The reason for writing this short article came about after posting a previous article on our social media regarding probiotic supplements, in which Kombucha was listed as a food source rich in probiotics, we received a few messages asking whether it was actually any good. So we thought a quick article to clarify our position on it would help.
Despite being around for over 2000 years, Kombucha has only recently made it on to the health hype train, but it has fast become known by many as ’The Elixir of Health’, because of this, there’s not that much in the way of high quality scientific research available. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is just hype, just that the science needs to catch up. Here we take a look at what the current scientific research has shown so far and whether it is worth adding this product in to your diet for health reasons or not.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a sweetened black tea (or sometimes green), fermented by a mixture of yeasts and bacteria to form a gelatinous like mat on the surface. This is known as a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). This SCOBY ferments the sugar, producing vinegar, alcohol and other byproducts. A SCOBY is needed to start the fermentation process, once fermented the liquid is slightly carbonated. Kombucha contains sugar, a small amount of alcohol (generally under 0.5%), B Vitamins and antioxidants.
What about the health benefits?
If you were to believe the usual suspects in the alternative health crowd you may think this tea can cure pretty much everything. The real problem at the moment as mentioned, is the lack of scientific evidence to support many of these claims. Claims of curing everything from cancer to arthritis and it’s digestions supporting benefits are still yet to be researched thoroughly enough to draw any clear conclusion.
We can however assume through an understanding of basic science that some health benefits claimed do hold substance, such as the benefits to good gut bacteria as Kombucha is rich in probiotics. The downside here is that when Kombucha is pasturised the probiotics do not survive the process, whereas unpasturised may pose a food safety issue if not produced in the correct sanitary conditions (such has been the case with a few home brew instances that have lead to problems). Additionally the probiotic levels will vary from brew to brew due to factors such as starting SCOBY, environment and even tea used. For more information on the health benefits of Probiotics see our fact sheet here: http://www.nourishrestaurants.co.uk/blog/2016/8/11/probiotics-fact-sheet-by-david-stache
In addition to the benefits of the probiotics within Kombucha on the body there’s also the fact that it contains B Vitamins which play a key role in creating new cells and energy within the body. Kombucha also contains antioxidants too, known for the role in fighting free radicals within the body.
What about the energy boost claim?
This one is quite simple to explain, tea contains caffeine and it is this which leads to the ‘energy boost’ type feeling many people report. The sugar amount contained is negligible once the fermented product is ready to drink, so this would not offer the reported energy boost many report.
Should i drink Kombucha?
There have been a handful of cases relating to toxicity issues where individuals have home brewed Kombucha, it’s important to note that in the majority of negative issues some of the basic sanitary requirements when producing food or drinks for consumption have been completely ignored or the individuals have had a pre-existing immune issues exacerbated by high toxicity levels from poor home brewing technique. In general Kombucha is safe to drink in moderation, as long as it is brewed correctly.
There’s no real need as such to drink Kombucha, it’s not a magical potion, despite it lasting the test of time in many cultures, there’s still not enough research behind many of the claims. It does however hold some health benefits and it tastes quite nice too and is fine to be enjoyed in moderation. If you enjoy it then adding it an already varied and nutrient rich diet would be a positive. If your diet is poor then simply adding Kombucha is not going to make a difference. As a final note, pregnant women, children and those with immune system issues should avoid the unpasturised kind.
Update 12th January 2017: For a much more in depth piece on what the scientific evidence says on Kombucha then check out this article here by the guys at Healthy But Smart who contacted us to let us know they shared the same views as us on this subject https://healthybutsmart.com/kombucha-health-benefits/
We also recommend you check out their Facebook page here too: www.facebook.com/healthybutsmart
Stearns C.J, Lynch M D J et al. Bacterial Biogeography of the human digestive tract. SCI REP. 2011; 1: 170.
Jayabalan, R., Malbaša, R. V., Lončar, E. S., Vitas, J. S. and Sathishkumar, M. (2014), A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, 13: 538–550. doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12073