Severe Unexplained Illness Possibly a Result of Taking Toxic Tea


ATLANTA--An investigative team represented by the Center for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Iowa Department of Public Health has concluded their evaluation of two cases of severe illness in patients who had consumed a health beverage made from mushrooms, called Kombucha tea.

In April, 1995, a 59 year old woman from a small town in northwestern Iowa was found unconscious in her home, hospitalized, and died two days later. Her condition on admission to the hospital was characterized by breathing difficulty and a toxic blood condition, called acidosis. A second woman, 48 years old, from the same town, nearly died one week later after an episode of severe breathing difficulty and acidosis leading to a cardiac arrest in the hospital. Both women had consumed daily doses of Kombucha tea for two months before becoming ill.

Kombucha tea is a popular health drink, touted as a remedy for arthritis, insomnia, and baldness, as well as cancer prevention. Kombucha tea is considered an herbal remedy, thus, is not considered a food or a drug. It has not been scientifically tested for safety or benefits. It is derived from a "mushroom" produced by incubating yeast with bacteria.

The FDA has assessed the techniques used by commercial producers and was unable to find toxic organisms or hygiene violations. Many individuals have been incubating their own Kombucha tea in their homes, and contamination potential, therefore, exists.

While the investigation of the Iowa cases did not establish that the Kombucha tea causes the severe illnesses, the tea remains suspect.

Health risks are not known for those who drink more than the average 4oz daily, or for those who have underlying health problems, such as kidney disease. Preparation or storage of Kombucha tea in ceramic or lead crystal is not recommended, because of possible contamination from toxic elements from the containers.

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