Since its debut on supermarket shelves, kombucha has made its way into the hearts and stomachs of wellness-driven consumers.
But what is kombucha, and why has it become so popular? Are the claims about the health benefits of kombucha tea really true — or is it just another passing trend?
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented drink made from water, green or black tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. This collection of ingredients forms a substance known as a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY, that encourages the growth of good bacteria and yeast. Kombucha is slightly sweet, and it becomes carbonated during fermentation.
This may sound trendy, but nothing about the concept of kombucha is new. In fact, kombucha tea’s alleged healing properties have been touted since it originated in China more than 2,000 years ago.
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What Are the Health Benefits of Kombucha?
For some, kombucha a source of relief from digestive woes. Others drink it hoping it will prevent chronic disease. Overall, claims about the health benefits of kombucha range widely. Enthusiasts of the drink say that kombucha:
- Improves gut health and digestion
- Lowers risk of infection and cancer
- Helps treat depression and improves mental health
- Lowers cholesterol and risk for heart disease
- Aids weight loss
- Helps manage diabetes
So, what’s the verdict?
Kombucha fans may be disappointed to learn that most of these health claims stem from experiments performed on rats. It doesn’t mean the claims are false — it just means that there is no real way to know whether drinking kombucha every day will, for example, prevent cancer.
But what we do know is promising. The fermentation process that creates kombucha ensures that the fizzy drink is rich in probiotics, the live bacteria that create a healthy, harmonious environment in our guts.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, probiotics found in yogurt, sauerkraut, and kombucha may help prevent antibiotic-related diarrhea as well as the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, hay fever, and eczema. Probiotics are also believed to improve gut health, reduce colic in infants, and alleviate other conditions.
Not All Kombucha Is Created Equal
In addition to a hefty dose of probiotics, most kombucha tea contains essential B vitamins and antioxidants. The drink’s nutritional content varies depending on the brand, and not all kombucha tea is made to the same standards.
Store-bought varieties of kombucha can contain unexpectedly high amounts of sugar so pay attention to nutrition labels. Also be wary of home-brewed kombucha — fermentation in nonsterile conditions can contaminate the product, sometimes with dangerous results.
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Is Kombucha Tea Safe for Everyone to Drink?
In healthy people, probiotics produce little to no side effects, notes the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. The most severe symptom reported is usually mild digestive upset such as gas.
But for those with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women and those who are critically ill, probiotics can present more serious complications. Since probiotics contain live microorganisms, people with compromised immune systems who consume them risk developing life-threatening infections.
Consult Your Doctor Before Trying Kombucha
As with any new food or dietary supplement, consult your doctor before adding kombucha to your diet. Remember that no supplement is a substitute for a healthy diet and regular exercise.
For more living and wellness information, visit Nutrition Services at UPMC, or call 412-647-8762 to schedule an appointment. If you have a nutrition-related question, you can email AskADietitian@upmc.edu to connect with a UPMC dietitian.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.