Is Kombucha Healthy?
Beauty bloggers, crossfitters, celebrity chefs and your weird hippy neighbour have all been chanting the hype about kombucha’s wellness properties. But what’s the truth versus the puff?
In this post, we’ll focus on the main three wellness claims associated with kombucha: improving digestion, improving energy levels, and helping lower blood sugar levels.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha may seem trendy, but it has actually been around in it’s current form for at least 200 years and researchers have found evidence that cultures have been fermenting tea for over 2,000 years. Kombucha is made by brewing tea, adding sugar, and using a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) ferment it for at least a week and to up to a month or more. The SCOBY isn’t pretty, it’s a gelatinous mass of bacteria and yeast that looks a bit scary, but it’s actually similar to a vinegar ‘mother’ or a sourdough starter. It helps propagate and drive the fermentation process.
What do we know about kombucha?
First, let’s just start off by clearly stating that actual kombucha drinks on their own have not been rigorously studied and researched by scientists. When a health claim about kombucha is referencing a scientific article, it’s often pointing to a scientific study that was focused on fermented foods in general and those results are being extrapolated to kombucha. The scientific studies that have been conducted using actual kombucha are lab bench studies looking at cells, or they use laboratory rats. These types of studies are great at giving scientists a possible theory to what effect kombucha may have on humans, but it’s not a guarantee since humans are more complex than petri dishes or lab rats.
Does kombucha help with digestion?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage. It contains live bacteria and yeast and these microbes are believed to have probiotic benefits. (1) Probiotics are defined as living microbes that help improve the gut flora that is critical for healthy digestion and overall wellness. But there is much debate about how, if any, of these microbes in kombucha actually make it to your gut alive (2). Additionally, today there is scrutiny around probiotics in general, regarding their long term impact. New research shows that probiotics have a limited lifespan, and to get the true benefits we have to regularly eat probiotic foods (3). So, drinking one bottle of kombucha may not fix your digestive woes, but adding it regularly to your diet might help (or, it might not change anything).
Does kombucha improve engery levels?
Kombucha contains B vitamins and antioxidants, both of which are critical to keeping energy levels high (1). The B vitamins and antioxidants in kombucha come from the tea that is used to make kombucha, with green tea containing higher levels of B vitamins than compared to black tea. So yes, drinking kombucha will help improve energy levels, but so will drinking green tea. If you’re not a green tea lover, then maybe give kombucha a try since it’s flavor is more bubbly, bright and refreshing than a regular cup of tea.
Does kombucha improve blood sugar levels?
The theory that kombucha helps improve sugar levels comes from a 2012 study conducted on diabetic rats that were fed kombucha. It was found that the rats fed kombucha had better glucose response rates, and better liver-kidney function when compared to diabetic rats that were fed regular black tea (4). This is a very interesting study, and it gives some insight into how kombucha may have health benefits for humans, but again, it needs more research and follow up to bring it from theory to fact.
Is kombucha healthy?
Even though there isn’t any gold-standard research on kombucha yet, we know that a diet low in sugar and high in probiotics, vitamins and antioxidants is healthy. Swapping out a can of sugary soft drink, which has around 39 grams of sugar, for a bottle of kombucha, which has between 3-6 grams of sugar is the healthier option. But drinking plain green tea, which has zero sugar, could be even healthier.
Wellness is a spectrum, and kombucha definitely leans on the healthier side. Even if we don’t have all the facts yet, we do know that it’s a fermented beverage that has B vitamins, antioxidants and low sugar (3). Those are all the things I want in my life, making kombucha my favorite bubbly drink.
- S. Villarreal, et al (2018), Understanding Kombucha Tea Fermentation: A Review. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29508944
- T. Wilkins, J. Sequoia (2017), Probiotics for Gasrointestinal Conditions: A Summary of the Evidence. Retrieved from: https://www.aafp.org/afp/2017/0801/p170.html
- V. Bell et al (2018), One Health, Fermented Foods, and Gut Microbiota. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6306734/
- A. Aloulou et al (2012), Hypoglycemic and Antilipidemic Properties of Kombucha Tea in Alloxan-induced Diabetic Rats. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22591682