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Kombucha: Fad or Beneficial?

Written by: Samantha Migliore
Friday March 8, 2019

One of the newest health trends to hit the market is a fermented tea, kombucha, with claims of having several health and probiotic benefits. Anyone who has ever tried kombucha can attest to its unique flavor and texture, but is it worth drinking?

Kombucha is fermented drink made up of tea and sugar. The beverage contains millions of live bacteria and yeasts, which are said to promote a healthy digestive system and gut microbiome. According to Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic, there is simply a lack of scientific evidence and studies that can support these claims about kombucha and digestive health. Although kombucha may have similar probiotic effects as other fermented foods, such as yogurt or sauerkraut, it is not the digestive superfood that the media claims it to be.

So, are there any benefits?

Although kombucha isn’t a magic drink to fix all your digestive problems, it does possess other bioactive compounds that prove to be beneficial. The tea itself contains polyphenols, which are compounds found in some plant-based foods. Polyphenols act as antioxidants and help decrease inflammation in the body. They have also been linked to prevention of diseases like cancer and cardiovascular disease. Kombucha also contains B Vitamins, some essential minerals, and organic acids. These compounds have been shown to have antimicrobial properties and promote detoxification.

Are there any risks associated with kombucha?

Like anything else, kombucha should be consumed in moderation. The CDC recommends an intake of only 4 oz. 1-3x per day. A typical bottle sold in commercial stores is usually 16 oz., which is greater than the daily recommended intake. Drinking excessive amounts of kombucha can cause upset stomach, nausea, headache, infection, allergic reaction, GI distress, or even going into ketoacidosis. Another potential risk associated with kombucha is with proper sanitation and production. Some kombucha is home brewed (usually found at farmer’s markets or small establishments), where non sterile conditions and contamination are a big risk. Lead poisoning can also be a factor if the tea is brewed in vessels that are made of clay or ceramic. Additionally, kombucha contains low levels of alcohol, so it should be avoided completely by pregnant women, children, people with liver/kidney disease, or compromised immune systems.

So, should I drink kombucha?

Ultimately, the choice is up to the consumer. Although kombucha doesn’t have scientifically proven digestive benefits, it does contain polyphenols, B vitamins, and other organic compounds that are proven to be beneficial to the human body. There are plenty of risks associated with the beverage, but most commercially packaged products are safe, and intake should be monitored. If you are drinking kombucha solely for the benefits, dislike the taste and find that you must force it down each time, try switching to other fermented foods that may possess similar beneficial properties instead.

Resources:

Bauer, B. A., M.D. (2017, July 08). A mug of kombucha for your health? Retrieved March 2, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/kombucha-tea/faq-20058126

Kapp, J. M., & Sumner, W. (2019). Kombucha: A systematic review of the empirical evidence of human health benefit. Annals of Epidemiology, 30, 66-70. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2018.11.001

Unexplained Severe Illness Possibly Associated With Consumption of Kombucha Tea—Iowa, 1995. (1996). JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 275(2), 96. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530260010005

What Are Kombucha's Health Benefits (and How Much Can You Safely Drink)? (2018, July 16). Retrieved March 2, 2019, from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-are-kombuchas-health-benefits-and-how-much-can-you-safely-drink/