Kombucha is a fermented, lightly effervescent, sweetened black or green tea drink. It first originated in north-east China more than 2000 years ago. By the early 20th century, it had spread to Russia, Germany and other parts of Europe. It is produced by fermenting sugared tea using a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.
Many personal experiences and testimonials of kombucha drinkers are available throughout the world on its ability to protect against a vast number of metabolic and infectious conditions. There have been constant debates and studies within the scientific field to investigate the true effect of kombucha to our health. This article will bring you the potential benefits and harms of kombucha.
Figure 1. Commercial Kombucha
4 Benefits of Kombucha
1. Good source of probiotics
The bacteria used in kombucha’s fermentation process contain several species of lactic acid bacteria, which may have probiotic functions. Probiotics provide our gut with healthy bacteria, with multiple benefits including:
- Promote gut digestion
- Improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Boost immune system
- Reduce inflammation and allergies
- Lose weight and belly fat
2. Good source of antioxidants
Our body cells are prone to damage from free radicals, reactive molecules and everything with high oxidising power. Antioxidants protect cells from these damages. Studies on rats found that drinking kombucha regularly reduces liver toxicity caused by toxic chemicals. In short, antioxidants can potentially:
- Reduce liver damage from toxins
- Prevent tumour formation caused by oxidative damages
3. Maintain a good lipid profile
Kombucha brewed with green tea can significantly reduce total blood cholesterol, especially the ‘bad cholesterol’ (low density lipoprotein). It also helps to reduce blood triglyceride level, and consume extra tissue fat. It results in:
- Lower risk of developing high blood pressure
- Lower risk of having heart attack
- Lower risk of having stroke
- Better overall cardiovascular health
4. Regulate blood sugar levels
Fermented tea in general can slow down sugar absorption in the gut, thus regulating blood sugar levels. It also increases the level of insulin production from pancreas, which helps to reduce blood sugar level after food consumption. Put simply, it helps to:
- Reduce risk of developing type 2 diabetes
- Reduce risk of developing cardiovascular diseases
6 Potential health risks associated with Kombucha
Though there are no direct health risks associated with kombucha, much of the harm comes from excessive consumption or safety issues with the manufacturing process
- Alcoholism: Kombucha contains around 0.5% alcohol, depending on the brand and manufacturing process. Avoid it if you have a drinking problem, or are allergic to alcohol.
- Diabetes: Though kombucha could help lower risk of developing diabetes as mentioned above, many commercial brands have added sugar. Make sure to check the ingredients label before drinking your kombucha, especially if you have diabetes.
- Cardiovascular disease: Some commercial kombucha have added flavour and preservatives, which greatly increases calorie consumption. Increased calorie consumption leads to weight gain, and potential cardiovascular conditions.
- Diarrhoea: All tea products have caffeine. Excessive amounts of caffeine consumption can cause diarrhoea and abdominal discomfort.
- For people with compromised immune systems: Kombucha and fermented food support the growth of bacteria and fungus that are beneficial when our immune system is functioning. However, for people with compromised immunity (e.g. AIDs and/or certain blood cancer patients), it can cause serious infections.
- During pregnancy and breastfeeding: Avoid caffeine and alcohol-based drinks, including kombucha.