I love working out of the same office as Jane Speight. It means that I have a friend just down the corridor, plus I have this idea that being around her and the ACBRD team makes me smarter. (Admittedly, I am the only one who thinks that.)

Jane may not be quite as excited by the working arrangements, especially on the not rare occasions where I appear at her door and go on some rant that she didn’t ask for. (‘Jane! Have you seen <insert latest thing that is pissing me off>? Let me tell you all my thoughts about it right now.’)

So, the other day, when Jane appeared at my door wanting to talk (rant) about hemp kombucha, I was more than ready to sit back and listen. For a change.


Hemp kombucha.

There is a television show on SBS in Australia called Medicine or Myth. I’d never seen it, however I did know that Dr Charlie Teo is one of the hosts. Charlie is a well-known and controversial neurosurgeon. He is joined by GP, Dr Ginni Mansberg and associate professor in immunology, Dr Ashraful Haque. They are the trio directing the show, which sees Aussie pitching home-grown treatments for treating all that ails them.

I had not ever come across the other two hosts before, but a Twitter search showed that Ashraful is interested in host-parasite interactions (and guitars). The first bit made no sense, but I like guitars. Ginni also hosts (the horribly named) Embarrassing Bodies Down Under, and is a ‘passionate anti-aging skincare geek’. I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t go to my GP for advice on how to reduce fine lines and wrinkles, but maybe I’m being narrow-minded.

The episode that screened this week featured John Leith who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a couple of years ago. And that brings us to hemp kombucha.

Within about thirty seconds of watching the segment I had already dismissed it as complete and utter rubbish. In fact, the second that John referred to hemp as a ‘superfood’ I rolled my eyes so far back into my head that I almost blacked out.

I then grabbed a piece of paper and started making notes of all the misconceptions about diabetes that were being thrown around. I’m not going to list them all here, because I have more important coffee to drink, but if Ginni Mansberg is your GP, find another one now. Her statement that ‘Poorly controlled diabetes will [….] destroy your feet’ followed by saying that an A1c of under 10% is what ‘diabetics should aim for’ was enough to set me off yelling at the computer screen.

But back to John and his magical mystery kombucha. Apparently, it cured his diabetes. That’s right, after five or six weeks of drinking this glucose busting elixir, his glucose levels were back in range. The three experts – and I am now using this term loosely – were astounded, and to make sure we knew that, made acceptable TV astounded noises. In fact, they were so caught up also making acceptable TV astounded faces that not one of them asked if the corresponding reduction of food portions, increased fresh food or boosted exercise plan could have contributed (i.e. caused) the improved glucose numbers John was seeing.

In fact, John’s claims were enough for this merry band of HCPs to send the hemp kombucha off to trial – another term I am now using very loosely. According to the voice-over person narrating the program in a serious voice, trials are run by an independent scientific team experienced in clinical research who recruit carefully selected participants.

According to the next segment, those carefully selected participants included three people: two with type 2 diabetes and one with ‘pre-diabetes’. They all drank 100ml of hemp kombucha a day and then recorded their BGL on day 1, 3 and 7 of the week-long trial.

I know. Robust.

The results were astonishing. Apparently, blood glucose results came down on average 0.8mmol/l, with 75% of participants (out of a total of 3?) reporting improvement in glucose results.

I have so.many.questions.

We were not told if the participants were doing any else to manage their diabetes. Were they taking medication? Were they on a specific eating plan? Were they exercising? Had any of them lost any weight during that week? Why did the trial (really? trial??) only run a week? Is it reasonable to suggest that three data points is really enough to confirm that a treatment is successful?

I can’t answer any of these because none of this was revealed in the program.

However, it was enough for the hosts to claim that they were excited about this as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

Let’s just think about that for a moment. This ridiculously shambolic and hopeless experiment was enough for three healthcare professionals to suggest that hemp kombucha is something people with diabetes should consider…and that the scientific community should sit up and pay attention. All this without a glance to the fact that John and his n=1 claims are also associated with a hemp kombucha business, and the least vigorous trial I have ever heard.

You know, this really could work for some people. Complementary therapies do have a place in modern medicine. Many have been studied extensively to see how they can augment science-based treatments. However, before any HCP even thinks about mentioning them, they need to be able to point to some evidence. Three people and three blood glucose checks is not evidence. It’s a twenty-minute segment in a sensationalist crappy television program.

Look, I don’t really want to link to this train wreck of a story, but I think that you need to watch it yourself to appreciate just how ridiculous it is. So here you go. (I’m sorry.)