If you’ve explored the shelves of your local health foods store, you’re sure to have found kombucha—a bottled beverage akin to tea. Although kombucha has been around for over 2,000 years, health advocates have recently begun touting kombucha’s proposed wellness benefits, bringing it into the mainstream.
Some suggest that kombucha can heal your gut, reduce inflammation, boost your immunity and even protect you from cancer. But are these claims really true, and is kombucha actually good for your health? Here’s what’s based in fact, and what’s closer to fiction.
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage made of just a few ingredients: tea (typically green or black), sugar, yeast and bacteria. What results is a sweet and sour, carbonated drink that’s low in sugar and rich with vitamins and beneficial bacteria.
The process for making kombucha is relatively simple. The bacteria and yeast must be combined to create a “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast” (SCOBY), also called the “mother.” Tea and sugar are combined with the SCOBY and allowed to ferment over a few days. The bacteria feast on the sugar, generating acids and making the drink fizzy. This process also produces probiotics—beneficial bacteria that also live in your digestive system to keep your gut flora balanced. Kombucha is then drained and bottled for consumption!
Because of this particular combination of ingredients and the fermentation process, kombucha ends up containing a range of beneficial compounds. The beverage is rich with B vitamins, a number of healthy acids, antioxidants and, of course, probiotics. It typically ends up being low in sugar and calories, although additional ingredients like juices might increase these counts. Kombucha also often contains small amounts of caffeine and a minuscule amount of alcohol thanks to fermentation.
It is this combination of things that is kombucha’s claim to fame. When it was first created in China 2,000 years ago, monks called it the “elixir of life” because it was believed to have many health benefits.
Science behind kombucha's benefits
Modern science has allowed us to examine kombucha and its potential benefits more closely. However, research is still limited on the subject, meaning there is much left to be discovered about the drink.
Here’s what’s behind three common kombucha health claims.
- Better digestion: Probiotics are a necessary component of a healthy colon. Although your body naturally contains probiotics, and more are likely found in the foods you eat, getting more from kombucha might be beneficial if you suffer from digestive problems like bloating, inflammation and constipation. More research on the link between probiotics and human digestion is needed, but experts believe kombucha may be beneficial in this regard. Probiotics might not only affect your digestion, however. Your gut health is closely tied to many other body systems, including your immunity and mental health. Kombucha’s probiotics might be able to assist in these areas as well.
- Improved immunity: Kombucha has widely been touted as a natural way to bolster your immunity because of its many vitamins and antioxidants. It’s true that kombucha contains these compounds, especially when it’s made from green tea. Antioxidants help reduce harmful inflammation and minimize cell damage. However, drinking a small amount of kombucha each day is unlikely to transform your immune system. It may be a useful addition to a vitamin- and mineral-rich diet, however.
- Lower disease risk: Some of the most impressive claims about kombucha are rooted in its supposed abilities to prevent or aid in fighting certain diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. The research on these topics is extremely limited, and claims are largely based on trials conducted in animals. Rat studies have demonstrated kombucha’s beneficial impact on cholesterol levels, which may reduce heart disease. Similar studies indicate that kombucha may reduce blood sugar levels. And, polyphenols in green tea are believed to reduce the growth of cancer cells, but only in test-tube studies. More research on humans is needed to confirm these claims.
In sum, there isn’t enough research to definitively say how beneficial kombucha is for human health. However, based on what experts know now, it’s possible that kombucha may have more uses than we currently understand.
So, is kombucha truly healthy for you? It ultimately depends on the person. Kombucha certainly contains more vitamins and healthy compounds than other popular beverages, and it’s usually much lower in sugar than soft drinks or juices. Compared to these types of drinks, kombucha is the healthier option. However, kombucha’s probiotic components might cause trouble for people with imbalanced digestive systems, so it should be consumed with caution.
If you’re looking for a healthier beverage alternative, you might find it in kombucha! Just don’t expect it to be a miracle drink—enjoy it alongside balanced meals and a healthy lifestyle for the best health benefits.