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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(11):2824

Various “health beverages,” some of which are additives to tea, are reported to cure cancer, decrease blood pressure, relieve arthritis pain and alleviate constipation. Kombucha tea, also known as Manchurian or Kargasok tea, is made by steeping the Kombucha “mushroom” in tea and sugar. Srinivasan and colleagues review the histories of four patients who consumed this tea.

The four patients illustrated in the report received the original culture “mushrooms” from friends. Kombucha samples that have been tested were found to contain large numbers of bacteria, although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found no hygiene violations among commercial producers of the tea.

Two of the four patients consumed the tea for symptom relief of specific problems; the other two cited no particular reason. The first patient, who reported drinking two cups of tea daily for two months, had jaundice of six weeks' duration on presentation. After the jaundice developed, she stopped drinking the tea and decreased her alcohol intake. Within seven weeks, all laboratory values returned to normal limits. The second patient reported nausea, vomiting, headache and xerostomia after drinking one-half glass of tea per day for several months. These symptoms disappeared after she stopped drinking the tea but recurred when she began drinking the tea again. The other two patients experienced a variety of signs and symptoms, including shortness of breath, tachycardia, tachypnea, hypotension and throat tightness. These patients were treated for a presumed allergic reaction.

The authors conclude that drinking 4 oz of Kombucha tea may not cause problems in many persons. However, when consumed in larger amounts or by persons with preexisting health problems, the tea could cause a number of health problems. Therefore, physicians should ask patients about the use of alternative therapies, especially when they present with nonspecific complaints.

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