Kombucha is one of my favorite fermented drinks. It gives me energy because of the lactic acid levels. In addition, it contains beneficial yeasts and bacteria, and several other beneficial substances. Read this post to learn more about the science-backed health benefits of kombucha.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a beverage made from tea, sugar, yeast, and bacteria. A culture of acetic bacteria and fungi (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast, or SCOBY) ferments the sugared tea. Originally from China, the beverage made its way to Korea, Japan, and Russia, where its health benefits became well known .
Traditionally, Kombucha is made using white sugar and black tea, but can also be made with green or oolong tea. After the tea is prepared, sugar, starter culture, and tea fungus are added to the mixture to ferment the tea for one to eight weeks .
After this fermentation period, the Kombucha is ready to be taken out and stored in a clean container. It is consumed after fermentation is finished .
Kombucha is reported to have many health benefits. It improves cancer resistance, increases immune functions, reduces inflammation, prevents heart diseases, and promotes digestion .
Health Benefits of Kombucha
Although Kombucha has many health benefits, because most of the studies are done on rats and other animals, its safety is not guaranteed. More human studies must be done before its health benefits can be confirmed.
1) Has Antioxidant Activity
The antioxidant activity in tea and Kombucha can be attributed to their catechin and polyphenol content from the tea leaves .
2) May Help Combat Cancer
Kombucha’s antioxidant activity is believed to help prevent cancer , but there are no clinical trials done on the subject.
EGCG, a major tea polyphenol, can stop cancer cell growth .
In a cell-based study, Kombucha tea extract decreased the survival of prostate cancer cells and prevented blood vessel formation . It does this by inhibiting inflammatory genes such as COX2, IL-8, HIF-1alpha, MMPs, VEGF, and other growth-promoting genes inside of the cancer cells.
Also, the polyphenols, gluconic acid, glucuronic acid, lactic acid, and vitamin C present in Kombucha have been shown to reduce the occurrence of stomach cancer .
There are no clinical trials done on Kombucha and cancer, so it’s unknown if it has any anti-cancer effects in humans.
3) Helps Lower Blood Sugar
Both green and black tea extracts significantly lower blood glucose in rats .
In diabetic rats, Kombucha was a better suppressor of high blood glucose levels than black tea. Kombucha polyphenols can prevent the damage and death of pancreatic β-cells, which plays a role in insulin secretion .
Additionally, Kombucha’s antioxidant properties also help protect against diabetes-related complications .
4) Protects the Heart
In rats, tea extracts reduce total cholesterol and inflammation. It also reduces blood pressure and prevents obesity. All of these effects can help lower the risk of developing heart disease .
5) Aids Gut Health
The bacteria and yeast used in the fermentation process help in the growth of beneficial microbes in the intestine. When humans are exposed to unhealthy environments, their gut microbiota can change and harm their health. Kombucha can help revert the changes and keep their gut healthy .
6) Helps with Detoxification
Kombucha’s antioxidant activity can also help during detoxification in the liver .
Glucuronic acid most likely contributes to most of Kombucha’s detoxifying properties. Glucuronic acid binds to toxin molecules to increase their excretion from the body. It expels drugs, pollutants, steroids, and bile acids out of the body .
Additionally, kombucha contains measurable amounts of glucaric acid. Glucaric acid increases the efficiency of the liver’s detoxification pathways. It does this by eliminating waste the first time instead of letting it become reabsorbed and detoxified repeatedly [4, 5].
Kombucha’s toxin removal action may help patients obtain relief from gout, arthritis, and kidney stones. However, there are no human studies yet .
7) Has Antimicrobial Activity
Kombucha tea can inhibit many pathogenic microorganisms. Black tea and green tea Kombucha possesses greater inhibitory activity compared to oolong .
Kombucha can inhibit the growth of bacteria, and various fungi .
The presence of organic acids, particularly acetic acid, large proteins, and catechins in the beverage contribute to its antimicrobial activities .
- Kombucha has in vitro antimicrobial efficacy against Agrobacterium tumefaciens, Bacillus cereus, Salmonella choleraesuis serotype Typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, and Escherichia coli .
- It also inhibits the growth of Entamoeba cloacae, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, B. cereus, E. coli, Aeromonas hydrophila, Salmonella typhimurium, Salmonella enteritidis, Shigella sonnei, Staphylococcus epidermis, Leuconostoc monocytogenes, Yersinia enterocolitica, Campylobacter jejuni, Helicobacter pylori, and Candida albicans .
Healthy Components in Kombucha
1) Tea Polyphenols and Amino Acids
Many health benefits of Kombucha intake are similar to those of regular tea consumption, including the immune stimulation, digestive improvement, and improved metabolism .
Tea contains chemicals called catechins and polyphenols. They contain many health benefits, which is partly why tea extracts are increasingly used in dietary and health supplements .
2) Glucuronic Acid
Glucuronic acid may contribute to most of Kombucha’s detoxifying properties. Glucuronic acid binds to toxin molecules to increase their excretion from the body. This process is known as glucuronidation .
Glucuronic acid works with butyric acid, also found in Kombucha, to strengthen the gut walls and protect against parasites .
In rats, the glucuronic acid from Kombucha ameliorated pollutant-induced kidney damage. It helped repair the liver and protect against damage by metabolizing toxins .
However, Kombucha actually doesn’t have that much glucuronic acid. Its detoxifying properties might come from other acids found in the beverage .
3) Gluconic Acid
One of the main products of the fermentation process is gluconic acid. The acetic acid-producing bacteria converts glucose to gluconic acid by breaking down caprylic acid. This process helps prevent certain types of yeast-based infections .
Gluconic and butyric acid work together to strengthen the gut walls during yeast infections, thus protecting the digestive system .
4) Glucaric Acid (Glucarate)
Additionally, kombucha contains measurable amounts of glucaric acid. Glucaric acid increases the efficiency of the liver’s detoxification pathways. It does this by blocking the enzyme beta-glucuronidase. This increases the excretion of toxins and toxin reabsorption repeatedly in the liver and the gut [4, 5].
There is ongoing research into the use of glucaric acid to prevent breast, colon, and prostate cancer .
5) Acetic Acid
In Kombucha, acetic acid bacteria converts fructose (sugar) into acetic acid. The acetic acid can prevent fungal growth. It can also work with other Kombucha constituents to stop microbes .
In rats, acetic acid can helps lower total cholesterol levels. Rats fed vinegar also have lower blood pressure than ones fed a normal diet. These effects can help reduce the risk of heart disease .
Vinegar’s main component is acetic acid. When patients took vinegar with food, their feeling of fullness increased. This reduced the amount of food consumed. Daily intake of 750 mg acetic acid might help reduce obesity .
- Kombucha contains the following acetic bacteria: Acetobacter xylinum, A. xylinoides, Bacterium gluconicum, A. aceti, and A. pasteurianus .
6) Butyric Acid
The Kombucha fermentation process forms butyric acid. It protects human cell membranes .
Also, it inhibits tumor cells in the colon while simultaneously promoting healthy colon cells.
7) Lactic Acid
In humans, neurons in the brain use lactate for energy. Glial cells transform glucose into lactate and provide lactate to neurons. Lactate also plays an important role in the early stages of brain development .
8) Malic Acid
Malic acid is often used as a supplement that helps with mitochondrial health. It helps reduce muscle fatigue while aiding muscle performance and preventing pain . Malic acid also helps with fibromyalgia, a disorder that causes muscle pain.
Malic acid can also improve skin condition. It tightens skin pores, which increases smoothness and reduces the appearance of wrinkles. While it is safe to use, topical malic acid does have side effects. Skin care products with malic acid in them may cause rashes, hives, or the sensation of tightening in the chest [15, 16].
9) Usnic Acid
Older studies have reported the presence of usnic acid in Kombucha, but recent studies have not confirmed its presence. Usnic acid deactivates some groups of viruses .
Usnic acid is a potent antibiotic that is effective against bacteria and fungi. It also has anti-inflammatory properties .
In the United States, some food supplements for weight reduction use usnic acid. However, there is no proof for these claims. Daily oral intake of these supplements may cause severe liver damage .
10) Oxalic Acid
Oxalic acid is a byproduct of the Kombucha fermentation process .
It can be useful during the production of ATP, which plays a vital role in energy metabolism .
Oxalic acid’s conjugate base inhibits the lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) enzyme. LDH inhibition prevents anaerobic energy metabolism. Because cancer cells prefer to use anaerobic metabolism, this inhibition can stop tumor formation and growth of cancer cells [19, 20].
When humans are exposed to unhealthy environments, their gut microbiota can change and harm their health. Kombucha can help revert the changes and keep their gut healthy .
The acetic acid in Kombucha stimulates yeast to produce ethanol. In turn, ethanol helps acetic acid bacteria grow and produce acetic acid [1, 21]. Most Kombucha on the market has only a small amount of ethanol, ~0.5%
Ethanol has antimicrobial properties against harmful bacteria. It can also help prevent contamination of the tea fungus .
During the fermentation process, yeast breaks down sucrose (sugar) into fructose and glucose .
A perfect ratio of sucrose and tea is needed to make the optimal concentration of ethanol and lactic acid. Sucrose is the main source of carbon during the fermentation process .
The Kombucha fermentation process can use other types of sugar, such as molasses, to provide carbon, but it makes a lesser quality product. Sucrose is mandatory for a high yield and quality .
14) B Vitamins
The Vitamin B complex contents in Kombucha may aid nervous system function, but there is not enough evidence to support this claim .
The fermentation process for Kombucha may produce hyaluronic acid and chondroitin sulfate acid. However, there is not enough evidence for this .
To see if Kombucha and all of it’s healthy components are right for you, check out SelfDecode. It can answer all of your health related questions on a personalized, genetic level.
Side Effects and Caution
While Kombucha may show many health benefits in animal studies, there is not enough evidence that these effects will be present in humans. There are many case studies and reports of adverse reactions to this beverage .
Some people experience allergic reactions and upset stomachs after drinking Kombucha beverage .
Excess levels of certain acids from the beverage can cause liver and kidney toxicity .
Additionally, people with compromised immune systems should refrain from drinking the beverage because it contains live microorganisms, which can cause infections .
People have also died after drinking large amounts of potentially contaminated Kombucha , although the exact cause of the death was unclear.
If you make your own Kombucha at home, contamination is possible. You should properly store Kombucha in order to prevent food poisoning and toxic reactions .
People with histamine intolerance or mast cell activation disorder may react negatively to kombucha, because it is a fermented food.
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