Kombucha’s Health Benefits

The mysterious kombucha has been called the “immortal health elixir.” Even though it’s also known as the tea-mushroom or Manchurian mushroom, it’s not a mushroom at all. What is it about kombucha that has attracted those seeking better health for centuries? Is kombucha really as good for your heart, brain and digestive system as some say it is? Let’s find out.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented, sweetened black tea- or green tea-based beverage. It’s made by fermenting tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY). The yeast in kombucha is frequently from the Saccharomyces or other species, and the bacteria usually includes Gluconacetobacter xylinus. The bacterium oxidizes yeast produced alcohols into acetic and other acids. Kombucha contains a small amount of alcohol (0.5%) which is enough to make it a federally regulated beverage in the United States.

There’s a controversy surrounding the origins of kombucha. Some say it was discovered more than 200 years ago while others claim the tea has been around for 20 centuries. Most likely the drink originated in Manchuria and then gradually became popular in western nations. People claim kombucha tastes like soured apple cider while others say it’s like vinegar.

Why Kombucha Is Good for You

According to those who advocate the consumption of kombucha, the drink contains a high amount of health-promoting probiotics. This occurs thanks to the fermentation process used to make the tea. Probiotics can be part of the millions of microorganisms that live in your intestinal tract. This gut flora helps with nutrient absorption and proper immune system function. After fermentation, kombucha becomes lightly carbonated and also contains B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, and three acids: acetic, gluconic and lactic.

The specific probiotics that may be found in kombucha are:

  • Gluconacetobacter
  • Acetobacter
  • Lactobacillus
  • Zygosaccharomyces

What Does the Research Say?

In the early 1900s, Russian researchers concluded that kombucha improves resistance against cancer, cardiovascular diseases, digestive problems, immune illness, and inflammatory disorders. The scientific rigor behind these studies isn’t clear, but medical interest in the health benefits of kombucha go back at least a century.

In one extensive review of more modern research, scientists concluded that kombucha is “a source of pharmacologically active molecules, an important member of the antioxidant food group and a functional food with potential beneficial health properties.”

Now, while no modern studies have undisputedly proven the benefits of kombucha, we do know that the drink is a source of beneficial probiotics, antioxidants and B vitamins. Let’s look at each one of these separately.

Kombucha Contains Probiotics

Healthy gut bacteria are the main benefit of probiotics. This may offer several advantages to your overall health, such as:

  • Producing vitamin B12, butyrate and vitamin K2
  • Prevents harmful bacteria from overgrowing in your intestines
  • Creating enzymes that destroy harmful bacteria
  • Stimulating IgA secretion, T-cells for improved immune function

Another little known fact is that your gut produces more than 95 percent of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin plays a big role in mental health, and it’s even been called the “happiness hormone.” Some research even shows that probiotics may help reduce depression symptoms.

Here are some more potential benefits to probiotic consumption:

  • Gut health: May protect against irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis
  • Antibiotic effects: Might increase the effectiveness of antibiotics and decrease the appearance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria
  • Immune system: Anti-inflammatory properties may boost immune function
  • Dermatologic: May improve skin health and reduce symptoms of eczema
  • Cardiovascular: Probiotics might help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol
  • Diabetes: Intake of probiotics may reduce the risk of developing diabetes
  • Fatty liver: Probiotics may improve a condition where you have too much fat in your liver
  • Food allergies: Those in children may be due to inadequate gut bacteria

Kombucha Contains Antioxidants

Antioxidants protect your body from dangerous free radicals which are involved in the development of many diseases. Since kombucha contains antioxidants, it might be helpful in preventing damage from free radicals. Free radicals may play a role in the development of:

  • Atherosclerosis like heart disease and stroke
  • Cancer
  • Macular degeneration
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Arthritis

Free radicals can come from:

  • Normal body process by-products like energy production and digestive enzymes
  • Processing of medications
  • Pollution and toxins

Kombucha Contains Vitamin B

The B vitamins, especially B12, are essential to good health. Vitamin B12 may play a role in your mood, energy level, brain function, heart health, skin vitality, and intestinal function.

Vitamin B12 may also play a key role in the prevention of adrenal fatigue. This condition can lead to a wide range of symptoms like:

  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Hair and skin abnormality
  • Hormonal disorder
  • Insulin resistance
  • Lightheadedness
  • Decreased sex drive or libido
  • Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Muscle or bone weakness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Weight gain
  • Food cravings

The theory behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands get worn out in time due to chronic stress, poor diet, disease or a strong emotional event. The adrenal glands are responsible for secreting stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. As you might imagine, if the regulation of these hormones is disrupted, it could lead to a wide range of problems.

Even though the vitamin B12 alone found in kombucha might not prevent or cure adrenal fatigue, if you lack the vitamin, you have a higher chance of having problems.

Should I Make or Buy Kombucha?

Kombucha is made by fermentation using a SCOBY disc that can be purchased at natural health food outlets. Brewing your own kombucha is certainly the more cost-effective way to go, and it can be a lot of fun. Plus, as you gain experience, you can modify the fermentation process to fit your tastes. You can even try adding different flavorings like lemon, apple, cranberry, grapefruit, orange or ginger root to the brew.

The homebrew process involves brewing a tea then adding a SCOBY disc and premade kombucha. You then let the mix sit for seven to 10 days. This fermentation period is what gives kombucha its health benefits.

If you are pressed for time, however, there are many premade brands of kombucha on the market. Still, you want to be careful where you buy from since the quality may vary. Also, most nutritional health experts recommend nonpasteurized kombucha since it retains more of the important nutrients.

Is Kombucha Dangerous?

There have been rare reports of illness after drinking kombucha. The reports have not been scientifically validated but have included stories about liver or kidney damage. Overfermentation may lead to too much acidity, which could be a problem as well.

If anything, major problems associated with kombucha are probably related to sterility during brewing. So, if you brew your own, make sure everything is very clean. You might even want to use plastic gloves while making the tea. If you buy your kombucha, make sure the source is trustworthy. If you have a weakened immune system due to disease or injury, you probably should avoid drinking kombucha.

A Miracle Drink?

No food or drink will protect you from all illness or keep you young forever. However, foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and probiotics may help you stay healthier and avoid illness. So, why not try brewing up some kombucha? Here’s to your health.