Food Galley Gab

To Kombucha or Not To Kombucha (this is my question)

To Kombucha or Not To Kombucha (this is my question) is a post about the myths, facts, and personal opinions of the health benefits of drinking this “magical elixir,” as it is often called. Currently, quite a few of my Beijing friends and I are ordering kombucha through a local supplier who brews it herself. Our friend, Jackie, is our ‘dealer.’ She has sourced and organizes our weekly deliveries and we are thankful for her efforts. Expensive? Oh yes! But we all deem it to be worthy of our loot. How are we benefiting? What does science say? What do kombucha enthusiasts say? Continue reading to find out and I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. 

Background Info:

Kombucha originated in Asia. Many articles I’ve read state that it most likely originated in China, however, I did not come across an article that 100% proved that. Kombucha also goes by the name “mushroom tea,” though this is misleading, as there are no mushrooms in this product nor does it originate from any fungi source. To say it simply, Kombucha is fermented tea. It has been around for thousands of years and made it’s appearance in North America in the late 90’s. This is when you could find bottles on store shelves, though most likely, few shelves and only in health food style stores. It seems to have made a larger appearance and been found more widely in North America since about 2008.  

What is this stuff & how is it made?:

This fermented tea is meant to heal a multitude of ailments and diseases according to kombucha enthusiasts, be a great supplier of probiotics, give you energy, help and/or cure anxiety and depression, and to simply give you a good n’ healthy gut, in addition to a multitude of other things. Just Google it. There are far too many ailments and diseases that this “magical elixir” cures so I will not list it here. Many people home brew this concoction or purchase it in the store either pasteurized or unpasteurized (more about that later). It has a slight vinegar taste and is quite acidic. You can buy it or make it in many different flavors. My two favorite are lavender/blueberry & lemongrass/ginger. 

The process is simple. You need to purchase a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). Some also refer to this as the “mother.” Simply stated it is the home for the bacteria and yeast. You add a small bit of sugar (gets further diluted in the fermenting process) to black tea (sometimes green tea), and then let it ferment for at least a week. Don’t go too long or the process could go south and have serious health effects. Due to the fermentation, there are trace/slight amounts of alcohol in the kombucha. The fermenting process occurs in a non-refrigerated environment, perhaps in the dark, and typically in a glass jar. Using ceramic in the fermenting process can lead to lead poisoning and other materials can easily kill the “mother” or have other negative effects. It is of the utmost importance that kombucha is made in a sterile environment to avoid introducing unhealthy bacteria into mixture. Just know what you’re doing!

Possible myths:

There is no scientific evidence or studies to support that kombucha can cure diabetes, cancer, depression, anxiety, arthritis, colitis, or any other disease or ailment that many posts/articles state. However, there have not been very many in depth studies of the effects of kombucha on humans.  

Facts:

When drinking unpasteurized kombucha (less safe if you don’t know you’re making it properly) you get a large does of probiotics. Probiotics give your gut healthy bacteria. Therefore, it may be able to help and prevent certain illnesses. Probiotics are most definitely great for your immune system and for getting that digestive tract running smoothly. There have been documented studies done on rats that showed kombucha reduced their liver toxicity. Of course, it is safest when pasteurized but this could compromise the health benefits kombucha offers.

Questionable:

There may or may not be a high enough volume of antioxidants and flavonoids in a drinkable dose of kombucha so that one may garner the positive effects that they would have on your body.  

How to drink kombucha:

It appears that many people drink approximately 4 oz (125 ml) of kombucha a day. However, other articles I have read state that people may have 2 oz in the morning and then 2 oz again in the evening. I have also read that after a few weeks of drinking kombucha you may slightly increase your ‘dosage’ as long as your body is reacting positively to it. Some people with sensitive stomachs or who start by taking too much too soon may experience nausea, vomiting, or even jaundice (though not common). Listen to your body! I have read that drinking it in the morning is the best time to imbibe, however, that information was not included in most of the articles that I had read.  

What the nay-sayers think:

  • It is too high in acidity and that this can damage your teeth (though I’ve read that you should drink it all at once to avoid this, swish some water around in your mouth afterwards, and refrain from brushing your teeth for the hour following consumption). 
  • If you drink too much you can put yourself at risk, as there are cases of individuals getting lactic acidosis (just know you do not want this). 
  • There a few incidents of individuals dying from consuming kombucha that was not brewed properly.
  • There is no scientific evidence to support that kombucha prevents, cures, or helps diseases.

What the enthusiasts are saying:

  • It can help to prevent, cure, and diminish symptoms, of a variety of diseases and illnesses. 
  • The probiotics help with digestive issues (move those bowels, people!), give you energy, lift your spirits.
  • Loads you with B vitamins and boosts your immune system.
  • Enhances the absorption of minerals.
  • The proof is in the pudding. If for thousands of years individuals have felt and witnessed first hand the positive effects of this “magical elixir,” there is not much more evidence one needs to acquire to believe in the healing power of kombucha.

What myself and my friends have noticed since drinking about 250 ml/day for a few months now: (some of us have different answers and we drink it for different needs or simply for overall wellness)

  • “Can eat and not feel bloated, heavy or gross.”  
  • “Gets the digestive tract moving better and produces better stools.”
  • “Gives perkiness that was not there prior throughout the day. Feel less tired.”
  • “Works better and faster than the probiotics that I have taken in the past.”
  • “Happier and more energetic.”
  • “I had really gripey IBS type pain for a good few months before hitting the kombucha. It was staring to get me down. I didn’t realize how much I wasn’t regular but now, when drinking this daily, I am so regular and feel no pain anymore. It is so much better drinking the kombucha than not drinking it that I actually stress if I run out.”

To conclude, I would say that you should do what you think works for you! If you think this is non-sense and don’t believe that people experience these positive side effects than don’t drink it. If you want to give it a try hoping it will cure something or at least for a better gut due to those amazing probiotics, give it a go! Start with less and increase as you go. Just remember, be aware of how you feel, how much you’re drinking daily, and that I have heard that the pasteurization process can kill the probiotics, however, you could research this more. Do what’s good for you, your gut, and be smart! Please feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts. Would love to get a good discussion going!

1000 ml bottles of blueberry/lavender & lemongrass/ginger kombucha