Health Elixir or Snake Oil: Is Kombucha Good for Your Health?
Proponents of kombucha attribute a laundry list of health benefits to this beverage. Many of these have yet to be validated by peer-reviewed science (e.g. kombucha as the cure to cancer), while other claims (such as kombucha’s ability to enhance mental acuity, increase life expectancy, and promote weight loss) are accruing supporting evidence in the scientific literature (Hartmann, 2000). With the number of studies demonstrating kombucha’s healing properties piling up, researchers are now trying to figure out how kombucha works its magic inside the body.
Kombucha is believed to improve human health through three major pathways: detoxification, antioxidation, and immune system support. The main detoxifying ingredient in kombucha is glucuronic acid, which is able to conjugate xenobiotics (these are exogenous chemicals such as environmental pollutants and pharmaceuticals) and toxic metabolites, thus modifying them into compounds that are more readily soluble and easier for the body to release from its tissues and eventually excrete (Vīna, 2014).
Kombucha boasts a plethora of antioxidants that are critical for neutralizing free radicals and preventing oxidative stress in the cell. Sai et al. (2000) demonstrated the therapeutic potential of kombucha by administering a chromate treatment (which is a known inducer of oxidative stress and an immune system inhibitor) to rats. The researchers observed that the chromate-induced changes in the rats were completely reversed following kombucha feeding, suggesting that the tea has potent antioxidant effects. Scientists posit that the antioxidant properties of kombucha may have the potential to aid significantly in the treatment of chronic diseases caused by oxidative stress, ranging from autoimmune disorders to gout. In fact, kombucha has been found to have significant positive effects in mouse models as a treatment for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) (Hyun, 2016), gastric ulcers (Banerjee, 2010), and multiple sclerosis (Marzban, 2015).
Although the exact mechanisms by which kombucha mediates immune response have yet to be elucidated, consumption of kombucha is thought to provide potent immune system support via the anti-inflammatory effects of kombucha’s antioxidants, such as Vitamin C and phenolic compounds (Vīna, 2014).
Modern science has only just begun to uncover the secrets of kombucha. Although the beverage’s antioxidant activity has been the main focus of research in terms of illuminating the mechanisms behind its health benefits, it is highly likely that the bacterial and yeast strains found in kombucha also affect the human microbiome, helping to shape its composition and thus the health of the consumer.
If you’re eager to incorporate this ancient drink into your life, it can easily be brewed at home for next to nothing, or purchased in most major grocery stores. Just beware of commercial kombucha brands that add extra sugars or fruit juice, as these will negate the health benefits!
Marzban, Fatemeh, Gholamreza Azizi, Sanaz Afraei, Reza Sedaghat, Mir Hadi Seyedzadeh, Alireza Razavi, and Abbas Mirshafiey. “Kombucha Tea Ameliorates Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis in Mouse Model of Multiple Sclerosis.” Food and Agricultural Immunology 26.6 (2015): 782-93. Web.
Banerjee, Debashish, Sham Hassarajani A., Biswanath Maity, Geetha Narayan, Sandip Bandyopadhyay K., and Subrata Chattopadhyay. “Comparative Healing Property of Kombucha Tea and Black Tea against Indomethacin-induced Gastric Ulceration in Mice: Possible Mechanism of Action.” Food & Function 1.3 (2010): 284-93. Web.
Hartmann, Anita M., Laura Burleson E., Adam Holmes K., and Charles Geist R. “Effects of Chronic Kombucha Ingestion on Open-field Behaviors, Longevity, Appetitive Behaviors, and Organs in C57-bl/6 Mice: A Pilot Study.” Nutrition 16.9 (2000): 755-61. Web.
Hyun, Jeongeun, Youngjae Lee, Sihyung Wang, Jinnyun Kim, Jieun Kim, Jaeho Cha, Young-Su Seo, and Youngmi Jung. “Kombucha Tea Prevents Obese Mice from Developing Hepatic Steatosis and Liver Damage.” Food Science and Biotechnology 25.3 (2016): 861-66. Web.
Vīna, Ilmāra, Pāvels Semjonovs, Raimonds Linde, and Ilze Deniņa. “Current Evidence on Physiological Activity and Expected Health Effects of Kombucha Fermented Beverage.” Journal of Medicinal Food 17.2 (2014): 179. Web.
Sai, Ram, B. Anju, T. Pauline, Dipti Prasad, A. Kain, S. Mongia, S. Sharma, B. Singh, R. Singh, G. Ilavazhagan, Devendra Kumar, and W. Selvamurthy. “Effect of Kombucha Tea on Chromate(VI)-induced Oxidative Stress in Albino Rats.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 71.1-2 (2000): 235-40. Web.