Using kombucha to make new medicines

This month we’re having a look at one of the ways in which kombucha might be used to make new medicines and create new treatments in the future.

The research paper is

Clearance of Free Silica in Rat Lungs by Spraying with Chinese Herbal Kombucha.
By Nai-fang Fu et al, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2013, Article ID 790792.

One of the things that makes kombucha so cool and unique is its SCOBY – that pale disc of glob that floats around and makes it all happen.

The SCOBY exists thanks to the bacteria in it that produce cellulose. This is much the same sort of cellulose that is found in tree trunks and flower stalks that holds it all together and gives structure to the plant.  It performs the same function for the scoby – it holds it all together and gives it its structure. The cellulose framework creates the ‘house’ where all the other microbes can hang out together and create kombucha.

But cellulose has other functions too.

Cellulose can attract and absorb metals and particles from the surrounding environment, basically sucking them up and tucking them away.

These researchers from today’s article were interested in seeing if the cellulose from kombucha would be remotely effective at absorbing silica dust from inside lungs.

mask2Silica dust inhalation is a large industrial problem. There are estimates of 23 million workers in China who have been exposed to crystalline silica dust, and a further 10 million in India. Official statistics being what they are, you can assume that the real numbers are considerably higher.

These workers are at a high risk for developing silicosis – an incurable disease of the lungs marked by scarring, lesions and inflammation – it is the most common industrial lung disease in the world.

Currently there are only two treatments for silicosis, and neither of them are a cure. The first treatment, lavage, involves putting the patient under a full anaesthetic and basically flushing their lungs out with saline in an attempt to wash any free silica dust out. It is a costly, time-consuming and invasive procedure, but patients report that it relieves symptoms for several years. Unfortunately the lavage process also creates problems of its own, with risk of physical damage to the lungs.

The other treatment is a drug called tetrandrine. This drug is still experimental, but may slow the progression of silicosis. Of course, it also has side effects, including possible damage to the heart, as seen in the rats used in this month’s research paper.

So. Let’s get into it.

Today’s research is a collaborative effort from two teams based in China, one in Hainan province and the other in the Guangxi Zhang Autonomous Region.

In summary, they took a number of rats (150) and divided them into 5 groups:small-rat

  1. Healthy rats
  2. Inject lungs with silica dust, then treat with saline
  3. Inject lungs with silica dust, then treat with tetrandrine
  4. Inject lungs with silica dust, then treat with ordinary kombucha
  5. Inject lungs with silica dust, then treat with Chinese herbal kombucha

The Chinese herbal kombucha was made using a mix of herbs known for their effectiveness at treating lung conditions. These were tea, licorice, Siraitia grosvenori fruit (monk fruit, or luo han guo), and wild chrysanthemum.

The treatment phase of the experiment involved spraying the rats with the different liquids. The assumption was made that because the rats were breathing in while being sprayed that the treatment solution was taken into the lungs.

Once the treatment phase was over the rats were humanely euthenased and examined.

Basically, they found that all the rats who had been exposed to the silica dust were ill. They had all lost weight, and their lungs showed scarring, tumour growth and inflammation. The researchers also measured the amount of free silica that remained in the lungs, and looked at what cell types were present in the lung cavities.


None of the treatments offered a definite cure. However, Chinese herbal kombucha gave results that were on a par with tetrandrine treatment, in that it did some things better and some things worse. Ordinary kombucha also showed a good effect, but not nearly as good as the herbal kombucha.

So, what were the effects?

The rats who were treated with tetrandrine, like those just sprayed with saline, all had heart damage. In contrast the rats treated with kombucha and herbal kombucha showed no heart damage. So the kombucha treatment seems to have some protective effect for the heart. It is too early to tell how this might work, whether it is to do with how and where it interacts with the silica dust, or whether it is through some other, less-direct pathway.

Additionally, the rats who were treated with tetrandrine also had high levels of silica dust still present in their lungs. Those treated with Chinese herbal kombucha had significantly less silica dust present, indicating that the herbal kombucha somehow allowed the lungs to clear out the silica dust, albeit at a slow rate. The plain kombucha did not have this effect, and those rats still had a lot of silica dust in their lungs.

The rats given the kombucha and herbal kombucha treatments showed high levels of fibrosis in their lungs, like the rats treated only with saline. Tetrandrine was shown to be an effective inhibitor of fibrosis, while kombucha was not.


Chinese herbal kombucha shows distinct promise as a treatment for silicosis.

The researchers, after looking at their data, believe that Chinese herbal kombucha shows distinct promise as a treatment for silicosis. They observe that in human patients, the inhalation of the kombucha spray would be deliberate and therefore more effective. They calculate that it would take daily inhalation of herbal kombucha for approximately one year to achieve the sort of silica dust clearing that can currently be achieved by a surgical lung lavage under anaesthetic, at both lower cost and lower risk to the patient.

Obviously, they are an extremely long way from anything that might be implemented as a human medicine as yet, let alone trouble-shooting the obvious problems of trying to package up a live cellulose-forming bacteria in such a way that it will both stay alive and functional, and spray easily without blocking the nozzle of the inhaler!

But, I thought this was a pretty cool example of a group of researchers looking at kombucha and some of its special properties and thinking outside the box about what problems those special properties might solve.

I wish them the very best of luck.

Now, if you’re interested in another way that people have had a look at kombucha’s special cellulose properties, and gotten creative with what it can do, have a look at this video: vegan leather! (although apparently it doesn’t really hold up in the rain just yet – it gets sticky and starts fermenting again 🙂 )

Click here for a TED video all about growing clothing from kombucha

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By 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.


  1. Thank you for your article. I have breathed in concrete dust maybe 2 times per year over 15 years. Yesterday I helped a friend and breathed in a lot of concrete dust from sanding for over an hour inside the house. Where can I buy the Chinese herbal kambucha? And can I breath it in by steam? How many times would I need to do this and for how long each time to come close to helping my lungs? Thank you, and please keep up the research.

    1. Hi Rob, sorry to hear about the dust inhalation!

      First up, I need to make it clear that I’m not a medical or health practitioner in any way, shape or form, and that this is not medical advice.

      Secondly, this research was only performed in rats, not in humans, and there is no guarantee that the effects would be the same or similar.

      Thirdly, if you get any symptoms that feel like pneumonia or a lung infection, or anything else worrying, go get checked out immediately and tell them about the concrete dust..

      But, if you want to proceed, the instructions in the research paper are as follows: “The Chinese herbal extract was prepared by mixing tea (0.2% w/w), licorice (0.5% w/w), dried Siratia grosvenori fruit (0.5% w/w), and wild chrysanthemum (0.2% w/w) in water and boiling the resulting mixtures for 20 min. The boiled solution was then filtered, cooled to below 30°C, and mixed with a 20% dilution of the kombucha stock solution. After fermenting at 30°C for 2 weeks, the Chinese herbal kombucha solution was considered ready for use in experiments.”

      So, you’d need to buy the herbs from somewhere – probably a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, or maybe online, then prepare a strong tea out of the four herbs. Then ferment that tea with a kombucha scoby for two weeks in a warm place.

      Then you’d need to somehow breathe the droplets in. Maybe by putting some of the chinese herbal kombucha into a spray bottle, and inhaling as you spray it? Or a nasal inhaler? or spray some into an asthma inhaler ‘spacer’ and breathing it? The idea would be to try and get some of the misty vapour into your lungs. I wouldn’t use a steam inhaler because heat is not good for kombucha.

      The research article suggested that it could take up to a year of daily inhalation to clear the lungs completely.

      Best of luck

  2. Hi Stacey,

    My husband has silicosis and we want to try to make and use this solution. I just have a couple of questions…

    When you say 4 herbs, I’m just wondering which is the 4th? We have had a Chinese medicine practitioner make up a mix of mixing licorice (0.5% w/w), dried Siratia grosvenori fruit (0.5% w/w), and wild chrysanthemum (0.2% w/w) but what is the tea (0.2% w/w)? Is that the camellia plant?

    Also when you say a strong solution, so you mean for example doubling the solution above? Or for example the above solution x 500 for a 100kg person considering this solution was made for a 200g rat?

    And lastly, I’ve sourced a Scoby and kombucha solution that has been used for drinking, will this solution suffice to be mixed with the herbs? Or do I need to source a specific type of kombucha stock solution?

    Sorry for so many questions, but any help would be so very appreciated! Thank you in advance

  3. Hi Terri! I noticed you did not get a response. My boyfriend has silicosis and also wants to try this option. Did you have any luck carrying this out with your husband? Any help that you can give, I would more than greatly appreciate. Please. We are desperate.

    1. Hello

      Sorry to hear about ur boyfriend disease. May I ask how he contracted it? I was grinding porcelain tile in My bathroom and now I am scared to death.

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