain a chemical like scent due to the fermenting process of kombucha which releases into the liver. If this is the case, take another urine sample. If it continues to smell, consult a local physician to be checked for liver complications.

Kombucha is also low in calories, and thus a good alternative to other (fermented and non fermented) beverages such as beer, lemonade, and fruit juice . Because of this, home production of kombucha is increasing in popularity.

Claims:
Advocates believe that kombucha helps by competing with endogenous microbes without toxic constituents, when it is cultivated carefully. Increased glucuronic acid conjugates in the urine after kombucha consumption may support this hypothesis.

Early chemical analysis of kombucha brew suggested that glucuronic acid was a key component of it, perhaps assisting the liver by supplying more of the substance during detoxification. But more recent analysis of kombucha offer a different explanation, as outlined in the book in Analysis of Kombucha Ferments by Michael Roussin. Roussin reports on an extensive chemical analysis of a variety of commercial and homebrew versions of kombucha, and finds no evidence of glucuronic acid at any concentration.

But Roussin suggests that another component may have health benefits:
D – glucaro -1,4 lactone, also known as glucaric acid. It serves as an inhibitor of the beta-glucuronidase enzyme, a bacterial product from the gut microbiota that can cleave the glucuronic acid conjugates and send bodily wastes back into circulation, thus increasing the exposure time before the waste is ultimately excreted. Therefore, the active component of kombucha likely exerts its effect by preventing bacterial disruption of glucuronic acid conjugates and increasing the detoxification efficiency of the liver. Glucaric acid is being explored independently as a cancer preventive agent.

Reports of adverse reactions may be related to unsanitary fermentation conditions, leaching of compounds from the fermentation vessels, or “sickly” kombucha cultures that cannot acidify the brew. Cleanliness is important during preparation, and in most cases, the acidity of the fermented drink prevents growth of unwanted contaminants. If a culture becomes contaminated, it will most likely be seen as common mold, green or brown in color.

Safety and contamination
As with all foods, care must be taken during preparation and storage to prevent contamination. Keeping the kombucha brew safe and contamination-free is a concern to many home brewers. Key components of food safety when brewing kombucha include clean environment, proper temperature, and low pH.

In every step of the preparation process, it is important that hands and utensils (anything that is going to come into contact with the culture) are dish soap clean so as not to contaminate the kombucha. For safety reasons, Kombucha should be brewed in food-grade glass containers only. Kombucha should not be brewed in lead crystal, ceramic, plastic, painted, or metallic containers including stainless steel, as the acidic solution can leach by-products into the finished product.  Keeping cultures covered and in a clean environment also reduces the risk of introducing contaminants and bacteria.

Mold contamination on the culture surface.Maintaining a correct pH is an important factor in a home-brew. Acidic conditions are favorable for the growth of the kombucha culture, and inhibit the growth of molds and bacteria. The pH of the kombucha batch should be between 2.5 and 4.5. A pH of less than 2.5 makes the drink too acidic for human consumption, while a pH greater than 4.5 increases the risk of contamination. Use of fresh “starter tea” and/or vinegar can be used to control pH. Some brewers test the pH at the beginning and the end of the brewing cycle to ensure that the correct pH is achieved.

If mold does grow on the surface of the kombucha pellicle, or “mushroom,” it is best to throw out the batch and start over.

Click to see->Unexplained Severe Illness Possibly Associated with Consumption of Kombucha Tea

Probable gastrointestinal toxicity of Kombucha tea

Kombucha–toxicity alert.:

Additional observed effects
Aside from any possible health benefits, it can be intoxicating. It is generally characterized by mild euphoria, relaxation, and an overall sense of physical and mental well-being. Kombucha contains variable amounts of alcohol and caffeine, though the effects felt in drinking the beverage are disproportionately profound in comparison with the amount ingested, suggesting something more at work. Alcohol amounts vary from 0.5% to 1.5%, depending on anaerobic brewing time and proportions of microbe. Pasteur said that alkaline fermentation increases alcohol content. Commercial preparations are typically 0.5% for distribution and safety reasons.

Another possible cause of these effects is the psychoactive amino acid L-theanine, which is naturally present in tea. Stimulation of the circulatory and immune systems, and associated glandular releases, may also account for some of these effects. Some reports of more intense effects could be explained by toxins resulting from contamination of the culture

Resources:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kombucha
http://www.kombucha.org/
http://altmedicine.about.com/od/kombuchakombuchatea/Kombucha_Kombucha_Tea.htm

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