Known as the “Immortal Health Elixir” by the Chinese and originating in the Far East around 2,000 years ago, kombucha is a beverage with tremendous health benefits extending to your heart, your brain and (especially) your gut.
How does this ancient drink make such a huge difference in your body?
Due to the fermentation process involved in creating kombucha, it contains a large number of healthy bacteria known as probiotics. These bacteria line your digestive tract and support your immune system, as they absorb nutrients and fight infection and illness.
Since 80 percent of your immune system is located in your gut, and the digestive system is the second largest part of your neurological system, it’s no surprise that the gut is considered the “second brain.”
Drinking kombucha every day can help you to maintain peak immune health, which trickles down into an impressive number of benefits for your overall health.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage consisting of black tea and sugar (from various sources, including cane sugar, fruit or honey) that’s used as a functional, probiotic food. It contains a colony of bacteria and yeast that are responsible for initiating the fermentation process once combined with sugar.
After fermentation, kombucha becomes carbonated and contains vinegar, B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics and a high concentration of acid (acetic, gluconic and lactic). These bacteria are known as “cellulose-producing bacteria,” meaning they produce cellulose, which acts as a shield to cells. (1)
The sugar-tea solution is fermented by bacteria and yeast commonly known as a “SCOBY” (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Although it’s usually made with black tea, kombucha can also be made with green teas. Contrary to common claims, a SCOBY is not a kombucha mushroom.
Interested? Where to buy kombucha can get a little complicated, but it’s generally available for $3-5 at natural health food stores and some grocery outlets. Others make it at home (which I’ll discuss a little later on).
Some people find it a healthier substitute for sodas, satisfying that craving for a fizzy drink. There are even some soda-flavored varieties — but watch the sugar content.
The following probiotics make up this health elixir: (2)
- Gluconacetobacter (>85 percent in most samples)
- Acetobacter (<2 percent)
- Lactobacillus (up to 30 percent in some samples)
- Zygosaccharomyces (>95 percent)
Kombucha Nutrition Facts
I commonly hear people getting concerned about kombucha calories. While nutrition facts will differ between brands and homemade brews, here is the breakdown of what one popular brand includes in a 16-ounce bottle of unpasteurized, organic kombucha: (3)
- 60 calories
- 20 milligrams sodium
- 14 grams carbohydrate
- 4 grams of sugar
- 100 micrograms folate (25 percent DV)
- .34 grams riboflavin/vitamin B2 (20 percent DV)
- .4 milligrams vitamin B6 (20 percent DV)
- .3 milligrams thiamine/Vitamin B1 (20 percent DV)
- 4 milligrams niacin/Vitamin B3 (20 percent DV)
- 1.2 micrograms vitamin B12 (20 percent DV)
Pasteurized vs. Unpasteurized Kombucha
There is some debate about the benefits of unpasteurized kombucha because of the 20th/21st century notion that pasteurization makes drinks “healthier.”
It’s not true for milk, and the same holds for kombucha.
The bacteria killed during the pasteurization process is the same stuff that can help your gut function more efficiently. “Pasteurized kombucha” should probably be called “kombucha-flavored tea” because the benefits of healthy bacteria have been lost during that process. (4)
One consideration is that pasteurized kombucha is not continually fermented. This means that if a commercial unpasteurized kombucha product is left on the shelf too long, the alcohol content (initially below .5 percent for most products) may rise somewhat.
Be sure to purchase your kombucha from trustworthy sources and drink it within a relatively brief time after purchasing. If you make kombucha at home, the same rule applies.
8 Benefits of Kombucha
1. Helps prevent a wide variety of diseases
While a lot of health claims for kombucha focus on the way it heals the gut (which, in itself, contributes to boosted immunity), there is also a fairly well-confirmed body of evidence that kombucha contains powerful antioxidants and can help to detoxify the body and protect against disease.
Related to this disease-fighting power is the way these antioxidants help to reduce inflammation, at the root of most diseases. This inflammation-reducing, detoxing quality is probably one reason kombucha might potentially decrease the risk for certain kinds of cancers. (5)
One reason this happens is because antioxidants reduce oxidative stress that can damage cells, even down to DNA. Being exposed to a lot of processed foods and chemicals within your environment can lead to this stress, which in turn contributes to chronic inflammation.
Kombucha may specifically influence the activity of two important antioxidants known as glutathione peroxidase and catalase. (7)(8) It was also discovered to contain isorhamnetin, a metabolite of quercetin, in December 2016. (9) Quercetin is associated with a long lifespan and massive anticancer properties.
Research from the University of Latvia in 2014 claims that drinking kombucha tea can be beneficial for many infections and diseases “due to four main properties: detoxification, anti-oxidation, energizing potencies and promotion of depressed immunity.” (10)
2. Supports a healthy gut
Naturally, the antioxidant prowess of this ancient tea counteracts free radicals that create mayhem in the digestive system. However, the greatest reason kombucha supports digestion is because of its high levels of beneficial acid, probiotics, amino acids and enzymes.
Kombucha can also help heal candida from overpopulating within the gut by restoring balance to the digestive system, with live probiotic cultures that help the gut to repopulate with good bacteria while crowding out the candida yeast.
Although kombucha does contain bacteria, these are not harmful pathogen bacteria. Instead, they are the beneficial kind (called “apathogens”) that compete with “bad” pathogen bacteria in the gut and digestive tract. (12)
Candida and other digestive problems can sometimes be complicated issues to fix, and symptoms might actually get worse before getting better. If you feel like kombucha is exacerbating the problem, consider that gut problems aren’t always a straight path to healing and at times some patience or trial and error is needed.
3. May help improve mental state
Kombucha doesn’t just help your digestion; it might be able to protect your mind, too. One way it can accomplish this is by the B vitamins it contains. B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, are known to increase energy levels and contribute to overall mental wellbeing.
Its high vitamin B12 content is one reason supplements sometimes contain dry kombucha products.
The gut-repairing function of kombucha also plays a role in mental health. Depression may be a major symptom of leaky gut, specifically due to the way that bad gut permeability contributes to inflammation. (13)
A 2012 study published in Biopolymers and Cell examined kombucha as a functional food product for long-term space exploration (yes, you read that right).
Among other various features, kombucha’s ability to regulate the “communication of the gut-brain axis” suggested it would be useful in preventing or minimizing the effects of anxiety and depression, particularly for astronauts and others under extreme work conditions (like miners). (14)
4. Beneficial for the lungs
A (probably) unexpected benefit of kombucha is its use as a potential treatment method for silicosis, a lung disease caused by repeated exposure to silica particles.
Chinese scientists discovered that inhalation of kombucha could be a way to treat this and other diseases of the lungs caused by inhalation of dangerous material. (15)
That being said, I would recommend you drink kombucha, rather than inhaling it.
5. Powerful antibacterial agent
This one seems a little counterintuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s true – because of the type of bacteria found in kombucha, drinking the live cultures actually destroys bad bacteria responsible for infections.
The last of those is probably the most common cause of food poisoning in the US. It can sometimes be followed by a condition called Guillian-Barré syndrome, where the immune system attacks the nervous system. Because of the immense dangers of foodborne infections and significant costs to treat, the FDA is very interested in potential treatment methods for C. jejuni. (18)
6. Helpful in managing diabetes
Although some practitioners warn against kombucha for diabetics, it seems that some research suggests just the opposite. This is assuming, of course, that you are consuming kombucha without a high sugar load.
Particularly due to the functions of antioxidants in kombucha, it seems to help alleviate diabetes symptoms, and more efficiently than the anti-diabetic black tea from which it’s fermented. (19) This appears to be especially true in terms of liver and kidney functions, which are generally poor for those with diabetes. (20)
7. Good for the cardiovascular system
Kombucha has been considered to be beneficial to the heart for some time, although research efforts in this area have been scarce. However, it seems clear that, in animal models, kombucha helps to lower triglyceride levels, as well as regulate cholesterol naturally. (21)