Does Kombucha Provide Immunity?

By Ariana Estelle-Symons, Ph.D., Copyright 1999
From the January, 2000 issue of the
Kombucha Konnection Newsletter.

It happens every fall! Kombucha sales go up! There’s a good explanation – nobody wants to get the ‘flu’ and be out of work, out of school, out of commission for 2 to 6 weeks! Typical office scenario: Out of 20 people in any department, there’s one that simply does not get sick – and if they do – it’s short lived. Chances are, this person drinks Kombucha. Of course, there are those lucky ones that just happen to have one heck of a well-functioning immune system, which is hard to maintain in our ‘toxic’ world. When the immune system is ‘out of whack’, a virus can knock you for a loop.

This year, I have been watching the "MMWR" (Morbidity & Mortality Weekly Report) from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) very closely. Although the media is not making a big deal of it, it appears that the ‘flu’ this year is a bad one. We are overdue for a ‘Pandemic’.

This information presented here comes from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ), and should help you to have a better understanding of just how dangerous influenza, ‘flu’ can be.

What Is The Flu (Influenza)?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Office of Communication
Division of Media Relations
Atlanta, GA

Flu Vaccine Information

As provided by the Information Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

(Authors note: Although I have never had a flu shot (vaccine) myself, I am presenting the following information for those of you that might consider receiving the vaccine)


Influenza Vaccine

Much of the illness and death caused by influenza can be prevented by annual influenza vaccination. Influenza vaccine is specifically recommended for people who are at high risk for developing serious complications as a result of influenza infection. These high-risk groups include all people aged 65 year or older and people of any age with chronic diseases of the heart, lung, or kidneys, diabetes, immunosuppression, or severe forms of anemia. Other groups for whom the flu vaccine is specifically recommended are residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities housing patients of any age with chronic medical conditions, and children and teenagers who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who may therefore be at risk for developing Reye syndrome after an influenza virus infection. Influenza vaccine is also recommended for people who are in close or frequent contact with anyone in the high-risk groups defined above. These people include health care personnel and volunteers who work with high-risk patients and people who live in a household with a high-risk person.

Although annual influenza vaccination has long been recommended for people in the high-risk groups, many still do not receive the vaccine. Some people are not vaccinated because of misconceptions about influenza and the vaccine.

(Note: italics are inserted by the author)

They mistakenly perceive influenza as merely a nuisance and believe that the vaccine causes unpleasant side effects or that it may even cause the flu. The truth is that influenza vaccine causes no side effects in most people. The most serious side effect that can occur after influenza vaccination is an allergic reaction in people who have a severe allergy to eggs, since the viruses used in the vaccine are grown in hens’ eggs. For this reason, people who have an allergy to eggs should not receive the influenza vaccine. Less than one-third of those who receive vaccine have some soreness at the vaccination site, and about 5% to 10% experience mild side effects, such as headache or low-trade fever for about a day after vaccination. These side effects are most likely to occur in children who have not been exposed to influenza virus in the past. Nevertheless, some older people remember earlier influenza vaccines that did, in fact, produce more unpleasant side effects. Vaccines produced from the 1940’s to the mid-1960’s were not as highly purified as modern influenza vaccines, and it was these impurities that caused most of the side effects. Since the side effects associated with these early vaccines, such as fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue, were similar to some of the symptoms of influenza, people believed that the vaccine had caused them to get the flu. However, influenza vaccine produced in the United States has never been capable of causing influenza. The only type of influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States to the present time is made from killed influenza viruses, which cannot cause infection. An influenza vaccine that is made with live influenza viruses has been developed and may be marketed in the future. This vaccine is made with viruses that can confer immunity but do not cause classic influenza symptoms.

Some people do not receive influenza vaccine because they believe it is not very effective. There are several different reasons for this belief. People who have received influenza vaccine may subsequently have an illness that is mistaken for influenza, and they believe that the vaccine failed to protect them. In other cases people who have received vaccine may indeed have an influenza infection.

( Again, italics are mine) Overall vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, depending upon the degree of similarity between the influenza virus strains included in the vaccine and the strain or strains that circulate during the influenza season. Because the vaccine strains must be chosen 9 to 10 months before the influenza season, and because influenza viruses mutate over time, sometimes mutation s occur in the circulating strains between the time vaccine strains are chosen and the next influenza season is over. These mutations sometimes reduce the ability of the vaccine-induced antibody to inhibit the newly mutated virus, thereby reducing vaccine efficacy.

Vaccine efficacy also varies from one person to another. Studies of healthy young adults have shown influenza vaccine to be 70% to 90% effective in preventing illness. In the elderly and those with certain chronic medical conditions, the vaccine is often less effective in preventing illness than in reducing the severity of illness and the risk of serious complications and death. Studies have shown the vaccine to reduce hospitalization by about 70% and death by about 85% among the elderly who are not in nursing homes. Among nursing home residents, vaccine can reduce the risk of hospitalization by about 50%, the risk of pneumonia by about 60%, and the risk of death by 75% to 80%. When antigenic drift results in the circulating virus becoming different from the vaccine strain, overall efficacy may be reduced, especially in preventing illness, but the vaccine is still likely to lessen the severity of the illness and to prevent complications and death.

Why the Vaccine Must be Taken Every Year

Although only a few different influenza viruses circulate at any given time, people continue to become ill with the flue throughout their lives. The reason for this continuing susceptibility is that influenza viruses are continually changing, usually as a result of mutations in the viral genes. Currently, there are three different influenza virus strains, and the vaccine contains viruses representing each strain. Each year the vaccine is updated to include the most current influenza virus strains. The fact that influenza viruses continually change is one of the reasons vaccine must be taken every year. Another reason is that antibody produced by a person in response to the vaccine declines over time, and antibody levels are often low 1 year after vaccination.

When To Receive Influenza Vaccine

In the United States, influenza usually occurs from about November until April. Typically, activity is very low until December, and peak activity most often occurs between late December and early March. Influenza vaccine should be administered between September and mid-November. The optimal time for organized vaccination programs for person at high risk for influenza-related medical complications is usually the period from October to Mid-November. It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination for antibody against influenza to develop and provide protection.

Vaccine for the 1999-2000 Influenza Season

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) has recommended that the trivalent influenza vaccine prepared for the 1999-2000 season include A/Beijing/262/95-like (HINI), A/Sydney/5/97-like (HeN2), and B/Beijing/184/93-like hemagglutinin antigens. For the B/Beijing/184/93-like antigen, U.S. manufacturers will use the antigenically equivalent strain B/Yamanashi/166/98 because of its growth properties and its antigenic similarity to circulating B/Beijing/184/93-like viruses. Although the current influenza vaccine can contain one or more of the antigens administered in previous years, annual vaccination with the current vaccine is necessary because immunity declines during the year following vaccination.

Recommendations for the Use of Influenza Vaccine

Influenza vaccine is strongly recommended for any person aged 6 months who, because of age or underlying medical condition, is at increased risk for complications of influenza. Groups at increased risk of influenza complications include:

Therefore, the following groups should be vaccinated:


General Population

Physicians should administer influenza vaccine to any person who wishes to reduce the likelihood of becoming ill with influenza. Persons who provide essential community services should be considered for vaccination to minimize disruption of essential activities during influenza outbreaks. Students or other persons in institutional settings (e.g., those who reside in dormitories should be encouraged to receive vaccine to minimize the disruption of routine activities during epidemics.

Timing of Influenza Vaccination Activities

Beginning each September, persons at high risk who are seen be health-care providers for routine care or as a result of hospitalization should be offered influenza vaccine. Opportunities to vaccinate persons at high risk for complications of influenza should not be missed. The optimal time for organized vaccination campaigns for persons in high-risk groups is usually the period from October through Mid-November. It takes about 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination for antibody against influenza to develop and provide protection. In the United States, influenza activity generally peaks between late December and early March. High levels of influenza activity infrequently occurs in the contiguous 48 states before December. Administering vaccine too far in advance of the influenza season should be avoided in facilities such as nursing homes, because antibody levels might begin to decline within a few months of vaccination. Vaccine should be offered to both children and adults up to and even after influenza virus activity is documented in a community.

Vaccination Administration Route

During recent decades, data on influenza vaccine immunogenicity and side effects have been obtained for intramuscularly administered vaccine. Because recent influenza vaccines have not been adequately evaluated when administered by other routes, the intramuscular route is recommended. Adults and older children should be vaccinated in the deltoid muscle and infants and young children in the antero lateral aspect of the thigh.

Simultaneous Administration of Other Vaccines, Including Childhood Vaccines

The target groups for influenza and pneumococcal vaccination overlap considerably. For persons at high risk who have not previously been vaccinated with pneumococcal vaccine, health-care providers should strongly consider administering pneumococcal and influenza vaccines concurrently. Both vaccines can be administered at the same time at different sites without increasing the risk of side effects. However, influenza vaccine is administered each year, whereas penumococcal vaccine is not. Children at high risk for influenza-related complications can receive influenza vaccine at the same time they receive other routine vaccinations, including pertussis. (whooping cough), vaccine (DtaP or DTP). Because influenza vaccine can cause fever when administered to young children, DtaP (which is less frequently associated with fever and other adverse events than is DTP) is preferable.

For Additional Information

The Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) is available at the following Internet address:


If you do not have access to the Internet, you may call the toll-free number 888-CDC-FACT (888-232-3228) to receive a hard copy of the ACIP recommendations.

The flu vaccine and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

I had not heard of Guillain-Barre Syndrome before two years ago when I met a young woman (43) with the condition. When I first met her I thought that perhaps she might be suffering from MS, her ‘gait’ was a little ‘off’ and her speech was sometimes quite slurred. She had come to see me at the shop and wanted to purchase a Kombucha Growing Kit. I asked her if she had MS, and she "no, it’s Guillain-Barre, and I got it 4-1/2 years ago after getting a flu shot". The reason she had received the flu shot at her young age was because she worked in a nursing home, and all of the employees there got flu shots, according to the recommendation of the visiting physicians that treated the residents of the nursing home. She was the only one of the group that ended up with this strange and rare malady, which left her unable to work, and often, unable to walk. Her neurologist told her that there was a ‘slight possibility’ that she had this rare disease due to the flu vaccine, but that it would be a difficult fact to prove.

I first met Brenda on one of her ‘good days’, when she was experiencing weakness in one leg and arm, and had problems bumping into things. Later, I was to see her having extreme weakness and using a walker. A few months ago I spoke with her daughter, and learned that Brenda is living in another state with a family member, is on disability, and now receives home health-care.

Meeting Brenda of course aroused my curiosity about Guillain-Barre Syndrome. I was not able to find out much about it, but did find this interesting report by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), and share it with you here. The following (part 3 & 4), of a multi-part paper, the first 2 sections being devoted to the importance of receiving the influenza vaccine (which is covered in another section of this newsletter).

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and Possible Association with Influenza Vaccine: Questions and Answers.

  1. What is Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)?

    GBS is a rare disease that effects the nervous system and is characterized by loss of reflexes and temporary paralysis (loss of muscle strength.) The muscle weakness usually beings in the lower extremities (legs) and moves to the upper extremities (arms). The main symptoms of GBS are weakness, numbness, tingling, prickling, and increased sensitivity that spread over the body. Muscle paralysis usually starts in the feet and legs, and can sometimes involve respiratory muscles that help with breathing. Most patients recover, but up to 6% of persons with GBS may die from complications of their illness.

  2. What causes Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)?

    The actual cause(s)of GBS is unknown. More than half of all patients with GBS report having had an infectious illness in the 1 to 4 weeks prior to the onset of neurologic symptoms.

    Campylobacter, a type of bacterium sometimes found in inadequately cooked food, has been implicated as a possible cause of GBS, There have been rare reports of GBS after the administration of vaccines, most commonly after influenza vaccine.

  3. How often does Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) occur after influenza vaccination?

    The vast majority (95%) of patients with GBS do not report having received any vaccine (including influenza vaccine) in the weeks prior to developing GBS. The 1976 swine influenza vaccine was found to increase the rate of GBS slightly less than one case per one hundred thousand (100,000) vaccinations. Subsequent influenza vaccines prepared from other virus strains have not been clearly associated with an increased frequency of GBS. A recently completed study suggests the 1992-93 and 1993-94 influenza vaccines may have increased the rate of GBS by one case per million (1,000,000) vaccinations. (CDC 1998). The possible risk of developing GBS following immunization is so small that it is difficult to study and accurately estimate.

  4. If I have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) in the past, should I receive influenza vaccine?

    Avoiding future influenza vaccinations may be prudent in persons known to have developed GBS within 6 weeks of a previous influenza vaccination. However, for most persons with a history of GBS who are at high risk for severe complications from influenza, many experts believe the established benefits of influenza vaccination justify yearly vaccination. (CDC1998), During different flu epidemics occurring from 1972-1981, estimated rates of influenza-associated hospitalization have ranged from approximately 200 to 300 hospitalizations per million (1,000,000) for people age 5-44 years and from 2,000 to greater than 10,000 hospitalizations per million (1,000,000) for people age 65 years or older.

  5. If I received an influenza vaccine in 1992-93, 1993-94, 1998-1999 (or any season), should I be concerned about developing Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) now or in the future?

    No. Past studies suggest that if one were to develop GBS after influenza vaccination, it would be most likely to occur during the first six weeks after vaccination. Therefore if more than six weeks have occurred since you received your flu shot, there is no need for concern. VAERS date for 1998-99 is reassuring, because the number of reported GBS cases is lower than past seasons. As always, should you develop any unusual symptoms that are of concern to you, consult your physician. He or she may choose to report any such event to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) at 1-800-822-7967

  6. Are there other vaccines that are associated with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)?

    Yes. GBS has been reported to occur after a type of rabies vaccine that is not used in the United States. Data do not indicate an increased risk for GBS after oral polio or tetanus vaccines, although rare cases have been reported. There is no evidence to suggest an increased risk after other vaccines, including Haemophilus influenzae type b, measles-mumps-rubella, or hepatitis B vaccines. (IOM 1994) (Tuttle 1997) (Hughes 1996).

  7. Is the risk for Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) increased if someone receives multiple vaccines at the same time?

    No. There is no information to indicate that receipt of several vaccines simultaneously increases the risk for GBS.

  8. Is influenza vaccine covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)?

    No. Influenza vaccine is not covered under the program. The VICP covers childhood vaccines recommended for routine administration by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regardless of the recipient’s age. Since adults also receive ‘childhood’ vaccines (d.g., rubella vaccine), there is no age restriction on who may file a claim. A person who develops GBS following influenza vaccination may seek medical and monetary assistance/compensation from a variety of sources, including the Social Security Administration, state assistance program, or other legal remedies. Currently covered vaccines are: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP, DtaP, DT, TT or Td), measles, mumps, rubella (MMR or any components), polio (OPV or IPV), hepatitis B (HBV), Haemophilus influenza type b (Hib), and varicella vaccines (VZV).

  9. What is the Federal government doing to study the possible risk of Guillain-Barre Syndrome GBS) related to influenza vaccine?

    CDC will continue to evaluate the risk of GBS following influenza vaccination using data from the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS, a program co-managed by the CDC and FDA, provides a mechanism for the collection and analysis of adverse events associated with vaccines currently licensed in the United States. This program relies on reports filed by health care providers, product manufacturers, vaccine recipients, or their parents/guardians. Approximately 10,000-12,000 reports are filed annually. VAERS serves as a warning system for increases in the number of adverse events and the detection of rare side effects. Additional information on VAERS can be obtained on the Internet (http://www.cdc.gov/nip/vaers.htm) or by calling the VAERS Hotline at (1-800-822-7967). Should the need arise to conduct further validation studies, they will be done. The sequence of events for 1992-94 study is provided below as an example.

    Clusters of GBS cases reported after receiving the 1993-94 influenza vaccine were first identified by CDC in November, 1993. Reports to VAERS were therefore carefully monitored through April 1994, when the number of such reports appeared to have been elevated relative to the reports from the previous 3 influenza season. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) was informed. The ACIP statement for the 1994-95 influenza season was modified to include a discussion about this possible increase. A study with the University of Maryland (Lasky 1998) was organized for the 1993-94 season (and the 1992-93 season as a comparison). The preliminary results of this study were presented to the ACIP in February 1997, in time for inclusion in the recommendations for the 1997-98 influenza season (CDC 1998). The final results of this study were published in December 1998.

  10. Where can I get more information about vaccines?

Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) and the 1992-93 and 1993-94
Influenza Vaccines: Questions and Answers

  1. Why isn’t an increase in VAERS reports alone enough to indicate a problem with the vaccine?
    1. An increase in efficiency of reporting to VAERS (e.g., new easier reporting form);
    2. An increase in amount of vaccine administered (i.e., vaccine coverage);
    3. An increase in the "background" rate of GBS due to other causes but not vaccine;
    4. An increase in risk associated with a vaccine.
  1. How do your sort out which is the most likely cause of the increase in VAERS reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS)?

    GBS does not uniquely (only) occur after vaccination (in fact, it occurs rarely after vaccination). There is also no laboratory marker available to distinguish whether a specific GBS case is caused by the influenza vaccine or not.

Over the years, there has been a great deal of ‘misinformation’ about the components present in Kombucha Tea. One ‘myth’ that has been generated is that Kombucha actually contains high amounts of ‘antibiotics’. This just is not true. Antibiotics (as we know them) are not present in Kombucha. However, the effects of drinking KT seem to indicate that there must be ‘antibacterial/antiviral’ activity. Personally, I think that a great deal of the benefits reported from drinking KT must be attributed to the "tea" itself that we use to brew Kombucha. Green Tea, which has the most readily available polyphenols has been known for centuries to have some anti-microbial properties. People who drink a lot of Green Tea don’t suffer from the 100 or more rhinoviruses as much as people who do not drink Green Tea.

It could be that Kombucha Tea is an ‘immuno-regulator’ – a substance that that not only stimulates an under active immune system, but also helps prevent the immune system from overreacting to invaders – or – substances that the body falsely identifies as invaders. Many people with life-long allergy problems report themselves to be much improved after drinking Kombucha Tea. It could also be called an ‘immune stimulant’, a term coined by German Researchers to identify substances that help to stimulate the immune system. We don’t know ‘how’ Kombucha helps to boost the immune system, we just know that it does. At Harmonic Harvest, there’s not a day that passes that we don’t receive some sort of correspondence from someone out there that ‘just feels better’ since they began to drink Kombucha Tea. The following are excerpts from some of this correspondence.

Flu testimonial - Bob
Email from Bob, re the ‘flu’

Hello Ari,
Just wanted to let you know the good news here in L.A.

As you probably are aware, this years flu bug is a real ‘booger’. Working in the Fitness Center, I’m in constant contact with people, sometimes closer than I want to be, and we’ve had hundreds of people in here coughing, sneezing, sweating, etc., that were really sick with the flu. Last year I got it really bad, nearly ended up in the hospital, and lost two weeks from work. This year – I won’t lie and say I didn’t catch it at all – but – I only had the sniffles, a little cough for 3 days, and didn’t even feel bad enough to take off from work. As soon as I heard about people getting this flu I upped my consumption of KT. I drink quite a bit normally (about a quart a day), but I doubled that when people started sneezing on me. Wish I’d have started drinking KT years ago. Oh well, better late than never. By the way, I really like the Tibetan Kombucha flavor better than the one I had before.

Thanks for all your help,

Kombucha & Immunity

In 1996, and again in late 1998, Harmonic Harvest sent out a "Kombucha Questionnaire" to Kombucha brewers/drinkers throughout the world. When compiling the data from the respondents, we made an interesting discovery. Among the many health benefits reported by these Kombucha drinkers, there was one that we considered to be quite amazing;

Over 80% reported an increased immunity to colds and flu (Influenza)!

Regardless of age, occupation, or place of residence, these people found themselves virtually cold & flu free after they began to drink kombucha. If they did ‘catch a bug’, it appears that they were symptomatic for a shorter period of time and their recovery was rapid, without the ongoing residual effects that often follow a bout of a cold or the flu.

At this point in time, we don’t know how or why the ingestion of Kombucha Tea can provide increased immunity to the common cold or the ‘flu’ (influenza). We do know that Kombucha seems to ‘boost the immune system’, and that it appears to possess anti-microbial properties, and can have an effect on pathogenic bacteria. The anti-bacterial, and antiviral qualities are not fully understood, and the evidence to date is primarily anecdotal, provided by the thousands of Kombucha drinkers that have contacted us over the years with their reports of ongoing improved health.

Some possibilities: