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Popular 'Cure-All' Tea Can Cause Toxic Reactions

Kombucha tea, a popular alternative health beverage that has been touted as a cure for everything from wrinkles to cancer, has landed at least four people in the hospital with dangerous side effects.

Radhika Srinivasan, MD, of Texas Tech Health Sciences Center and her co-authors have documented four patients who developed symptoms ranging from nausea to jaundice after drinking home-made Kombucha tea. Their findings are reported in the October 1997 Journal of General Internal Medicine.

The beverage (also known as Manchurian or Kargasok tea) is made by steeping Kombucha "mushrooms" (actually an aggregate of yeast and bacteria covered by a permeable membrane, available in health food stores) in tea and sugar to create a tonic. Claimed therapeutic powers include: curing cancer, lowering blood pressure, increasing vitality, increasing T-cell counts, relieving arthritis pain, cleansing the gall bladder, alleviating constipation, fighting acne, eliminating wrinkles, and restoring gray hair to its original color.

Srinivasan and her co-authors, however, identified these four patients in whom the effects were far from healthy:

  • A 55-year-old woman with a history of heavy alcohol consumption developed jaundice two months after she started drinking two glasses of Kombucha tea a day. She stopped taking the tea and the symptoms disappeared after six weeks.
  • Another woman complained of dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headaches and neck pain after consuming a half-glass of tea a day for several months. She was hospitalized two days and her symptoms were resolved. After being discharged from the hospital, she began drinking the tea again. Her symptoms returned and she had to be rehospitalized.
  • A third patient came to the hospital complaining of shaking, shortness of breath and extreme restlessness after consuming the tea. The patient was treated for a presumed allergic reaction and discharged the same day.
  • A fourth dev
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Contact: Margo Alderton
jgim@mail.med.upenn.edu
215-823-4471
Center for the Advancement of Health
8-Oct-1997


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