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 living 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.”
If you already eat a whole foods based diet, drinking kombucha regularly is a great addition that can help you 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 is 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.” This means they produce cellulose, which acts as a shield to cells.
The sugar-tea solution is fermented by bacteria and yeast commonly known as a “SCOBY” (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Although it’s usually made with black tea, kombucha can also be made with green teas — or both. 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.
This health elixir has the following probiotic content:
- 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 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
- 14 grams carbohydrates
- 4 grams sugar
- 20 milligrams sodium
- 100 micrograms folate (25 percent DV)
- 0.34 gram riboflavin/vitamin B2 (20 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligram vitamin B6 (20 percent DV)
- 0.3 milligram 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 this beverage.
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 0.5 percent for most products) may rise somewhat.
Be sure to purchase it from trustworthy sources and drink it within a relatively brief time after purchasing. If you make it 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 it 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 reduce inflammation. This inflammation-reducing, detoxing quality is probably one reason it might potentially decrease the risk for certain kinds of cancers.
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.
While normal black tea does contain antioxidants, research shows that the fermentation process of kombucha creates antioxidants not present in black tea, like D-saccharic acid, also known as glucaric acid. Kombucha may specifically influence the activity of two important antioxidants known as glutathione peroxidase and catalase. It was also discovered to contain isorhamnetin, a metabolite of quercetin, in December 2016. Quercetin is associated with a long life span 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.”
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. Some research has shown its ability to prevent and heal stomach ulcers. It can also help stop candida from overpopulating within the gut by restoring balance to the digestive system, with live probiotic cultures that help the gut 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. 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 you may need some patience or trial and error.
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 well-being. Its high vitamin B12 content is one reason supplements sometimes contain dry kombucha products.
The gut-repairing function 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. 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).
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. That said, I would recommend you drink it, 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.
In lab studies, kombucha has been found to have antibacterial effects against staph, E. coli, Sh. sonnei, two strains of salmonella and Campylobacter jejuni. The last of those is probably the most common cause of food poisoning in the U.S. 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 food-borne infections and significant costs to treat, the FDA is very interested in potential treatment methods for C. jejuni.
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 consume kombucha without a high sugar load.
Particularly due to the functions of antioxidants in it, it seems to help alleviate diabetes symptoms in research studies using animal subjects — and more efficiently than the anti-diabetic black tea from which it’s fermented. This appears to be especially true in terms of liver and kidney functions, which are generally poor for those with diabetes.
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 lower triglyceride levels, as well as regulate cholesterol naturally.
8. Helps maintain a healthy liver
Since the liver helps filter and convert harmful compounds, it’s a vital component in digestion and overall health. The antioxidants in kombucha may protect the liver from oxidative stress and damage induced by acetaminophen overdose.
How to Make Kombucha
Kombucha is simple to make yourself. We recommend you give it a shot because brewing your own unpasteurized kombucha is rewarding when you consider the cost of purchasing store-bought bottles.
Here is a simple recipe for making your own kombucha at home. This recipe makes about eight cups, but you can also double the recipe to make more — and you still only need one SCOBY disk.
Yields: 8 cups
- 1 large glass or metal jar or bowl with a wide opening — Avoid using a plastic jar or bowl because the chemicals in the plastic can leach into the kombucha during the fermentation period. Ceramic pots might leach into the kombucha once the acid comes into contact with the ceramic glaze. Look for a big metal or glass jug/jar/bowl, and make sure the opening is wide enough to allow a lot of oxygen to reach the kombucha while it ferments.
- 1 large piece of cloth or a dish towel — Secure this material around the opening of the jar with a rubber band. Do not use a cheesecloth, as it allows particles to pass through. You can even try using an old thin cotton T-shirt or some simple cotton fabric from any textile store.
- 1 SCOBY disk — You can find a SCOBY disk in health food stores or online for relatively inexpensive amounts. A SCOBY disk can be vacuum-sealed in a small pouch and shipped directly to your house for only a few dollars, while still preserving all of the active yeast ingredients.
- 8 cups of water — I would use filtered water, if possible, but using tap water is also a viable option. Some prefer using distilled water, which contains less contaminants or metals than tap water. Distilled water is inexpensive (around 88 cents a gallon) and can be found at most large drug or convenience stores.
- ½ cup organic cane sugar or raw honey — Yes, this is one of the few times I’ll tell you to use real sugar! Most of it is actually “eaten” by the yeast during the fermentation process, so there is very little sugar left in the recipe by the time you consume it. It is important to use only organic cane sugar. There are reports of successful kombucha fermentation using raw honey, but most sources recommend cane sugar only.
- 4 organic tea bags — Traditionally, kombucha is made from black tea, but you can also try green tea to see which you prefer.
- 1 cup of pre-made kombucha — You need to purchase your first batch or get a cup from a friend who has recently made homemade kombucha. For future batches, just keep a cup on hand for the next time. Be sure to purchase only organic, unpasteurized kombucha. Pasteurized varieties do not contain the appropriate live cultures you need.
- Bring your water to boil in a big pot on the stovetop. Once boiling, remove from heat and add your teabags and sugar, stirring until the sugar dissolves.
- Allow the pot to sit and the tea to steep for about 15 minutes, then remove and discard tea bags.
- Let the mixture cool down to room temperature (which usually takes about one hour). Once it’s cool, add your tea mixture to your big jar/bowl. Drop in your SCOBY disk and 1 cup of pre-made kombucha.
- Cover your jar/bowl with your cloth or thin kitchen towel and try to keep the cloth in place by using a rubber band or some sort of tie. You want the cloth to cover the wide opening of the jar and stay in place but be thin enough to allow air to pass through.
- Allow the kombucha to sit for 7–10 days, depending on the flavor you’re looking for. Less time produces a weaker kombucha that tastes less sour, while a longer sitting time makes the kombucha ferment even longer and develop more taste. Some people report fermenting kombucha for up to a month before bottling with great results, so taste test the batch every couple of days to see if it’s reached the right taste and level of carbonation for you.
Usually, the warmer your home is, the less time the kombucha needs to ferment. Once you’re happy with the taste, put yours into smaller glass bottles (or whatever type of bottle fits in your refrigerator) and refrigerate it for at least 24 hours to allow it to cool and finish carbonating. The longer you refrigerate it before opening, the more fizzy it will be.
Note that as the fermentation process happens, you will notice that the SCOBY disk “grows” a second SCOBY disk. Many people call the SCOBY that you purchased and used to make the kombucha the “mother” SCOBY and the second SCOBY that grows the “baby.” The mother SCOBY is located on top of the baby.
You can actually use the newly formed baby SCOBY to create a whole new batch of kombucha, so you don’t want to throw out the baby disk. Store the baby SCOBY in a bit of already-made kombucha in a glass jar while not using it so you have it on hand to start a new batch when you want it. It will be “active” for several weeks when it’s stored in some kombucha at room temperature on a countertop or in a pantry.
While some people prefer to keep the mother SCOBY disk attached to the baby, others prefer to throw away the mother SCOBY once the kombucha is finished fermenting.
Keeping the mother disk hasn’t caused any reported problems or contamination. According to some sources, the mother disk can keep fermenting new kombucha batches for about another month after its first use but will then become inactive and should be thrown away.
Brewing Flavored Kombucha
The kombucha recipe above is for a basic, unflavored kombucha. You can try adding unique flavors like fresh-squeezed lemon or lime juice; ginger root “juice” made by blending ginger and water; blended berries; and fresh-squeezed orange, pomegranate or cranberry juices.
I recommend doing this after it has become a fermented tea and is ready to drink, although some people prefer to add flavor-enhancers to the kombucha a day or two before it’s done so the flavor can intensify. Either way seems to work well.
Another thing to keep in mind is that flavored, bottled kombucha tends to have more sugar than the plain kind. Some brands add very low-sugar flavors like lemon, lime or ginger juice, which won’t jack up the sugar content, but look out for kinds that are high in added, hidden sugar and aggravate health problems.
Once your homemade kombucha is complete (or you’ve just returned from the grocery store), you want to store it in a clear glass bottle or jar with a tightly fit lid, preferably not metal, if you have the option. Plastic bottles may swell or harden, and color from dyed jars can get into the drink.
When bottling kombucha, leave an inch or less of air at the top of the bottle. This should allow for an appropriate amount of carbonation.
It’s important never to shake a bottle of this drink and risk exploding its container. Try holding your entire hand over the lid as you open it to prevent it from popping off unexpectedly.
Be sure to refrigerate your completed beverage to extend its shelf life. If you add flavoring, consider that when storing the it. For example, fresh fruits will go bad in the kombucha long before the drink.
Precautions and Potential Kombucha Side Effects
Most people experience great benefits drinking kombucha and have no adverse side effects.
A minor consideration should be made in regard to protecting your teeth. Because of the acidity of kombucha, you can help prevent damaging your teeth by drinking it at one sitting and swishing water in your mouth afterward.
Kombucha side effects seem to be more of a risk when making it yourself because contamination is possible, and the SCOBY disk and finished product aren’t tested for quality like they are when manufactured commercially. If you’re going to brew your own, use sterile equipment, clean working spaces and high-quality ingredients.
A small percentage of people experience bloating, nausea, infections and allergic reactions when drinking it. Because it has a high level of acidity, it’s possible that this can cause problems for people with digestive problems, like stomach ulcers, heartburn or sensitivity to very acidic foods.
If you are concerned about these issues, start drinking a small amount in moderation and gradually work your way up to drinking more in order to see if you have any negative reactions to it. Stick to about eight ounces per day or less, especially in the beginning. To limit your risk, buy pre-made, unpasteurized kombucha that’s been tested for bacterial contamination.
People who have severely compromised immunity due to certain viruses like HIV/AIDS need to be careful about consuming it since there is always a possibility that the yeast can grow harmful bacteria that can cause illness. This is especially true of homemade kombucha.
While it hasn’t been studied much at all in pregnant women, there is always concern that pregnant women shouldn’t consume alcohol or caffeine, both of which are present in kombucha in small amounts. Before more formal research is conducted showing that it’s completely safe, pregnant women are advised to err on the safe side and avoid it — or at least to enjoy it in small quantities.
Kombucha is brewed using black tea and sugar, which when fermented turns into alcohol in very small amounts (only about 1 percent of kombucha is believed to be alcohol). For people with existing diabetes, it likely won’t cause much of a problem considering it’s very low in sugar (about two grams per eight ounce), but it’s worth being careful and monitoring blood sugar levels and related symptoms.
For those with digestive problems (like IBS) or anxiety disorders, the low level of caffeine in this drink is also something to be conscious of since caffeine can sometimes aggravate these conditions if consumed in excess.
There has been one incidence of severe acidosis in the 1990s that was associated with kombucha consumption, although no causal link was ever established.
- Kombucha has been around for millennia, touted as a miracle health elixir (particularly by the Chinese).
- While nothing is a “miracle cure” for disease, it has a large number of benefits — due to the live cultures it contains.
- I prefer the unpasteurized kind, as the pasteurized version no longer contains the probiotics that make it so beneficial.
- The powerful antioxidants in this drink contribute to its anti-inflammatory, gut-healing and even potential anticancer properties.
- Due to the way it supports a healthy gut, it can help to relieve gastrointestinal issues, improve mental health and fight dangerous bacterial infections.
- Drinking kombucha may help in managing diabetes, protecting the liver and maintaining a healthy heart.
- Making your own kombucha is a simple and cost-effective way to enjoy the benefits of kombucha every day.
- To avoid any negative side effects, the common recommendation is to start by drinking very small amounts of kombucha and work your way to larger quantities. Most people prefer between eight to 16 ounces per day.
From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.
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