Kombucha – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Kombucha tea is a black or green tea that has become popular in the Western world due to the functional medicine movement. People usually use it for the health benefits that it is claimed to have.

In this article, I will talk about everything good about Kombucha, but also the negative aspects.

More on Kombucha 

Kombucha is made from only four essential ingredients: sugar, tea (black or green tea), several healthy bacteria (especially Komagataeibacter spp), and yeast. The bacteria and yeast form a powerful mutually beneficial relationship that is capable of inhibiting the growth of other, potentially contaminating, and unhealthy bacteria. The ingredients are mixed and left to ferment for 7 to 14 days. During this process, bacteria and acids grow on top of the mixture in the form of a mushroom-like substance called a ‘scoby.’ The side effect of fermentation is a small amount of alcohol. The process is very similar to how cabbage turns into sauerkraut. [1] [2] Although Kombucha is sometimes referred to as kombucha mushroom tea, Kombucha is not a mushroom. It is called this way due to the scoby formed that looks like a mushroom.

Even though the effects of Kombucha are debated, the drink itself has existed for around two millennia. The Chinese invented it and spread it to other parts of the world, but it only became popular in the Western world in the 20th century. 

The Benefits of Kombucha

One of the main benefits of Kombucha is that it’s a good source of probiotics. [3] This may have many health benefits due to the support of a healthy microbiome and a more diverse colony of bacteria in the gut. Kombucha is also rich in antioxidants. [7]

As of now, there are only studies on Kombucha’s beneficial effects on animals.

Animal studies have shown that Kombucha can lower the levels of cholesterol.[4] Other animal studies have also demonstrated Kombucha’s positive effects on blood sugar levels. [5] If the same results prove to be correct with humans, Kombucha might be used as a protection against heart disease and diabetes. 

We already know that green tea has some properties that are great for our health. These health benefits are primarily due to the polyphenol Epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which is the most abundant catechin in green tea.

Studies show that when Kombucha is made from green tea, it also provides those same health benefits that come for green tea. These benefits include weight loss, improved blood sugar levels, and a reduction in LDL cholesterol. [6]

Some animal studies have shown that Kombucha can prevent both the growth and spread of cancer cells in vitro, mostly because of the very high levels of antioxidants and polyphenol. [8]

The Bad and the Ugly Part of Kombucha

One thing is crucial to know about Kombucha — it has to be made properly. Some contaminated or over-fermented kombucha drinks can be hazardous to your health and can even lead to death. Poorly made Kombucha has been linked to many adverse effects, including liver disease, nausea, lactic acidosis, and allergic reactions. 

Therefore, it is vital to buy it from a reputable vendor that adheres to cleanliness standards. Furthermore, if it has more significant concentrations of added sugar, it’s best to avoid it entirely. [9]

And if you are a supersmeller, or are sensitive to smell, you will find it very hard to come near this drink, as the smell of bacteria is very strong.

Despite this, Kombucha is usually a safe drink to consume, as long as it’s properly made, and with only the required amounts of sugar needed for the beneficial bacteria to multiply. 

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References:

  • [1] Chakravorty S, Bhattacharya S, Chatzinotas A, Chakraborty W, Bhattacharya D, Gachhui R. Kombucha tea fermentation: Microbial and biochemical dynamics. Int J Food Microbiol. 2016 Mar 2;220:63-72. doi: 10.1016/j.ijfoodmicro.2015.12.015.
  • [2] Mayser P, Fromme S, Leitzmann C, Gründer K. The yeast spectrum of the ‘tea fungus Kombucha’. Mycoses. 1995 Jul-Aug;38(7-8):289-95.
  • [3] Marsh AJ1, O’Sullivan O, Hill C, Ross RP, Cotter PD. Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples. Food Microbiol. 2014 Apr;38:171-8. doi: 10.1016/j.fm.2013.09.003. Epub 2013 Sep 25.
  • [4] Yang, Z., Ji, B., Zhou, F., Li, B., Luo, Y., Yang, L. and Li, T. (2009), Hypocholesterolaemic and antioxidant effects of kombucha tea in high?cholesterol fed mice. J. Sci. Food Agric., 89: 150-156. doi:10.1002/jsfa.3422
  • [5] M. H. Dashti, A. Morshedi. A Comparison between The Effect of Black Tea and Kombucha Tea on Blood Glucose Level in Diabetic Rat. Med J Islamic World Acad Sci. 2000; 13(2): 83-87
  • [6] Villarreal-Soto SA, Beaufort S, Bouajila J, Souchard JP, Taillandier P. Understanding Kombucha Tea Fermentation: A Review. J Food Sci. 2018 Mar;83(3):580-588. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.14068.
  • [7] Bjelakovic G, Gluud C. Surviving antioxidant supplements. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007 May 16;99(10):742-3.
  • [8] Thummala Srihari, Ramachandran Arunkumar, Jagadeesan Arunakaran, Uppala Satyanarayana. Downregulation of signalling molecules involved in angiogenesis of prostate cancer cell line (PC-3) by kombucha (lyophilized). Biomedicine & Preventive Nutrition Volume 3, Issue 1, January–March 2013, Pages 53-58. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bionut.2012.08.001
  • [9] Nummer BA. Kombucha brewing under the Food and Drug Administration model Food Code: risk analysis and processing guidance. J Environ Health. 2013 Nov;76(4):8-11.