There isn’t a lot of rigorous research on kombucha, but fans of the drink tout its benefits, like better gut health and improved mood. What is the truth ?
Chances are you’ve already heard of at least one of kombucha’s supposed benefits. But if you don’t know much about this drink, you’re probably still wondering: Is it tea, soda, wine, or something else?
Simply put, kombucha is a fermented drink made by adding bacteria and yeast to a mixture of black or green tea and sugar. The ingredients used to make kombucha may seem sketchy. Still, this beverage has become increasingly popular as a potential source of probiotics, which are living organisms that help balance gut flora, according to a December 2015 study in the Journal of Chemistry.
Sounds awesome, right? It is important to keep your expectations in check when sipping this drink. While many people consider kombucha a gut-friendly food, the truth is that research on this fizzy drink is limited.
What are the possible benefits of kombucha?
Nevertheless, early research suggests that kombucha may improve your gut health and more. Here’s a look at the potential benefits that researchers are continuing to explore.
1. May Help Boost Metabolism
If you’re looking to shed a few extra pounds, you’ll probably consider anything that can kick-start your metabolism. Kombucha is not a miracle drink for weight loss. But thanks to epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) found in green tea some types of kombucha, it could be the secret to a slightly faster metabolism.
EGCG is a catechin, a compound found in green tea. According to a review published in May 2017 in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, catechins have the potential to boost metabolic rate in adults. But the existing studies on the subject are short and small, and the review authors note that more research is needed to know the true effects of EGCG on metabolism.
2. May Help with Constipation
As a potential source of probiotics, one of the purported health benefits of kombucha is its ability to balance good bacteria in the gut and relieve some gastrointestinal issues, but more research is needed. A study published in April 2014 in Food Microbiology examined the microbial components of kombucha and identified a “prominent lactobacillus population” in the drink. Lactobacillus is a common type of probiotic, so it’s plausible that kombucha can stabilize the digestive tract and help prevent infections and inflammation. And if so, drinking kombucha could improve irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, bloating, and constipation.
3. May Reduce Inflammation
Chronic inflammation is implicated in just about every health condition, including heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, allergies, and respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to a June article. 2019 in StatPearls. Kombucha is not a first-line choice for treating chronic illness, but the drink can complement your healthy diet, lifestyle choices, and medication regimen. That’s because the teas used to make kombucha contain polyphenols, antioxidants that can reduce inflammation in the body, according to the Journal of Chemistry.
The scientific community is also increasingly convinced that eating gut-friendly foods can help reduce inflammation in the intestinal tract, and for this in particular, kombucha may be helpful, notes a review published in February 2015 in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease. Inflammation is at the root of some gastrointestinal conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, and research suggests that low-grade inflammation may contribute to irritable bowel syndrome. This inflammation could be the result of an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, known as gut dysbiosis. The idea is that when the bad bacteria take over the good, it triggers an immune system response, and it’s this response that leads to inflammation, suggests the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease.
4. May Play a Role in Cancer Prevention
There is also growing evidence that kombucha may help prevent certain types of cancer, although more research is needed. This claim is based on kombucha’s antioxidant properties, which help rid the body of free radicals and other harmful substances that promote cancer cell growth, the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry review states. A study published in the January-February 2013 issue of Biomedicine & Preventive Nutrition found that kombucha inhibits angiogenesis, the growth of new blood vessels. The study found that prostate cancer is dependent on angiogenesis, which means that new blood cells can nourish and contribute to the growth of these tumours. By inhibiting angiogenesis, the researchers concluded that kombucha could help decrease the survival of prostate cancer cells. Of course, further research is needed. Compounds in kombucha that may help inhibit cancer growth include polyphenols, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, lactic acid, and vitamin C, according to the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry.
5. May Help Boost the Immune System
The benefits of kombucha for gut health can also boost the immune system. It is important to note that the digestive system and the immune system are closely linked. The lining of the intestines creates antibodies that help protect the body, according to John Hopkins Medicine. A huge part of the immune system resides in the gut, specifically around 70%, according to one study. Optimal gut health is the key to a strong immune system. The fermenting bacteria in kombucha can boost immunity, thanks to the dose of good bacteria they provide.
6. May Help Treat Depression
Symptoms of depression vary from person to person, but can include a general feeling of sadness and hopelessness. Depression can also cause problems including insomnia, poor concentration, and lack of energy. But kombucha may provide some relief, helping to improve your mood by increasing the production of feel-good hormones, like serotonin. There have been no studies specifically linking kombucha and depression. But an analysis published in February 2017 in the journal Annals of General Psychiatry suggests that some psychiatric disorders may be linked to changes in the microbiome (the environment of bacteria in the gut), so there are increasingly more evidence that probiotics can help relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety. 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut, not the brain, so optimal gut health is also important for mental health and mood regulation. That’s why it’s always important to consider gut health to improve mood and fight depression.
7. May Improve Cardiovascular Health
Heart disease increases the risk of stroke or heart attack, but healthy lifestyle changes can improve your cardiovascular health.
These include eating a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins. You should also exercise, take medication, and yes, even kombucha. The potential benefit lies in kombucha’s ability to positively influence cholesterol levels, according to the Journal of Chemistry research.
Researchers need to conduct more human studies to confirm the effectiveness of kombucha on cholesterol. But according to a study published in April 2015 in Pharmaceutical Biology, rats given kombucha showed lower levels of LDL (“bad” cholesterol) and higher levels of HDL (“good” cholesterol). More research is needed, but future studies may similarly find that kombucha improves cholesterol levels in humans. Only time will tell.
8. May Support Liver Health
Likewise, kombucha may improve liver health due to its potential ability to detoxify the body. So, over time, drinking this drink can reduce your liver’s workload, according to the Journal of Chemistry. In the Pharmaceutical Biology study, rats given kombucha also showed reduced levels of thiobarbituric acid reactive substances in their livers. This organic compound is a measure of damage to cells and tissues. Further clinical research is needed to know if these beneficial effects hold up.
9. May Play a Role in Lowering Blood Sugar
Drinking kombucha could also benefit people who are insulin resistant or have diabetes. According to one study, tea can inhibit α-amylase, a protein in the pancreas responsible for raising postprandial (after eating) glucose levels. According to the Pharmaceutical Biology study, kombucha had a healing effect on diabetic rats after 30 days, and it also improved their liver and kidney function. More research is needed, but the results suggest that kombucha could one day be used as a complementary treatment for diabetes, in addition to traditional approaches, including weight loss, diet, exercise, oral medications and insulin.
10. Helps Maintain a Healthy Weight
Kombucha can be an alternative drink if you like soda or fruit juice but are looking for a lower calorie, lower sugar drink to lose or maintain weight. Sugar is high in empty calories, and when consumed in excess, there is a risk of taking in more calories than you expend, leading to weight gain. Remember that kombucha is not sugar-free (most of the sugar is fermented, but some remains in the final product).
Flavors available for kombucha
Luckily, if you want to try kombucha, you don’t have to do it yourself, but that’s also an option. Kombucha is available at health food stores. You will find a wide variety of flavors to tempt your taste buds. Here are some examples of kombucha flavors:
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