It seems like everyone's talking about kombucha these days and how including it into your diet on the daily brings on an array of benefits. Is that really the case and is kombucha the new health wonder drink?
What Is Kombucha Anyway?
You might be hearing about it all the time, but do you really know how kombucha is actually made? The process starts by adding specific strains of bacteria, yeast, and some form of sugar (cane sugar, honey, maple syrup) to black or green tea and letting it ferment for at least a week, creating a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, also known as SCOBY. So, basically, kombucha is a fancy name for fermented tea.Originating from Northeast China around 220 B.C, its name is thought to be derived from a Korean physician dr. Kombu, who brought the fermented tea to Japan as a curative for Emperor Inkyo. From there, it spread to Europe and the first definitive recorded history of kombucha came from Russia and Ukraine at the end of the 19th century, with reports of the "miracle mushroom tea.' Ever since it reached the US market in the mid-20th century, it became an item of interest, both for the scientists and the consumers.Depending on the type of bacteria and yeast, as well as tea leaves used, there can be a large number of fermented variations, making it easy to play around with different flavors and levels of carbonation. Naturally, kombucha by itself doesn't taste very pleasantly (as you might imagine), and that's why all the companies out there add fruit extracts and other flavors to make it drinkable.
The Potential Benefits
Thanks to its growing popularity, there have been various studies conducted on its potential benefits, and although they do look promising, it's still important to note that none of them claim it to be the magical health drink. Nevertheless, it's been linked to:
- Helping the gut by increasing the number of healthy bacteria - due to the fermentation process, some of the bacteria that get created are known for their probiotic properties, replenishing the gut microbiome and enriching the existing flora in order to balance out the "bad bacteria."
- Fighting off the bad bacteria - one of the byproducts of fermentation is acetic acid, which is also the reason for its carbonated texture. Acetic acid has been studied for its antimicrobial and antifungal properties which don't affect the good bacteria and are thought to help reduce inflammation and toxic overload.
- Reduced risk of heart disease - studies have shown its connection to improved cholesterol markers by lowering the bad (LDL) and maintaining the good (HDL).
- High antioxidant properties - the green tea version of kombucha packs even more potential benefits due to the antioxidant profile of green tea, and research shows its positive effect on the liver and its ability to detox.
- Reduced blood sugar levels - due to green tea's known effects on insulin and blood sugar levels, this type of kombucha has also been linked to positive results, although more tests need to be done to solidify them.
But, Is It Really For Everyone?
Antioxidants and probiotics are incredibly important in keeping our gut microbiome healthy and to aid in our fight against free radicals and oxidative damage, and for these properties alone, it would be safe to assume everyone will benefit from adding a drop of 'bucha into their lives.Well, just like with everything else, if it works for some people, it doesn't mean it works for everyone. Because of its high probiotic content and carbonated texture, it could cause an upset stomach and bloating, especially in those dealing with digestive issues and autoimmune conditions. There can also be an increased risk of infection in people with an already weakened immune system, like those dealing with cancer, kidney disease or HIV. Pregnant and nursing women are also advised against it due to the fact that kombucha is unpasteurized.Another important thing to be aware of is how many kombucha drinks can be loaded with added sugar in order to make the product more appealing to customers. Always check the ingredient list before grabbing the bottle and make sure there are no unnecessary ingredients such as 30g of cane sugar and fruit juice. There needs to be some sugar in there for the fermentation process to be successful, but only a tiny bit is enough, so skip the ones that are just going to cause your blood sugar to spike up.
How Much Is Too Much?
A delicious carbonated drink can get easy to become addicted to (hello Coca-Cola), so keeping yourself in check and limiting your intake to only the recommended serving is going to be your best bet, even if you feel like it really aids your digestion.Most kombuchas come in 16-oz bottles and contain TWO servings, not one. Check the label for instructions and try to limit your daily intake to those two servings, and not more. If you're not experiencing any problems, good - stay on the same amount in order to keep it that way instead of taking it as a sign to double up.Whether your body likes it or not, kombucha is still carbonated, can be high in sugar and calories, and contains a good amount of probiotics. Use it wisely.
Although kombucha may be great for some people, especially when consumed in moderation, it's important to note that none of the studies so far have been human-conducted. Therefore, more research needs to be done in order to learn about its benefits and for kombucha to claim its title as the next best "health wonder drink."