What is Kombucha?
Known as the “Immortal Health Elixir” by the Chinese and originating in the Far East around 2,000 years ago, kombucha is a beverage with tremendous health benefits
Kombucha is a fermented beverage of black tea and sugar that’s used as a functional food. It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that are responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar. After being fermented, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, b-vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of acid (acetic, gluconic and lactic), which are tied with the following effects:
- Improved Digestion
- Weight Loss
- Increased Energy
- Cleansing and Detoxification
- Immune Support
- Reduced Joint Paint
- Cancer Prevention
The SCOBY: a Colony of Microbes
The sugar-tea solution is fermented by bacteria and yeast commonly known as a “SCOBY” (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Although it’s usually made with black tea, kombucha can also be made with green tea too.
The SCOBY, or Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, is the collection of microbes responsible for turning sweet tea into a probiotic beverage. Essentially, it is a living colony of beneficial organisms that turn sugar into healthful acids and probiotics.
SCOBYs are often called “Mushrooms” and are the reason Kombucha is sometimes called “Mushroom Tea.” On a practical level, a SCOBY is an unattractive rubbery disc that covers the surface of the brewing liquid to seal it off from the air. This allows fermentation to happen in an anaerobic (air free) environment.
You may also hear a SCOBY called “The Mother” as it is the parent culture that creates the tea. During the brewing process, the SCOBY also often creates a “baby” or secondary culture on top of itself, which can then be used to brew other batches.
If properly taken care of, a SCOBY can last for many years.
This tangy fermented beverage contains beneficial probiotics and acids. It is lower-calorie than other carbonated beverages like soft drinks, with only about 30 calories per cup (8 ounces). Kombucha is fat-free and does not contain any protein.
One cup does contain about seven grams of carbohydrates and about 20% of the daily value of B-Vitamins, according to the label of the popular GT brand. Eight ounces also provides:
- Bacillus coagulans GBI-30 6086: 1 billion organisms
- S. Boulardii: 1 billion organisms
- EGCG 100mg
- Glucuronic Acid 10mg
- L(+) Lactic Acid 25mg
- Acetic Acid 30 mg
Kombucha Benefits and Probiotics
This ancient health tonic is attributed with several health benefits. The nutrients it contains are wonderful at supporting the body in various ways. It is important to note that while there is an abundance of anecdotal evidence from avid supporters, studies about kombucha are lacking.
To be clear- it isn’t some magic pill or silver bullet, but it may help the body function well by supporting:
- Liver detoxification
- Improved pancreas function
- Increased energy
- Better digestion
- Improved mood (helps with anxiety/depression)
- Reducing Candida (yeast)
- Helps nutrient assimilation
- May be beneficial for weight loss
These benefits could be partially due to the concentration of beneficial enzymes and acids present in kombucha, including Gluconacetobacter, Lactobacillus and Zygosaccharomyces.
1. Improving Digestion
The research is still out on the specific way Kombucha affects digestion, but we do know that it contains probiotics, enzymes and beneficial acids and these have been researched for their health benefits.
Harvard Medical School explains that a healthy gut will have 100 trillion + microorganisms from 500 different identified species. In this sense, we truly are more bacterial than human. There has been a lot of emerging research on the dangers of an overly sanitary environment and how overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial soaps and products is literally changing the structure of our gut.
Drinks like Kombucha, Water Kefir, Milk Kefir, and fermented food like Sauerkraut contain billions of these beneficial bacteria, enzymes and acids that help keep the gut in balance.
Kombucha can also help heal candida yeast from overpopulating within the gut because it helps restore balance to the digestive system. Kombucha is a great way to fight candida because it contains live probiotic cultures that help the gut to repopulate with good bacteria while crowding out the candida yeast. Kombucha does have bacteria, but these are not harmful pathogen bacteria, instead they are the beneficial kind (called “apathogens”) that compete with “bad” pathogen bacteria in the gut and digestive tract.
One thing to mention here is that candida or other digestive problems can sometimes be complicated issues to fix and symptoms might actually get worse before getting better. This doesn’t mean that kombucha isn’t effective or is exacerbating the problem, just that gut problems aren’t always a straight path to healing and at times some patience or trial and error is needed.
2. Natural Detoxification and Liver Support
The detoxifying capacity of kombucha is immense. A perfect example is in its ability to counteract liver cell toxicity.
The liver is one of the body’s main detoxification organs. Kombucha is high in Glucaric acid, which is beneficial to the liver and aids its natural detoxification.
As Kombucha also supports healthy gut bacteria and digestion, it helps the body assimilate food more easily and provides quick and easy energy without caffeine.
3. Immune Boost
Kombucha is naturally high in antioxidants and supportive of the immune system. Again, there is no magic pill or silver bullet when it comes to immune function- it is best to support the body in its natural immune process.
It contains a compound called D-saccharic acid-1,4-lactone (or DSL for short) that has amazing antioxidant properties. This compound is not present in unfermented teas (though many teas are high in other antioxidants). DSL has been specifically identified as beneficial for cellular detoxification.
Scientists suspect that DSL and the Vitamin C present in kombucha are its main secrets in protecting against cell damage, inflammatory diseases, tumors and overall depression of the immune system. Also, we know the probiotics found in kombucha support the immune system.
4. Joint Care
Kombucha is loaded with glucosamines, which are often recommended for joint health and to alleviate joint pain. Glucosamines naturally increase hyaluronic acid in the body which supports the preservation of collagen and prevents arthritic pain. In some trials, hyaluronic acid provided relief similar to over the counter pain killers.
Kombucha’s ability to invigorate people is credited to the formation of iron that is released from the black tea during the fermentation process. It also contains some caffeine (although in very small amounts) and b-vitamins, which can energize the body.
Through a special process known as chelation, the iron released helps boost blood hemoglobin, improving oxygen supply to tissues and stimulating the energy-producing process at the cellular level. In other words, by helping the body create more energy (ATP), the ancient tea can help those who regularly drink it stay energized.
6. Weight Loss
Data from a study in 2005 showed evidence that kombucha improves metabolism and limits fat accumulation. Though we need to see more studies before we can confirm these results, it makes sense that kombucha supports weight loss since it’s high in acetic acid (just like apple cider vinegar is) and polyphenols, which are proven to help increase weight loss.
7. Cancer Prevention & Alternative to Sugary Sodas
Kombucha is a great alternative to sugar-laden drinks like soda. It is naturally carbonated. This means that the secondary fermentation process naturally produces bubbles and carbonation. Sodas, on the other hand, are artificially carbonated by forcing carbonation into the liquid.
This fizzy fermented tea is an attractive alternative to other carbonated beverages and provides probiotics and nutrients not present in soda. Kombucha also contains less sugar than soft drinks. The sugar in the recipe is simply the food for the beneficial bacteria and is largely consumed during the fermentation process.
As we know, one of the most common contributing factors to cancer is sugar. Drinking alternative sugar-laden drinks are therefore highly recommended. Kombucha is beneficial for cancer prevention and recovery. A study published in Cancer Letters found that consuming glucaric acid found in kombucha reduced the risk of cancer in humans.
Important Caveat About The Benefits
I’ve seen thousands of posts claiming kombucha cures everything from cancer to wrinkles. It is important to note that there are no confirmed studies about kombucha’s benefits and safety.
At the same time, there are anecdotal reports of its benefits and many people love its taste and the energy it gives them. Don’t expect kombucha to solve your health problems, but it is a great refreshing drink with some added probiotics.
Potential Risks and Side Effects of Kombucha
I love this ancient fermented tea and drink it often, but there are some cautions and side effects to be aware of when consuming it.
Kombucha Risks and Cautions
- Pregnant and nursing moms and anyone with a medical condition should check with a doctor before consuming. It contains both caffeine and sugar, which should be limited during pregnancy.
- Some people experience bloating from drinking it. This may in part be due to the presence of probiotics and potential changes in gut bacteria. Anyone with a digestive disorder should consult a doctor before consuming.
- If kombucha is made incorrectly, it may contain harmful bacteria and could be dangerous. This is rare but is more common with home brews.
Oral Health Concerns
The most logical concern I’ve seen with Kombucha is its potential to cause dental problems. Since it is high in natural acids (but still lower than most sodas) it can be harmful to the teeth.
These steps may help reduce the potential for the acids in kombucha to affect teeth: drink it all in one sitting, don’t sip it throughout the day, and swish with clean water (don’t brush) right after.
The base for kombucha is black tea, and some people have concerns about its caffeine content. The amount of caffeine in kombucha varies quite a bit based on the type of tea used and the steep time. In general, it is considered to have less caffeine than soda or coffee. Caffeine content also decreases during fermentation, so the longer the ferment, the less caffeine typically left in the brew.
Sugar is used in making kombucha, and for this reason many people are concerned about the sugar content in the finished tea. Fortunately, the majority of the sugar ferments out during the fermentation process. Because the sugar is the food for the bacteria, it is not possible to make without any sugar at all. For this reason, sugar substitutes like stevia and xylitol do not work either.
Kombucha does contain a very small amount of alcohol, which has been a source of much controversy in recent years. Sources estimate that store bought brews contain 0.5% to 1.0% alcohol. To put this in perspective, a person would have to drink a six pack of kombucha to approach the alcohol in a single 12oz beer. In fact, a bottle of kombucha would have a comparable alcohol content to an over-ripe banana. Homemade kombucha also typically contains more alcohol than store bought, though still not much.
Many people love Kombucha because of its taste. The internet abounds with anecdotal stories of its benefits. Research doesn’t yet support its health-promoting properties, but it is generally considered safe to drink if from a reputable source.
We do know that it is a good source of probiotics, enzymes, and beneficial acids, and a decent source of B-vitamins. It can be made at home or found in many stores. It may not be a silver bullet for health, but it sure is tasty!
Like with any raw/fermented product, those with any health condition or who are pregnant/nursing should check with a doctor before consuming.
HAPPY DRINKING KOMBUCHA!!!