Tea, tonic, or magical elixir? To those who extol kombucha’s wide range of health benefits, this fermented black tea is all of this and more.1
Though it’s often referred to as the “magic mushroom,” it’s actually not a mushroom at all. Kombucha is a combination of yeasts and bacteria. The pancake-like structure seen floating on the medium (known as a SCOBY, Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast) is just a network of cellulose.
Kombucha is believed to have originated in the 3rd century BC in China. Centuries later, it traveled westward to Russia and Europe. Over time, the beverage has acquired a near-mythical reputation for its therapeutic properties.2
Kombucha’s Legendary Health Benefits
We’ve learned about the traditional claims on kombucha’s benefits, with its active molecules and antioxidants. But what do scientists have to say about it? Given here are some of kombucha’s benefits found through recent studies:
1. Protects And Powers The Body
In 2013, researchers at the University of Latvia published an overview of the multiple benefits of drinking kombucha. They found that the tea helped detoxify, boost energy levels, and improve immunity and contained protective antioxidants.3
2. Provides Antioxidants
The antioxidants in kombucha prevent several metabolic diseases and disorders – in the eyes, skin, lungs, kidneys, joints, brain, and immune system. This can be attributed to the presence of tea polyphenols, D-saccharic acid-1,4-lactone (DSL), and ascorbic acid.4 DSL, which is present in many edible plants, is known for its antioxidant and detoxifying properties.5
Studies also show that kombucha tea has higher antioxidant activity than unfermented tea. This could be because of the fermentation process and the subsequent changes in the tea polyphenols.
A longer fermentation process can increase antioxidant activity. But prolonged fermentation is not advisable as the organic acids produced may reach harmful levels. More study is required to identify the exact metabolic pathway involved during fermentation.
3. Fights Urinal Tract Infections
Kombucha tea may help combat urinary tract infections (UTI) commonly found in women. A study observed that fermented green tea was particularly effective in battling microbes that cause these infections.6
Kombucha’s antimicrobial activity can be attributed to the organic acids, primarily acetic acid, catechins (an antioxidant and flavonoid), and large protein content. Catechins and acetic acid are known to inhibit several microorganisms.
4. Boosts Immunity
Rich in vitamin C, kombucha helps boost the body’s immune system. Studies have observed that kombucha decreases oxidative stress and the resulting adverse effects on the immune system.
5. Fights Cancer
Kombucha tea drinkers have talked about the anticancer properties for years, but science is only now catching up.
Studies show that kombucha can prevent the spread of cancer by inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels.
The anticancer properties of kombucha are attributed to the tea polyphenols and the products formed during fermentation. However, extensive research is needed for further proof.
6. Prevents Gastric Ulcers
Animal studies show that kombucha has healing properties against gastric ulceration. It protects the mucin content of gastric tissues and reduces gastric acid secretion.7
7. Fights Liver Disease
Kombucha tea helps combat liver diseases caused by various environmental pollutants including oxidative stress. This can be attributed, once again, to the presence of DSL and the gluconacetobacter species of bacteria.
8. Promotes Digestion
Studies show that the tea stimulates contractions of the stomach and intestines and therefore improves digestion. The antioxidants also protect the stomach lining and reduce the chances of gastric ulcers.
9. Cleans Up Bad Cholesterol
In animal studies, microorganisms present in kombucha tea were found to reduce low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol.8
10. Regulates Metabolism
Although no direct evidence supports kombucha’s ability to reduce obesity, research suggests that regular intake of the tea can help eliminate the extra pounds by balancing metabolism and reducing the accumulation of fat in the long term.
This, in turn, also inhibits the risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.
How To Brew Kombucha
- 8 g of black tea (about 2 tsp)
- 9.5 cups of water
- Sugar to taste
- A cup of fermented tea from an older batch of kombucha
- Boil 1.5 cups of water with black tea leaves for about 5 minutes.
- Filter the tea and leave it to cool until it reaches room temperature.
- Pour the tea into a clean, wide-mouthed glass container and add the remaining water and sugar.
- Place the SCOBY – it looks like a white, damp, pancake – in the tea solution and add the older fermented tea.
- Cover the container with a cheese cloth and allow it to ferment for 7–10 days. During this period, the culture will grow a new mushroom-shaped layer.
- The tea, orange-gold in color and slightly sour, is now ready.
You can carefully remove the SCOBY (along with half a cup of liquid), pour the tea into glass bottles, and store in the refrigerator. Keep the culture immersed in its liquid and use it to prepare a fresh batch of tea when needed.
Kombucha aficionados like to experiment with different add-on flavors, including fruit and spices, in a process that involves a second round of fermentation for a couple of days after the SCOBY is taken out.
How Much Is Too Much?
There’s no established limit for kombucha consumption. You can stick to about 125 ml (a half cup) at a time since most adverse effects have been observed after consumption exceeded this limit. However, do note that such a small amount is unlikely to bring about the experimental benefits observed in various studies.
A sensible approach would be to check with your physician to determine any existing health conditions that kombucha tea could possibly impact.
Word of caution: Kombucha should not be consumed by pregnant or lactating women.
Can Drinking Kombucha Harm You?
Although research has validated some of the traditional claims, we can’t quite call kombucha a magical cure-all. It’s important to note that the biological activities of kombucha have largely been tested only in animal trials. More in-depth, extensive human trials will help us get a better understanding of its true power.
Occasionally, instances of harmful effects have been reported. In one study, a few patients experienced a variety of side effects of the tea – including allergic reactions, vomiting, headache, and nausea.9
However, it’s not so much the ingredients of kombucha as other external factors that can potentially harm a drinker; for example, the type of container used to store the tea. Ceramic, lead crystal, or painted containers, for instance, run the risk of leaching lead and other toxic substances into the tea solution due to the acid content in kombucha.
Ensure that you sterilize the containers and filters used to make home-brewed kombucha before use.
A fact sheet published by US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1995 raised concerns about the likelihood of fungal contamination as a result of the unorthodox fermentation method adopted in making and storing the tea. They warn that such contamination could severely impact individuals with weak immune systems.10
Alternatively, commercially prepared kombucha is brewed in strictly hygienic conditions and subject to inspections by regulatory bodies. This may be a safer way to enjoy a cup of the sweet, vinegary beverage.
|↑1||Donaldson, Babette. The Everything Healthy Tea Book: Discover the Healing Benefits of Tea. Adams Media, 2014.|
|↑2||Jayabalan, Rasu, Radomir V. Malbaša, Eva S. Lončar, Jasmina S. Vitas, and Muthuswamy Sathishkumar. “A review on kombucha tea—microbiology, composition, fermentation, beneficial effects, toxicity, and tea fungus.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 13, no. 4 (2014): 538-550.|
|↑3||Vīna, Ilmāra, Pāvels Semjonovs, Raimonds Linde, and Ilze Deniņa. “Current evidence on physiological activity and expected health effects of kombucha fermented beverage.” Journal of medicinal food 17, no. 2 (2014): 179-188.|
|↑4||Vina, I., P. Semjonovs, R. Linde, and I. Denina. “Current evidence on physiological activity of kombucha fermented beverage and expected health effects.” J. Med. Food 10 (2013).|
|↑5||Bhattacharya, Semantee, Ratan Gachhui, and Parames C. Sil. “The prophylactic role of d-saccharic acid-1, 4-lactone against hyperglycemia-induced hepatic apoptosis via inhibition of both extrinsic and intrinsic pathways in diabetic rats.” Food & function 4, no. 2 (2013): 283-296.|
|↑6||Battikh, Houda, Kamel Chaieb, Amina Bakhrouf, and Emna Ammar. “Antibacterial and antifungal activities of black and green kombucha teas.” Journal of Food Biochemistry 37, no. 2 (2013): 231-236.|
|↑7||Banerjee, Debashish, Sham A. Hassarajani, Biswanath Maity, Geetha Narayan, Sandip K. Bandyopadhyay, and Subrata Chattopadhyay. “Comparative healing property of kombucha tea and black tea against indomethacin-induced gastric ulceration in mice: possible mechanism of action.” Food & function 1, no. 3 (2010): 284-293.|
|↑8||Yang, Zhi‐Wei, Bao‐Ping Ji, Feng Zhou, Bo Li, Yangchao Luo, Li Yang, and Tao Li. “Hypocholesterolaemic and antioxidant effects of kombucha tea in high‐cholesterol fed mice.” Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 89, no. 1 (2009): 150-156.|
|↑9||Srinivasan, Radhika, Susan Smolinske, and David Greenbaum. “Probable gastrointestinal toxicity of kombucha tea.” Journal of general internal medicine 12, no. 10 (1997): 643-645.|
|↑10||Food and Drug Administration. “FDA cautions consumers on “Kombucha Mushroom Tea”(News release). Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services.” Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration (1995): 29-54.|