Does kombucha help wounds heal faster? Inconclusive.

[Note: The research paper I discuss in this post has since been retracted. It was retracted in November of 2016. Reasons for the retraction were not given. I discuss the retraction of scientific papers in this post here, and the link to the retraction is here.]


bandaids

Today’s paper can be found at the link:

Histopathological and clinical evaluation of Kombucha tea and Nitrofurazone on cutaneous full-thickness wounds healing in rats: an experimental study.

by Fardin Barati and colleagues, published in the journal Diagnostic Pathology, 2013

Key take-home points:

Wounds in rats healed just as fast when treated with a kombucha tea extract as they did when treated with nitrofurazone, a broad-spectrum antibiotic cream.

Sounds good, right?  Not so fast.  That result may not actually mean anything since;

a) Nitrofurazone can sometimes slow down wound healing (reference).

b) When nitrofurazone is helpful in wound healing, it’s because it is preventing infection (it’s a broad spectrum antibiotic). The wounds in this study were unlikely to be infected, as they were in a sterile laboratory environment.

c) The study used quite a small number of rats which, while being good for the rats, is bad for the science.

Caution: You know the disclaimer in animal movies?  The one that says; “no animal was harmed in the making of this movie”?

Biomedical science is not like the movies.

(But I don’t go into the details, and there are no pictures.)

Background information for the study

One of the myriad health claims for kombucha is that the scoby, applied to a wound, will help it heal faster.  (I first read this one in Alick and Mari Bartholemew’s book)

According to this study’s authors, other studies have shown:

  • Kombucha extract does seem to have antibiotic and detoxification properties
  • Kombucha contains hyaluronic acid
  • Hyaluronic acid promotes wound healing
  • Laboratory studies have shown kombucha to promote wound-healing type conditions in the petri dish.
  • Kombucha seems to have helped wound healing go faster in internal abdominal wounds. Perhaps due either to the presence of hyaluronic acid, or the oxidised cellulose in the scoby (reference)

What these researchers were investigating in this study:

They wanted to know if kombucha would promote wound healing in skin wounds in live animals.

What they did:

  • They took 24 rats, divided them into two groups of 12.
  • All the rats were given a skin wound on their abdomen (under anaesthetic).
  • One group was treated with nitrofurazone cream, the other was treated with an extract of kombucha tea.
  • At each of 4, 8, 12, 16 and 20 days, needle biopsies of the wounds were taken and rats were killed to provide microscope slide samples to compare the two groups.

What they found:

There were no significant differences in wound healing between the two groups.

What does this mean for us?

Frankly, it means very little.

  • There was no ‘control’ group of rats with untreated wounds to compare normal wound healing.
  • Given that they only started with 12 rats in each group, and they sacrificed rats at days 4, 8, 16 and 20, this doesn’t seem like a large enough number of rats at each stage to get a good data set.
  • The paper did not disclose what sort of ‘extract’ of kombucha tea was used. It was not whole tea, and it was not just mushed up scoby. They describe extracting different fractions from the tea, but not which fraction was used, nor at what concentration it was used.
  • Nitrofurazone was used to treat wounds because it is an antibiotic. Antibiotics only help wound healing by preventing infection of the wound. Since these wounds were highly unlikely to be infected, it’s not clear to me what they are measuring here.
  • Sure, kombucha performed as well as nitrofurazone, but in this situation nitrofurazone’s action is unlikely to help wounds heal faster anyway.

Result?

This paper doesn’t tell us anything about kombucha’s usefulness in treating skin wounds.

No part of this site constitutes medical advice.  See your doctor for all health care.

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