Kombucha has had quite a surge in popularity lately, and there are now several brands to choose from. Depending on what you read or who you talk to, kombucha has been attributed with health benefits that range from clearing up acne to curing cancer, but many of these are unsubstantiated thus far.
Kombucha has been around for at least a couple thousand years in Asia and other countries. The Chinese called it an "immortal health elixir". Because it's fermented, you get billions of powerful probiotics in your system when you drink it. Kombucha comes from black and/or green tea, water, and sugar. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast in the SCOBY actually 'eat' up most (not all) of the sugar and part of the caffeine, creating vinegar and other acidic compounds, with trace amounts of alcohol, and gases that make it carbonated.
The colony of friendly bacteria that ferments the tea--looking like a giant mushroom is called a "SCOBY" which stands for "symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast". While the tea ferments, the SCOBY helps create B-vitamins, enzymes, acetic acid, (found in apple cider vinegar), gluconic and lactic acid, and a ton of great probiotics!
This blob is a biochemical powerhouse that produces amino acids, enzymes, polyphenols (antioxidants), antibiotic type substances, and a whole array of phytochemicals that are beneficial to you health. Kombucha has been scientifically studied for its ability to detox the liver, increase energy, improve digestion, boost immune system, help prevent or fight cancer, aid in weight loss and improve mood--decrease anxiety and depression.
Kombucha has also been touted as being beneficial for acne, anxiety, arthritis, eczema, hangovers, hair growth, and more, but many of these claims have not yet been backed up with conclusive scientific evidence on humans.
DETOXIFICATION--Kombucha is known for its detoxing capabilities, especially in the liver. One study reported that kombucha could actually decrease levels of toxins know to cause liver damage. Another study of kombucha on animals showed similarly decreased levels of certain toxins that are know to cause liver damage. And one other study evaluated toxicity, anti-stress capability, and liver-protective properties on rats with very favorable results.
Kombucha can overcome 'BAD' bacteria and yeasts--since kombucha contain acetic acid, similar to vinegar, it appears to have strong anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, particularly against infection-causing bacteria, and harmful yeasts, like Candida. Some people may avoid kombucha because it contains yeast, but the important thing to know is that kombucha contain beneficial yeasts and bacterias, which help to crowd out and cut off the harmful pathogens, like Candida, in the body.
INCREASE ENERGY--Kombucha has the ability to invigorate and energize people. This is a good reason to drink kombucha. It's very energizing! It is thought that this energizing effect is from the formation of iron and B vitamins that are created from the black tea during fermentation. The iron from the tea helps to boost hemoglobin in the blood, which improves oxygen in the body's tissues, which in turn, is very energizing. There is a small amount of caffeine left in the tea, depending upon fermentation time, but generally most of this caffeine is 'eaten' up in the fermentation process.
DIGESTION--Kombucha's high levels of acid, probiotics and love enzymes aid in digestion and are especially helpful if you have any type of digestive disorder like leaky gut, irritable bowel disease, celiac disease, food allergies, and imbalances due to things like a poor diet or previous antibiotics. Kombucha is also naturally high in live enzymes that help the digestive process. Kombucha helps to repopulate the digestive system with beneficial bacteria and yeasts protecting it form the more harmful types that may exist in the gut. One thing to note about kombucha--depending on your current health and the health of your gut, you may actually feel worse the first few times you ingest kombucha. This is because of a 'die-off' reaction from the harmful pathogens that may live there. This is a good thing!
IMMUNE BOOSTING--Because kombucha is naturally high in antioxidants and probiotics, it helps to support and strengthen the immune system. Scientific studies show probiotics' power in fortifying the immune function, and since a large portion of immune function is a result of gut health, it only makes sense to be sure to keep the digestive tract supplemented with a wide variety of beneficial bacteria. Kombucha also contains massive antioxidants like D-saccharic acid lactone (DSL) which results from the fermentation of the tea. DSL is known for its ability to detoxify cells.
CANCER PREVENTION--Much has been written and studied about cancer prevention and kombucha. A study published in Cancer Letters found that consuming glucaric acid found in kombucha reduced the risk of cancer in humans, as well as the antioxidant, DSL. In test-tubedies, kombucha helped prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells, due to its high concentration of tea polyphenols and antioxidants. Scientists theorize that the DSL and the vitamin C often found in kombucha are its primary oxidation weapons, protecting against inflammation, tumors, and overall depression of the immune system. As you may know, immune function is one of the body's main protection systems against most cancers.
WEIGHT LOSS--Evidence shows that kombucha can improve and speed up metabolism (partially due to the small amount of caffeine it contains). Since kombucha is high in acetic acid (similar to apple cider vinegar), probiotics, and polyphenols, it can help with weight loss through various mechanisms, including through improved digestion and nutrient absorption. Some research also shows that acetic acid can help with weight loss by lowering blood sugar, decreasing insulin levels (which favors fat burning--instead of fat storing), and helps to suppress appetite.
In one specific human study on acetic acid and weight loss over 12 weeks, it was found that the subjects averaged 3.7 lbs weight loss, 0.9% decreased body fat, 0.75 inch waist circumference reduction, and a whopping 26% decrease in dangerous trigylcerides.
Important to note however: sugar content in kombucha can vary widely, so be sure to check label for lowest sugar content. Home brewed versions have less sugar the longer time they ferment, and more acetic acid, making them ideal for weight loss and other health benefits. With that said, most brands of kombucha only range from 2 grams of sugar to 7 grams of sugar per 8 oz. This is very small compared to 30-40 grams of sugar in most soft drinks. Therefore, there is very little blood sugar impact from kombucha, which is great.
MOOD BOOSTING--Kombucha has been known as a mood booster, helping to alleviate both anxiety and depression. Although the exact mechanism of this is not known, it is most likely due to a combination of the antioxidants in the tea, the polyphenols (green tea is known to be high in these as well), and the beneficial bacteria.
Medical research is discovering a direct link between gut health and mental health--primarily anxiety and depression. When healthy bacteria, in the form of fermented foods, are introduced into the digestive system on a regular basis, they help to restore the delicate balance of the gut microbiome. Serotonin is a natural brain chemical that controls and stabilizes your mood and functions in your brain. Since your gut produces about 95% of your serotonin, keeping your gut healthy and 'well fed' with beneficial bacteria and yeasts should help boost your moods.
Next week I will post about Probiotics and a recipe for a basic kombucha.