There continues to be quite a buzz about the benefits of kombucha these days. While we agree that re-establishing a healthy gut flora is foundational for creating greater health, we believe that taking consideration of what form that microbial inoculation comes in would be wise.
So what’s wrong with kombucha anyway?
Well, any of you who have made kombucha know that the kombucha culture thrives on sugar and… black or green tea. Now, given that our focus generally is on helping folks navigate to greater oral health, I’ll bet that many of you are thinking it’s the sugar that we’re going to demonize. I can hear the, ‘but the culture consumes the sugar’ rebuttals.
However, in this case, we want to bring to light the amount of fluoride in tea. You see, the tea plant naturally uptakes fluoride from the soil more than any other plant known to humans, presumably as a defense mechanism to protect its lush, yummy looking leaves from being eaten by grazing animals in the wild. Animals learned a long time ago that if they ate a belly full of the tea plant, they would get a stomachache, so have learned to avoid that plant.
In fact, the tea plant has very specialized functions to uptake fluoride and then encapsulate it within its plant tissues so that the fluoride doesn’t damage the plant! Then we humans come along and decide that we’re going to dry the leaves of this plant that grazing animals avoid and make it into a tea.
How much fluoride is in tea anyway?
A website by a pro-fluoridation infant medical group states that a cup of black tea contains 7.8 mgs of fluoride.(1) However, according to Andreas Schuld in his article titled “Fluoride – What’s Wrong With This Picture?”, “Recent analyses have revealed a fluoride content of 22.2 mg per teabag or cup in Chinese green tea, and 17.25 mg of soluble fluoride ions per teabag or cup in black tea. Aluminum content was also high—over 8 mg. Normal steeping time was five minutes. The longer a tea bag steeped, the more fluoride and aluminum were released. After ten minutes, the measurable amounts of fluoride and aluminum almost doubled.” (2)
That said, for the sake of balance, we also have to quote the Linus Pauling Institute and their figures on the content of fluoride in various teas, which is much lower… They suggest that the amount of fluoride in green and black teas ranges from .3 – .5 mg fluoride per 8 ounces of tea. With such dramatic ranges in the amount of fluoride found in tea, I think it wise to use the highest quality, organic tea you can for kombucha.
So, after a quick look on the net, I found that the average recipe for kombucha uses 4-6 bags of tea for a gallon of kombucha. Steeping times varied from 5 minutes to until the boiling water cooled (yikes). Given that the amount of fluoride released from the tea doubles when the steeping time increased from 5 minutes to 10 minutes, we can do the math.
Taking the average between the fluoride content of black and green tea, I estimate that there is 20mg of fluoride in a tea bag steeping for 5 minutes. For the sake of making a particularly ‘good’ batch of kombucha, I’m going to assume a 10 minute steep time, thus doubling the fluoride released per tea bag. (3)
So, 40mg fluoride per tea bag x 5 bags = 200mg of fluoride per gallon of kombucha
For the sake of simplicity, we’re not going to include the potential fluoride content from the water used to make the kombucha (which would obviously raise these numbers even higher).
The average serving (from the store) of kombucha is 16 ounces. So, 8 servings in a gallon = 25mg of fluoride in a single serving of kombucha (from the tea alone).
That’s all great, but how much fluoride is too much?
Well, here in the US, the standard ‘safety’ level for fluoride in water fluoridation is 1ppm (1 part per million). Even if you buy the idea that 1ppm is safe, a 16 ounce kombucha with an average of 25mg of fluoride has an equivalent amount of fluoride as 25 liters (roughly 6 gallons) of fluoridated water! Now you can see why we’re not big fans of kombucha.
That bears repeating. One 16 ounce serving of kombucha can contain as much fluoride as 6 gallons of fluoridated water.
How do these figures compare with a tube of toothpaste?
According to the ADA (4), an average tube of fluoride toothpaste contains 30mg of fluoride per ounce of paste. So, depending on how strong the brew of kombucha is, one serving may contain as much fluoride as consuming an ounce of toothpaste. (Ugg)
Unfortunately, fluoride isn’t the only thing that tea is rich in. Studies also show that aluminum also ends up in a cup of black or green tea. This is truly adding insult to injury as the combination of aluminum and fluoride has been shown to significantly disrupt cellular communication in the thyroid gland. (5)
Are all teas created equal?
Research suggests that some higher quality teas have less fluoride in the leaves because the tea is made from buds and younger leaves. Also, if you purchase organic tea to make kombucha, you are getting less exposure to fluoride due to the fact that some pesticides are made from fluorinated compounds.
What about the fermentation process?
There is some writing from prestigious organizations that suggests that the fermentation process would remove the fluoride. On one hand, this doesn’t make sense as we can’t change an element. However, perhaps the scoby (mother culture) ‘captures’ the fluoride in the kombucha. We will do our own testing of various kombuchas and let you know what we find.
So, while restoring healthy gut flora is crucial to create an ideal immunological response, we think there are many better ways to reinoculate our bellies with ‘the good guys’ through water kefir, milk kefir, fermented veggies, etc than to potentially expose oneself to an extra dose of fluoride by choosing to drink kombucha. Sorry scoby (kombucha mother culture), we used to cultivate you too!
In the end, moderation is key here. We simply want to bring to light that kombucha has a dark side amidst its beneficial side too.
1. BabyCenter Editorial Team w/ Medical Advisory Board (http://www.babycenter.com/refcap.674.html#3)
2. Schuld, A – “Fluoride – What’s Wrong With This Picture?” http://poisonfluoride.com/pfpc/html/picture_i.html
3. Analyses conducted by Parents of Fluoride Poisoned Children (PFPC) at Gov’t -approved labs.
5. Strunecka, A; Patocka, J – “Aluminofluoride complexes: new phosphate analogues for laboratory investigations and potential danger for living organisms” Charles University, Faculty of Sciences, Department of Physiology and Developmental Physiology, Prague/Department of Toxicology, Purkynì Military Medical Academy, Hradec KrßlovØ, Czech Republic http://www.cadvision.com/fluoride/brain3.htm