Kombucha is touted as a health beverage, but is it really as good for you as it sounds? You’ll find a wide variety of brands and flavors at your local grocery store. Many people have also taken to making their own at home. While there are some evidence-based benefits to drinking kombucha, it’s important to understand those benefits as well as any risks.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a carbonated, fermented tea that has a sweet, acidic taste. It’s made by combining Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, or SCOBY, with brewed tea and sugar. It contains probiotics, which are said to be good for gut health, and antioxidants. This combination has lead it to becoming known as a health drink.
People have enjoyed kombucha for centuries. It was first used for its detoxifying and energizing properties in Northeast China in 220 BCE. The drink’s name is said to derive from a doctor, Kombu, who brought the tea to Japan in 414 CE to help Emperor Inkyo with some digestive issues.
This fermented tea drink became popular in the U.S. in the late 1980s and 1990s, as more and more people heard about its supposed health benefits. While some of the claims have merit and need more research, others are rumors and have no evidence to be true.
Kombucha’s Health Benefits
Because kombucha is made with tea, it contains the benefit of antioxidants found in many teas. Between the antioxidants and the probiotics in kombucha, many health claims have been made about this drink in the past several decades.
Kombucha has been said to cure everything from cancer to AIDS, but there is no evidence to support these claims. Studies have found that rats given kombucha regularly experienced decreased liver toxicity, but similar studies have not been replicated in humans.
“Limited evidence suggests kombucha tea may offer benefits similar to probiotic supplements, including promoting a healthy immune system and preventing constipation,” Dr. Brent Bauer explained, according to Mayo Clinic. “At present, however, valid medical studies of kombucha tea’s role in human health are very limited -- and there are risks to consider.”
Risks of Drinking Kombucha
Kombucha isn’t safe for everyone. Pregnant people, children or those with alcohol use disorder should avoid drinking kombucha. Store-bought kombucha contains about 0.5% alcohol, while homemade varieties can have higher alcohol content.
This beverage is also not recommended for people who have compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses, namely liver disease, kidney disease and HIV, according to Cleveland Clinic.
Kombucha, in excess, can also increase the amount of sugar in your diet. One bottle of kombucha can have nearly 30 grams of sugar, and excess sugar consumption is linked to several health complications, including heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver.
The bubbly, delicious drink is easy to slurp down, but keep in mind that all that carbonation and those probiotics can also cause digestive discomfort. The specific carbohydrates in kombucha called FODMAPs can especially create digestive issues for people who have IBS.
Fermenting anything at home needs to be done with care and kombucha is no different. Kombucha brewed at home or by unregulated persons are at risk of contamination from the brewing vessel, mold and harmful bacteria.
Brewing in clay vessels can cause the vessel to leach lead into the finished drink, so use glass, stainless steel or plastic when brewing kombucha. You also need to be diligent in keeping all equipment, surfaces and your hands clean and sanitary throughout the process.
How Much Kombucha Should I Drink?
You certainly don’t want to replace much of your water intake with kombucha. The CDC recommends drinking no more than 12 to 16 ounces a day, typically broken up into multiple servings.
Ideally, you can enjoy three 4-ounce servings or up to two 8-ounce servings a day without risking some of the negative side effects of drinking too much kombucha. Most bottles are 12, 14 or 16 ounces, so keep this serving size in mind when enjoying your kombucha.
Sipped in moderation, kombucha can be a delicious drink that may offer some health benefits thanks to its antioxidants and probiotics. But there are risks associated and more research is needed to determine the actual benefits of this drink.