If you have never heard of kombucha, it may be time to crawl out from under the rock you are living under and play a game of catch-up. In recent years, it has risen in popularity. Many health nuts are advocating in favor of the benefits of this fermented-tea beverage. So, in case you are considering trying this probiotic beverage or have zero idea what we are talking about, keep reading to discover the “tea” on kombucha.*
What is Kombucha?
While kombucha is not your typical sweet tea, it is made from sweetened green or black tea. The tea is fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, or SCOBY,1 and the yeast in the SCOBY breaks down the sugar in the tea to release probiotic bacteria. This beverage also has naturally occurring carbonation due to the fermentation process.
You can find this beverage in most grocery stores, which usually come in different flavors to mask the acquired taste. Just imagine how sweet tea smells after sitting for a week. Then, picture drinking it—it is not the most delicious beverage on Earth in my humble opinion.
Kombucha originated in Northeast China around 220 B.C. and the people used it for its healing properties.2 Historically, it experienced ups and downs in popularity. For example, during WWII when there was shortage of both tea and sugar—ingredients found in kombucha. However, since the 1960s, when a Swiss study compared its benefits to those of yogurt, kombucha usage continued to rise. Its popularity truly skyrocketed between 2014 and 2017, when net sales increased from a little more than $48,000 to $600,000.3
With sales rising rapidly, you may be wondering why. So, the question is: What is it that makes this fermented tea so popular?
Potential Benefits of Kombucha
The most well-known and studied benefits of kombucha are its positive effect on gut health. A 2014 study4 confirmed the drink is rich in probiotics, which are like healthful bacteria found in your stomach. While this is the most common benefit, there are several additional potential benefits to drinking kombucha:1
- May reduce the risk of cancer
- The acetic acid found in kombucha may prevent infections
- The possible link between probiotics and depression suggests kombucha may treat depression
- It may reduce cholesterol levels, thus reducing the risk of heart disease
- If the kombucha is made with green tea, it may aid weight loss
- Since kombucha contains antioxidants, it may reduce toxins in the liver
- Kombucha may also be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes
It is important to note scientific evidence does not support all these benefits. Most of these findings were discovered in lab testing on rats or in test tubes. Therefore, the effects of kombucha in treating human conditions are more or less unsupported. Because of this, it is important to understand kombucha may not work the way you expect. Risks may also outweigh benefits.
So, what exactly are the risks?
Potential Risks of Kombucha
There can be several side effects of drinking kombucha and risks of drinking too much kombucha. If you have made it at home, the risk of contamination rises. This also increases your risk of suffering from side effects, including:5
- Stomach problems
- Yeast infections
- Allergic reactions
- Yellow skin (jaundice)
- Head and neck pain
Because of these risks, I suggest only drinking kombucha brewed by a trusted and FDA-approved manufacturer. The possibility of contamination decreases, and you are less likely to purchase a contaminated batch.
There are also risks that come from consuming kombucha beyond the recommended maximum 16 ounces per day, which include:6
- Excess calorie consumption
- Bloating and digestive distress
- May contain excess amounts of added sugar
- Dangerous for certain people, including pregnant women, alcoholics and those with weakened immune systems
- Excess caffeine consumption
Because it is a fermented drink, it does contain a low amount of alcohol.** While it does not require identification for purchase, people who are pregnant or suffer from alcoholism should avoid it. Otherwise, WebMD reports5 uncontaminated beverages are safe for most adults when taken by mouth.
While kombucha has probiotics and may improve your gut health, it seems the evidence supporting its benefits is lacking. Before consuming this fermented tea, it may be worth your time to consult your doctor on whether it is safe for you and your health.
*This material is provided by USHEALTH Group® for informational/educational purposes only and should not replace medical/clinical advice or direction from your health care provider.
**USHEALTH Group® does not advocate or recommend the consumption of alcohol for recreational purposes.
- Burgess, Lana, “Eight potential benefits of kombucha,” MedicalNewsToday.com, last modified October 7, 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319630.php
- Troitino, Christina, “Kombucha 101: Demystifying The Past, Present And Future Of The Fermented Tea Drink,” Forbes.com, last modified February 1, 2017, https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinatroitino/2017/02/01/kombucha-101-demystifying-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-fermented-tea-drink/#3c8990d54ae2
- Alnuweiri, Tamim, “This City Buys 78 Times More Kombucha Than the Rest of the Country,” WellandGood.com, last modified August 24, 2017, https://www.wellandgood.com/good-food/portland-oregon-buys-drinks-most-kombucha/
- Marsh, A. J., O’Sullivan, O., Hill, C., Ross, R. P., & Cotter, P. D. (2014, April). Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples [Abstract]. Food Microbiology, 38, 171-178. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24290641
- “Kombucha: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions, Dosage, and Warning.” WebMD.com, accessed March 3, 2019, www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-538/kombucha.
- Kubala, Jillian, “5 Side Effects of Too Much Kombucha,” Healthline.com, last modified October 30, 2018, https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/kombucha-side-effects#section7