Kombucha – A Doctor Drinks a Glass

Kombucha: A Doctor’s Perspective

I had to drink my first kombucha for this post. Yes, I live in Austin.

I’m also a Gen-Xer who can be a little behind the times (did y’all hear Blockbuster closed?). So I’ll admit that I hadn’t drank “booch” until now. What did I think?

What is Kombucha & Where Is It From?

First things first, what’s kombucha and where did it come from? Ever heard of SCOBY? That’s short for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.” You ferment some tea with the SCOBY, and presto, you’ve got kombucha! It’s believed to have originated in China (or Russia depending on who you’re talking to), where it’s widely consumed.

Health Benefits of Kombucha

What about the health benefits? *dims lights, clangs cymbal, whispers* For centuries, it has been believed that kombucha can:

  • Cure asthma, cataracts, diabetes, gout, rheumatoid arthritis, diarrhea, insomnia, even herpes.
  • Shrink the prostate gland and expand libido
  • Reverse gray hair (like retracts it back into the scalp? We’re not sure)
  • Lower hypertension
  • Prevent cancer
  • Provide an overall good sense of well-being.

No Definitive Proof

However, in 2003 and again in 2014, researchers could find no definitive proof that kombucha provided any of the purported clinical benefits. In fact, the authors of the former article went as far as to say that kombucha should not be recommended for therapeutic use, as it is in a class of “remedies that only seem to benefit those who sell them.” Solid burn, researchers.

Kombuch Provides Antioxidants

Then, a competing study out of booch-loving Latvia found that kombucha provides antioxidants, aids in detox, boosts energy, and boosts immunity. Slightly vague, but those sound good. So what to make of it?

How Kombucha Interacts with the Gut

There’s a lot of research right now into the gut microbiome. That’s the collection of bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms living in our gastrointestinal tract. Medical researchers are just starting to understand how important the microbiome is in our immunity. It may be that things like the probiotics in kombucha aid our microbiome in some way. The discoveries of this research at this point, though, is a little like me – behind the times.

Who Shouldn’t Drink Kombucha?

Should anyone not drink kombucha? It is not recommended for kids under 4 or if you are immunocompromised in any way. Remember, the SCOBY has bacteria in it. Pregnant and nursing women should talk to their doctor first.

Kombucha Has an Acquired Taste

So what did I think when the fizzy, vinegary drink touched my palate? “Not bad.” It’s an acquired taste, like most fermented beverages (if you know what I mean). And while it has some sugar in it, it’s definitely superior to grabbing a soda.

So while I can’t tell you there’s hard evidence that kombucha will turn your grays back to brown, it’s a pretty refreshing, tasty beverage that (may) even be good for you.

[References:

Ernst E (2003). “Kombucha: a systematic review of the clinical evidence”. Forschende Komplementärmedizin und klassische Naturheilkunde. 10 (2): 85–87

Jayabalan, Rasu (21 June 2014). “A Review on Kombucha Tea—Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus”. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. 13 (4): 538–550.

Vina, I (Feb2014). “Current evidence on physiological activity and expected health effects of kombucha fermented beverage.” J Med Food. 2014 Feb;17(2):179-88.]

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