Heath Trend: What the kombucha?!

Kombucha: you've heard the word. It's all the rage. It's the drink that has a name that makes it sound more like a witch's brew than a curative elixir. I wanted to uncover some facts about kombucha not only to answer my own questions, but to share my findings with you all. I'm sure I'm not the only one wondering why it's recommended that I drink this stuff. So, what exactly is kombucha and why does everyone claim that it's so good for your health? Furthermore, is it possible that this health trend could actually be harmful?

Kombucha is a fermented tea made from yeast and bacteria, plus a flavoring combination such as black tea and sugar. The colony of yeast and bacteria that gives birth to the fermented mixture is often referred to a "the mother." The mother, which kind of looks like a jellyfish (sounds appetizing, right?), sits in a glass bottle with the tea for a period of time, allowing the fermentation process to take place. The process results in the byproducts of alcohol, vinegar, and other chemical compounds. This explains why when you open a bottle of kombucha, you're greeted with the smell of vinegar. The way I've just explained it makes it sound like the least appetizing drink in the universe. As a tea-lover, though, I find that a good kombucha just tastes like a fizzy, slightly sour tea. So, if it's so funky smelling and has a weird blob floating around at the bottom of it, why do people drink this stuff?

The health benefits claimed to be reaped by drinking kombucha range from preventing cancer to curing cardiovascular diseases. It is commonly claimed to promote fat loss, detoxify the blood, and prevent diabetes and hypertension. Wow! Any skeptic would probably look twice at that list. Relieving the human race of some of our most common health ailments is a pretty lofty claim for any health food or drink. The bottom line about the known benefits of kombucha is that they are limited and certainly do not span as far as a surefire cure or prevention for any disease.

The benefits though, are similar to those of the tea that it is often made with (e.g. antioxidant properties may reduce free radical damage, but this conversation can be a whole other post of its own). There also is a small amount of caffeine from the tea in the mixture, which would result in the benefits one might get from any caffeinated beverage, including increased energy, focus, suppressed appetite, and let's be honest, you all know it: relief of mild constipation. There is limited evidence that kombucha provides probiotic benefits. Probiotics promote the health of our gut flora, which helps our digestive system work nicely. Although, again, there is limited evidence that kombucha is an effective probiotic. Aside from these and a few other very chemically-specific benefits that I don't have the capacity to begin to explain, the scientific jury is still out on this topic. Overall, there is a very small if any additional affect of drinking kombucha in the place of plain tea.

It's also worth mentioning that there are some health risks associated with this fizzy drink. If it is not brewed properly, it may become contaminated and unsafe to consume. Therefore, it is not recommended to brew kombucha in the home without doing extensive research and safety checks. In addition, the use of kombucha is contraindicated in pregnant and lactated women. No, you won't get drunk from it, but it does contain alcohol, after all. This may also mean that if you don't consume alcohol for religious or health reasons, you should avoid kombucha.

Bottom line

I'm not going to lie, I kind of believed that this drink was all it was cracked up to be before I did this search. I had a bottle of kombucha this morning, posted it to my Instagram story, and thought to myself, "Wow. I am the image of pure and perfect health." Now I feel kind of duped, yet I am reminded that there is always value in a bit of time spent flipping through the literature on any topic. I think unless I'm specifically craving kombucha, I might just stick to the tea from here on out.




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