Written by RWM
Saturday, 08 August 2009
I hadn't thought about drinking kombucha tea until recently, when I saw a row of brightly colored glass bottles on a shelf in my local supermarket. For the uninitiated, kombucha is a fermented drink popular in the Eastern half of the world, and goes by many names, including "Mongolian tea." Since at least the 1960s, it has been popular in natural food circles in the Western world as an alleged elixir. Some people claim that kombuchas has been around for centuries, but it more likely developed in Russia about 100 years ago. A similar product, called kvass, is still popular in Russia and Latvia.
It was surprising to see this odd-tasting cocktail holding its own against all the popular high-fructose corn syrup drinks in the supermarket's cooler section. Kombucha, at nearly $4 per bottle, is several times more expensive than its competitors. Breaking into the monopolistic beverage industry with an odd tasting health drink cannot have been easy, and yet a young man named G.T. Dave has done just that with his GT's Kombucha and Synergy lines of beverages. There was Mr. Dave's brand at eye-level, right next to the full line of Lipton and Snapple products. Mr. Dave started his Millennium company at age 16, while still a student at Beverly Hills High School.
Mr. Dave believes that his mother's kombucha habit kept her breast cancer from metastasizing or recurring. "After a week of emotional turmoil," according to the Synergy Web site, G.T. "was relieved to find out that her breast cancer had not spread and that the pungent tasting cultured tea that she had been drinking was part of the reason why."
I was amused to read his description of the Synergy kombucha manufacturing process: "Each batch is gently placed in a warm and spiritual environment where the walls are painted purple and spiritual music is played. Though it may sound silly, the most important thing that we do when making our batches is to give them LOTS of love."
So I bought a bottle of the cranberry flavored drink and had it with my lunch. Kombucha is a fermented mixture of fungi, bacteria, black tea and sugar. Little white strands of fungi appear in the drink and are supposedly an integral part of the fizzy drink. There is also a small amount of alcohol. I found it all pleasant in a weird way. I liked the way it made me feel and I have been consuming one bottle per week.
I thought this would make a good feel-good, end-of-summer type article for the newsletter, a sort of "go thou and do likewise" for our health conscious readers. When I began investigated the actual medicinal properties of Kombucha tea, I thought I would be overwhelmed with information. Not so. For something that has been around for so long, there are only 38 scientific articles in PubMed on the topic of kombucha. Most of these are technical studies on the nature of the bacteria and yeast in the brew. Only a few of these are clinical. Compare this to the more than 3,000 PubMed-listed articles on regular "Chinese" green tea!
The word "kombucha" doesn't seem to have entered the English language until about 1990. The first PubMed-listed article on kombucha was published in that year and was an attempt to debunk German health claims made by and for Dr. R. Sklenar's Mushroom Infusion.
In the 1990s, kombucha became popular in certain circles, especially among people with HIV/AIDS. Some doctors began to express concern over this development, since they felt — without much evidence — that the bacteria or yeast in kombucha might badly affect people with compromised immune systems (Gamundi 1995). In the same year, 1995, that the enterprising Mr. Dave founded his Millennium company there was however the first report of serious harm associated with use of this type of beverage. But it was not to be the last.
TO BE CONCLUDED, WITH REFERENCES, NEXT WEEK
--Ralph W. Moss, Ph.D.