Kombucha – Health Benefits, Risks, and Tips

by Marixie Ann Obsioma
Published on April 28, 2021

Living a healthy lifestyle focused on the consumption of superfoods and doing power-workouts has become a trend these days. Instagram models flood your feed with endless weight-loss tips on proper dieting and exercise ideas. 

In line with the functional food movement, kombucha tea has become immensely popular in the United States (1). But, what is Kombucha? And more importantly, can it benefit your health?

Kombucha: A Fermented Beverage

Fermented foods have been consumed all over the world. Fermentation is done to preserve and lengthen the shelf-life, texture, flavor, and functional properties of food. Additional nutritional properties are also imparted to the fermented product, manifested as the presence of vitamins and bioactive molecules (2). A lot of fermented foods improve the digestive tract’s health and lower the risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

Kombucha is a fermented tea that has been around since 220 BC. It originated in northeast China and was introduced to Japan in 414 AD. In Japan, it has been considered as medicine. After dome time, it was distributed to Eastern Europe (3). 

Kombucha is made from black or green tea. A traditional kombucha only has four ingredients. Sugar, bacteria, and yeast are added to ferment the tea. Simply put, the fermentation of sugared tea facilitated by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (SCOBY) produces the kombucha drink (4). The SCOBY is formed when the yeast and bacteria consume the added sugar in the tea, jumpstarting the fermentation process. The SCOBY creates a frothy texture on top of the drink that looks like a mushroom cap. This can be used as a starter for the next brewing.

It takes quite some time for all of the ingredients to come together and form the refreshing drink many health-conscious people know and love. Generally, the process can take from 7 to 10 day, but it can last for several more days to a month. The resulting product is a carbonated drink with a sweet and tangy taste similar to apple cider.

This fermented tea retained the same beneficial effects of tea and gained so much more. It is packed with healthy probiotics, antioxidants, and anti-bacterial properties. Kombucha is a cocktail of sugars, polyphenols from tea, fiber, organic food acids, ethanol, amino acids, essential elements, vitamins, antibiotic substances, hydrolytic enzymes, and carbon dioxide (3).

Kombucha lost popularity during World War II, but in 2016 the Pepsi Company bought out a popular kombucha beverage maker called KeVita as a response to the growing functional food movement. In just one year, kombucha’s retail sales along with other fermented beverages increased by 37.4% (5). Its sudden popularity might be linked to its weight loss benefits and the array of health advantages that it brings.

Kombucha and Weight Loss

While there are not enough studies done to support kombucha’s ability to promote weight loss, its proponents are testament enough. Do not underestimate this drink. It is a lot more than sweetened tea. 

1. Improves Gastrointestinal Health

Kombucha tea can improve the health of the gastrointestinal tract, thanks to the probiotics it contains. The good bacteria strike a balance with the bacteria to establish equilibrium and promote good health. Studies conducted on mice show that gut microbes affect behavior (6). People are also observed to experience depressive moods. Cravings and other unhealthy eating habits are linked to depression. Consequently, an unhealthy diet is associated with a tendency to experience depression (7). 

2. Promotes Weight Loss

A healthy gut flora not only improves general health, but it also promotes weight loss. Numerous studies have proven that gut microbes are associated with obesity.  In one study, human twins with one obese and the other lean showed a difference in the microbial communities found in their guts. The obese twins possess fewer variants of bacterial species than their lean counterpart (8). Fermented foods and probiotics provide a healthy supply of good bacteria, ensuring flourishing microbiome communities in the gut.

3. Boosts Digestion

Weight gain has been linked to poor digestion. The good bacteria that come from kombucha can facilitate improved digestion the same way that yogurt and kefir do. At the same time, it increases nutrient absorption and decreases the odds of developing diseases.

4. Removes Added Sugar

The probiotic film of kombucha eliminates about 90% of the added sugar. This turns the sweet tea mixture to a bloat-diminishing drink that can flatten the belly in no time. It stimulates digestion, so you can easily excrete waste products regularly.

5. Assists in Blood Sugar Regulation

The resulting acetic acid available in kombucha is known for its blood sugar regulation capability. While this acid made the kombucha sour and vinegar-like in taste, it can help improve blood sugar levels and positively influence insulin sensitivity. It can also interfere in the disintegration of sugar and starches, so they will not affect the blood glucose level. An elevated blood glucose level will only encourage the production of insulin leading to increased fatty deposits (9).

6. Decreases Cravings

Kombucha can pacify sweet tooth cravings. Those who cannot live without carbonated drinks will experience satisfaction without the added calories by consuming this fermented tea drink.

7. Contains Fewer Calories

Kombucha only contains about 30 calories. By drinking it, you can say goodbye to fruit juices and carbonated beverages. Its tea properties can also promote a reduction of calories in your diet.

8. Enhances Energy Level

People also report boosted levels of energy, which aids in better workout performance. Iron plays a huge role in energy production from nutrients. The organic acids in kombucha help iron to be more readily available in the body.

9. Eliminates Toxins

Glucuronic acid is found in kombucha beverages. This substance is observed to combine toxins inside the body and form a mass that is excreted easily (10). Also, the tea properties have the ability to limit industrial toxins absorption.

Based on the number of ways kombucha promotes health and weight loss, there is no wonder how it became very popular. Kombucha is considered as the most rapidly growing product in the functional beverage business (11). Additionally, it is the best-selling low-alcoholic fermented drink in the whole world, not just in the US (12).

Other Health Benefits of Kombucha

1. Prevents and Manages Arthritis Symptoms

People who suffer from arthritis stated that kombucha stops joint pain, even in the knees. Even though there is not enough research done on this, it is believed that the tea enzymes are responsible for its anti-arthritis effects.

2. Lowers Cholesterol Level and Prevents the Occurrence of High BP and Cardiovascular Diseases

According to one study, the polyphenol content of kombucha can prevent the oxidation of LDL and regulate the metabolism of cholesterol. The relaxation of smooth muscles also lowers down blood pressure (13).

3. Improves Mental Health

As mentioned earlier, the gut flora is linked to mental health. This is why tea is known to calm the nerves and prevent anxiety and depressive moods. By maintaining a healthy git, you can even experience mental clarity.

4. Promotes A Youthful Glow

Antioxidants are abundant in kombucha, thanks to its fermentation process (14). Accumulated free radicals are believed to cause aging (15). Antioxidants stop the production of these free radicals and provide additional protection of the cells from potential damages.

5. Prevents Cancer

Because of kombucha’s antioxidant components, the cells have a defense against free radical damage caused by cancer cells. Furthermore, its glucaric acid is being considered to have anti-carcinogenic properties supported by a certain study (16).

6. Possesses Antibacterial and Antimicrobial Properties

Vinegar has been used as an antibacterial agent in the golden years due to its acetic acid component. Kombucha also contains acetic acid. Surprisingly, a study proved its strong bactericidal effects by concluding that acetic acid can kill M. tuberculosis strain. This is after exposing the bacteria to a 6% acetic acid solution for 30 minutes (17). The polyphenols from the tea can also kill different microorganisms (18). It can prevent the maturation of bad bacteria and yeasts without affecting the good bacteria created during the fermentation process.

7. Helps Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus Patients

The slow digestion of carbs and decreased levels of blood sugar are beneficial for patients with this metabolic disorder. Kombucha made from green tea also has an advantage. One study proved that green tea drinkers have and 17% decreased the risk of having diabetes (19).

Despite its numerous health benefits, kombucha has a few side effects. It is up to you if these cons outweigh the pros.

Are There Any Side Effect? 

1. Drinking Too Much Kombucha May Upset Your Stomach

Even though kombucha might promote gut health and improve conditions like constipation and hemorrhoids, too much of any good thing can be bad.

For that matter, drinking a large amount of kombucha may cause nausea and diarrhea. 

Kombucha is acidic, so it’s possible for the drink to trigger nausea in those who are sensitive to acidic drinks. 

Also keep in mind that kombucha contains sugar. According to a small past study, eating too much sugar and too many sweeteners can lead to diarrhea or watery stools. If your body isn’t used to probiotics, consuming too many too quickly can lead to similar symptoms.

2. May Lead to Headaches

Headaches are another possible adverse side effect of drinking too much kombucha. The exact cause of a headache is unknown, but kombucha does contain caffeine and alcohol, which alone or together might induce headaches in those who are sensitive.

Caffeine is sometimes used as a headache reliever. But while an effective treatment, repeated exposure to caffeine can have the opposite effect, triggering chronic daily headaches, past research has noted.

3. Excess Kombucha May Contribute to Lactic Acidosis

The philosophy that too much of a good thing can be bad applies to kombucha.

Though the occasional kombucha drinker needn’t worry about this side effect, those drinking multiple bottles of kombucha every day may be at risk for a condition called lactic acidosis.

Lactic acid is an organic acid produced in the muscles, the National Cancer Institute notes. Swigging kombucha can cause an accumulation of this acid in the bloodstream, causing the body’s pH to become too acidic. This can lead to problems with liver and kidney function, and become life-threatening, past research has suggested. 

The amount of kombucha linked to lactic acidosis hasn’t been established. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported two illnesses associated with kombucha and elevated levels of lactic acid. In these cases, both women consumed 4 to 12 ounces (oz) of home-brewed kombucha daily for two months. Still, there is no proof the kombucha itself caused the lactic acidosis; the CDC simply observed a link between the two. More research is needed to determine the amount of kombucha that can cause this condition. 

Symptoms of lactic acidosis include muscle aches, disorientation, nausea, headaches, fatigue, rapid heart rate, and jaundice (yellowing of the eyes or skin), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Among the known causes of this condition are human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) drugs, which can cause lactic acidosis buildup.

4. Overfermented Kombucha Has Been Tied to Lead Poisoning

Be mindful that over fermentation during the preparation process may lead to severe lead poisoning under certain brewing conditions. 

The risk of poisoning is greater when kombucha is home-brewed in a clay vessel or ceramic pot containing high levels of lead. The lead can leach or dissolve into the beverage, causing a buildup of lead in the body. In fact, past research showed at least one incident of lead poisoning linked to a lead-glazed earthenware jug used to store kombucha tea. 

Symptoms of lead poisoning include high blood pressure, headache, abdominal pain, mood disorders, difficulty concentrating, and muscle pain, according to the Mayo Clinic. 

Not only do some ceramic pots contain lead, but so do some china and porcelain containers.

5. Kombucha Could Trigger an Allergic Reaction in Some People

Problems could also arise if you’re allergic to kombucha tea. Signs of an allergic reaction vary from person to person, but might include shortness of breath, throat tightness, nausea, and dizziness after consuming the drink.

6. Drinking Kombucha Every Day May Damage Your Teeth

Drinks that have high-acid levels, such as kombucha, can wear away your teeth, which can lead to decay, sensitivity, and discoloring.

It is best to drink kombucha through a straw, to help reduce the direct contact the beverage has to your teeth. Directly after you finish your drink, rinse your mouth out with water to help remove the sugars and acidic components from your mouth. 

Make Your Own Kombucha!

Starter liquids and SCOBY are now available in the market. Some can even be bought online. Prepare the following ingredients and start on your kombucha project.

What You Will Need

  • 4 to 6 tea bags or tablespoons of tea leaves
  • 3 quarts of purified water
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 1 to 2 cups of starter liquid
  • 1 glass container (a gallon)
  • Coffee filter
  • Rubber bands

What You Need to Do

  1. Boil 4 cups of purified water. Remove and cool down for two minutes.
  2. Steep the tea for about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the sugar and wait for it to completely dissolve.
  4. Transfer the liquid to a glass container.
  5. Add the remaining water.
  6. Put the SCOBY and starter liquid. 
  7. Seal with a coffee filter and secure with a rubber band.
  8. Put the container in a warm room of about 75 to 85 degrees without any sunlight interaction for a week to three weeks.
  9. Remove the SCOBY on top of the mixture.
  10. Transfer in a container and add 2 cups of liquid from your brew. This is your starter liquid for the next batch. 
  11. Store your kombucha in clean bottles with tight covers. Use a cheesecloth when transferring the kombucha into the bottles.

Although making your kombucha is fun, there is a danger that goes with it. Kombucha brewing may affect your environment, rendering it attractive to all forms of microbial life. To avoid this, always sterilize the lids and jars you are going to use. Do not just wash with soap and warm water, invest in sterilizing agents.

When is the Best Time to Drink Kombucha?

So when should you be drinking this healthy elixir? It all comes down to your sensitivities. Specifically, if you are sensitive to caffeine, alcohol, or probiotics.

In the Morning 

The probiotics in kombucha are one of the reasons people love it! But if you drink kombucha on an empty stomach in the morning and aren’t yet accustomed to these probiotics, you may experience an upset stomach.

But if you are used to drinking kombucha, drinking it on an empty stomach is the best way to maximize the potency of the probiotics. Without food getting in the way, they’ll pass through your stomach more quickly, meaning more probiotics will make it to your large intestines.

You should also be aware that kombucha can contain alcohol. Though store bought kombucha usually contain less than 0.5% ABV, homemade kombucha can contain more. If you are sensitive to alcohol, avoid drinking kombucha in the morning.

During Meal Time

Drinking kombucha with or after a meal is thought to aid digestion. The carbonation of kombucha may also make you feel more full, which can be useful if your goal is weight loss.

Traditional ayurvedic medicine says that consuming sour or acidic foods and drinks before a meal can also aid in weight loss, though we couldn’t find scientifically supported research to substantiate this.

Before Bedtime

Kombucha is typically made from black or green tea, which can contain caffeine. Though the caffeine content is less after fermentation, there is still caffeine present in the finished brew, about 10 to 25 mg of caffeine per cup. Just to compare, a cup of coffee contains about 40 mg. If you are sensitive to caffeine, it’s best not to consume kombucha in the hours before bed.

Key Takeaway

Kombucha has been around for a long time and with good reason. Most of its numerous health benefits are not backed up by science, but its proponents are all qualified with the health claims. In terms of weight-loss, its effect on the digestive tract seems promising. Before incorporating kombucha in your weight-loss program, talk to your doctor first.

References: 

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1047279718307385
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6117398/
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0963996900000673
  4. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/264774158_A_Review_on_Kombucha_Tea-Microbiology_Composition_Fermentation_Beneficial_Effects_Toxicity_and_Tea_Fungus
  5. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinatroitino/2017/02/01/kombucha-101-demystifying-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-fermented-tea-drink/
  6. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/evidence-mounts-gut-bacteria-can-influence-mood-prevent-depression
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0165178117301981
  8. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/gut-microbes-diet-interact-affect-obesity
  9. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/08/140825185319.htm
  10. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12073
  11. https://www.forbes.com/sites/christinatroitino/2017/02/01/kombucha-101-demystifying-the-past-present-and-future-of-the-fermented-tea-drink/#12bafc944ae2
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28115036
  13. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/19476337.2017.1410499
  14. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814607012940
  15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15374670
  16. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/030438359090083A?via%3Dihub
  17. https://mbio.asm.org/content/5/2/e00013-14
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10888589
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20008687

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