Hailed for its gut health benefits and medicinal properties, kombucha has quickly become the go to health elixir for the health food, juice and detox devotees among us. But what is it? And do the health claims stack up?
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fizzy, slightly sweet and acidic fermented tea with taste comparisons to apple cider. It is made by fermenting sweetened black tea with a flat, pancake-like culture of yeasts and bacteria called the “kombucha mushroom”. Though not actually a mushroom, the culture gets its name because of the shape and colour of the slimy sac that forms on top of the tea after it ferments.
What are the health claims?
Kombucha fans believe the fizzy drop can cure a wide range of conditions including insomnia, intestinal disorders, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple sclerosis and even baldness!! Others point to its gut-friendly bacteria, immune boosting and age-reversing properties.
Does it work?
There are certainly some beneficial compounds in kombucha including antioxidants, B vitamins, bacteria and yeast, which may assist with promoting a healthy balance of gut flora. The drop is typically low in sugar and although having trace elements of alcohol, is seen as a natural, food-based probiotic useful for restoring and maintaining a healthy gut.
A quick review of the available literature quickly yields conflicting messages ranging from “the ultimate health drink” to the more damning conclusions of “unsafe medicinal tea”. Many of kombucha’s health claims are attributed to its antioxidant activity. Although kombucha is indeed rich in antioxidants, containing more antioxidants than other teas, at present there is simply not enough evidence to compare it against other standards like green tea catechins and vitamin C.
Kombucha is also commonly praised for its beneficial influence on the digestive system. While animal studies have found kombucha to be more effective than black tea at healing stomach ulcerations, these findings are yet to be replicated in humans. Certainly, the protective effects of kombucha may well be as good as those of black tea, but at this point the evidence in humans is lacking.
So should we sip it or ditch it?
While certainly intriguing, it’s a case of watch this space. Kombucha may very well turn out to possess some proven health-promoting activities, but there just isn’t enough evidence at present to support the many health claims.
Given the current lack of evidence and its boutique price tag, I would be relying on those fermented foods already supported by science. For your probiotic hit, reach for fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut or kimchi, kefir and probiotic rich yogurts.