Kombucha has long been a player in the wellness world, dating back to Chinese culture in 200 BC, as reported by Forbes. For those unfamiliar, it's a beverage that generally begins with green or black tea which is then fermented with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (also referred to as SCOBY). The name is said to be derived from Dr. Kombu, a Korean physician who presented the drink to Emperor Ingyō of Japan to help cure his ailments. (Back then it was much more savory and made with mushrooms—not the sweet commercial variations we drink today.) As a testament to its large concentration of B vitamins, Japanese samurai warriors allegedly carried the tea in their wineskins to energize them for battle.
Fast-forward to several centuries later and kombucha's popularity has skyrocketed worldwide, with figureheads even claiming it has the ability to address serious diseases like AIDS and cancer. Of course, such claims have not been proven. Despite the questionable nature of those health claims, there are several chemical compounds found in kombucha that make the case for it being a nutritious, "functional" beverage.
The exact compounds found in kombucha are dependent on the individual fermentation times of the brews, the temperature at which they're manufactured, and their sugar content, among other factors, but generally speaking, you're likely to find several B vitamins, detoxifying glucuronic acid, and antioxidant-rich polyphenols, all adding to the allure of the beverage.
We visited the HQ of Bear's Fruit, a Brooklyn-based kombucha company, where co-founder Amy Driscoll chatted with us about the benefits of this popular carbonated beverage. Driscoll poured through stacks of research (though truth be told, more studies need to be done) and helped us put together 10 scientifically-backed benefits of kombucha to validate its thousands of years of existence. We also consulted dietitian Amy Shapiro and nutritional psychiatrist Dr. Uma Naidoo regarding this beverage's health benefits. Scroll on to learn some of the potential health benefits of kombucha.
Meet the Expert
- Amy Driscoll is the co-founder of Bear's Fruit Kombucha, a Brooklyn-based kombucha brand.
- Uma Naidoo, MD is a nutritional psychiatrist and Director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.
- Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN is the founder of Real Nutrition, a private nutrition and wellness practice, as well as the dietitian advisor to Daily Harvest and TwinLabs.
Slows Down the Anti-Aging Process
Aging not only occurs on the outside, but also on the inside, and the antioxidants found in kombucha can help curtail the cellular aging process. "As we age, our skin cells deteriorate, causing the skin to lose its elasticity. Kombucha tea contains powerful antioxidants called EGCGs which are 20 times better at attacking the free radicals that break down your cells than vitamin C, which studies have shown is associated with better skin and notable decreases in skin wrinkling," says Driscoll.
May Ward Off Chronic Disease
Like many fruits and vegetables, kombucha has also been found to decrease the risk of certain chronic illnesses, such as cancer, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. "Kombucha's popularity as a functional food is driven by its empirically proven health benefits, which include anti-inflammatory potential, the reduction of cholesterol levels and blood pressure, reduction of cancer propagation, [and] the improvement of [the] liver, the immune system, and gastrointestinal functions," says Dr. Naidoo. However, she says additional research still needs to be conducted on how drinking kombucha benefits the gut microbiome and the body as a whole.
The key to having a strong immune system is having a variety of bacteria living in your gut microbiome, and kombucha can give your gut some of the healthy bacteria it needs. "Kombucha, [like] any other fermented food like kimchi, yogurt, or tempeh, has a positive effect on the gut microbiome. It feeds the good bacteria that inhabit your gut," explains Dr. Naidoo.
Helps Refine Skin, Hair, and Nail Health
Got skin, hair, or nail goals? Drinking kombucha may be able to help since it has several varieties of B vitamins. "Kombucha has a ton of B vitamins (B1, B2, B6, and B12, to be specific), which are essential for maintaining and producing new, healthy cells," says Driscoll. "Drinking this 'vitamin B cocktail' found in kombucha helps your skin glow and strengthens your hair and nails."
Kills Harmful Bacteria
Our bodies tend to harbor bacteria that can be harmful to our health, but kombucha's chemical composition has been found to kill some of these harmful bacteria. "Kombucha, by nature, is antimicrobial so it helps to kill off toxins and bad bacteria. Also, kombucha contains acetic acid which assists with this process. Research shows these qualities also help to fight harmful bacteria that cause foodborne illness such as salmonella, listeria, and E. coli," explains Shapiro.
Besides killing the bacteria that are responsible for the onset of foodborne illnesses, Driscoll says kombucha can also kill other bad bacteria. "The pH level in kombucha can also kill strep throat and other icky germs you pick up while riding the subway to work," she says.
Aids in Weight Loss
According to Shapiro, kombucha contains a boatload of probiotics and acetic acid. Both have been scientifically proven to aid weight loss. "Probiotics reduce the number of calories you absorb from food and affect hormones and proteins related to appetite, fat storage, and obesity by upping your healthy gut bacteria count. [Meanwhile], acetic acid has been proven to curb hunger, reduce bloating, and reduce overall body weight by preventing your body from processing food into fat," explains Driscoll.
Even though drinking kombucha can help with weight loss, Shapiro says to not think of kombucha as a "weight loss miracle drink" since some kombucha products also contain a significant amount of added sugar.
Supports the Digestive System
If you're struggling with digestion-related issues, consider adding kombucha to your diet. "Kombucha is a fermented beverage and is therefore extremely helpful to the gut microbiome as it adds back good bacteria and therefore supports gut health. Digestion is improved when our gut health is optimized and consuming fermented food and beverages helps this," says Dr. Naidoo.
Helps the Body Detoxify
Our bodies tend to absorb some of the toxins found in our environment, and Shapiro says that the vitamins in kombucha can benefit the overall well-being of the body and the liver. However, the glucuronic acid in kombucha is primarily responsible for flushing out toxins in the body.
"The glucuronic acid in kombucha binds to toxins, which allows the kidneys and liver to push them out faster. Toxins can be anything from one too many tequilas (we’ve all been there) or harmful carcinogens and pollution we’re exposed to on a daily basis. In fact, studies have shown drinking kombucha regularly reduces liver toxicity caused by dangerous chemicals by 70% in some cases," explains Driscoll.
Believe it or not, Shapiro says that the gut and the brain have a relationship that is responsible for our cognitive abilities. "[The] connection [between our brain and gut] is powerful, and research shows the more beneficial gut health we have, the better our blood flow to the brain. Also, antioxidants [in kombucha] help to promote brain health and cognitive function," she adds.
Additionally, kombucha is packed with vitamin B9. "[This is] (also known as folic acid), which has been known to help with memory recall and fight against neurodegenerative conditions in the brain including Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and epileptic seizures," says Driscoll.
Supplements Vitamin-Deficient Diets
Are you not really much of a meat-eater? If so, drinking kombucha is a great source of vitamin B12, a vitamin that is found in red meat. "The good news is kombucha naturally contains approximately 100 times the amount of vitamin B12 found in lamb," notes Driscoll. To prevent anemia and fatigue, try drinking a bottle of Bear's Fruit to get a dose of vitamin B12.
Although drinking kombucha can help improve your vitamin intake, Shapiro recommends taking a daily multivitamin and eating foods that are rich in vitamins and nutrients as well.
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