Chinese herbal kombucha might help prevent the spread of Foot and Mouth disease

Research into Chinese herbal kombucha tea. Does it help protect against foot-and-mouth-disease?

chinese herbal kombucha foot and mouth cow
Today’s research paper is Anti-foot-and-mouth disease virus effects of Chinese herbal kombucha in vivo by Naifang Fu and colleagues, and was published in 2015 in the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology.
In brief, the researchers wanted to see if treating swine and cows with Chinese herbal kombucha would have any protective effect against infection with foot-and-mouth-disease virus. They had good reason for hoping it might be the case, and their research is highly promising.

Key research findings:

  • Herds of cattle in an area where there was a foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak did not get foot-and-mouth disease when treated with Chinese herbal kombucha.
  • Swine that were treated with Chinese herbal kombucha and then injected with foot-and-mouth virus were able to fight off foot-and-mouth disease, BUT only if they were treated with low doses of herbal kombucha. High doses seemed to help the disease instead of the animal.
  • Dosage is important: there can be too much of a good thing.

Warning: like a lot of biomedical and veterinary research, this research is performed on live animals. There are no pictures, and I won’t dwell on the details, but it is what it is.

What the researchers already knew

  • Foot and mouth virus is susceptible to acid environments
  • Some Chinese herbs have anti-viral properties
  • You can ferment these anti-viral herbs with kombucha to make Chinese herbal kombucha
  • Chinese herbal kombucha is acidic enough to disable the foot-and-mouth-disease virus in a petri dish (in vitro)
  • Chinese herbal kombucha also seemed to counteract the virus in suckling mice, so it might be more than just the acidity at work (especially since the herbs used also have anti-viral properties)

What they were trying to find out

  • Would treatment with Chinese herbal kombucha prevent the progression of foot-and-mouth-disease in swine that had been injected with the virus?
  • Would treatment with Chinese herbal kombucha prevent the spread of the disease by ‘normal transmission’ in susceptible herds of cows?

What they did

The researchers set up two main experiments.

Lab experiment

The first was a highly controlled laboratory experiment using a small number of pigs, to see if Chinese herbal kombucha would have any effect on animals that definitely had foot-and-mouth-disease.

They divided the pigs into four groups, with five animals in each: a control group that were given no kombucha, and three other groups that were treated with kombucha at half-strength, quarter-strength, and twelfth-strength respectively. The kombucha ‘treatment’ involved daily spraying each animal in the mouth and nose with 1 litre of Kombucha and giving the animal a further 2 litres to drink (the control group were sprayed with a sugar and salt solution instead). This began 3 days before every animal was injected with foot-and-mouth-disease virus, and continued until the animals were slaughtered humanely, 10 days after injection. The animals were monitored throughout, with blood tests, for signs of the disease.

As you would expect, all of the control group showed classic foot-and-mouth symptoms within 4 days of being injected with the virus.

The other group which had all the animals showing symptoms was the group treated with the highest dose of kombucha. Alarmingly, these animals showed symptoms earlier than the control group by about 24 hours.

The quarter-strength kombucha group had one animal (out of five total) that remained healthy by the end of the trial.

The lowest strength kombucha group had three out of five animals completely protected from the disease.

Field trial

The second experiment was a much larger scale field-trial using whole herds of cows in an area of China that was experiencing a foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak.  They were looking to see if treating a whole disease-free herd with kombucha would have any protective effect against infection with foot-and-mouth-disease.

Un-infected cows were split into two groups and sprayed in the mouth and nose every day for 6 days – one group with a dilute acid solution, the other group with a dilute kombucha solution. By two weeks later, none of the kombucha group displayed symptoms of foot-and-mouth-disease, while more than half of the acid group were showing signs of the illness.

What they found

Lab experiment:

Found that yes, treatment with herbal kombucha was effective at preventing the progression of foot and mouth disease in swine that had been injected with the virus BUT only at low doses of kombucha. Higher doses of kombucha seemed to, perversely, help the virus more than it helped the swine.

Therefore Chinese herbal kombucha treatment is highly dosage dependent, possibly different for different species, and the dosages should be determined before any wide-scale use of herbal kombucha is adopted in case the effort ends up doing more harm than good.

Field trial:

The herds treated with herbal kombucha remained free of fout-and-mouth-disease, even when surrounding herds (and the control group) succumbed.

Blood work etc was not done on these cows, so it is not clear whether the kombucha treatment mainly treated the environment around the cows, killing the virus before it could be transmitted to the cows, or if there was some medical effect on the cows themselves, helping them fight off the infection once the virus had been contracted.

Together the results are highly promising. They indicate that spraying unaffected herds with Chinese herbal kombucha is fairly effective at preventing an infection from occurring and, if the dosage is right, will help the beasts to fight off an infection even if it does occur.

What does that mean for us?

Well, unless you own a herd of cows or swine, it is tricky to know how to directly apply this research to our own lives.

The take away for me is two-fold. First, in this age of increasing drug resistance in our pathogens, it is great to see some practical and positive research into novel anti-virals.

The Chinese herbs that are well known anti-virals, by the way, are licorice (Glycyrrhizae radix), luohuanguo (Siraitia grosvenorii), chrysanthemum (Dendranthema morifolium) and green tea (Camellia sinensis).

The second take-away is the warning from the swine trials: Dosage is important.

Just because something is good and effective does not mean that more is better.

I’m reminded of the traditional advice to limit one’s daily kombucha consumption to 1/2 glass per day. In light of the swine trials, this could be especially important if your body is facing some sort of health stress or challenge – viral or otherwise.

Author: stacey

Stacey lives and works in the South Island of New Zealand with her husband, their 4 children, 4 hens, and a rabbit that they secretly think must have watched Monty Python's Holy Grail movie.

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