Food Friday: Kombucha

Dr. Gina here covering the trends for you. Kombucha is the latest probiotic to hit the shelves big time. Should you drink it ? What is it ? 

Kombucha is a fermented drink make from tea, sugar, and cultures of both bacteria and yeast. It retains live probiotics in its finished form, which is part of the purported benefit. 

I think it is tasty. It can be carbonated, and a little fruit juice can be added. It has a tangy taste of vinegar, since fermentation produces vinegar. Commercial kombucha has small amounts of caffeine such as you would expect with tea, and trace amounts of alcohol which, by law, cannot exceed 0.3%. Most brands are low in sugar and calories and it does hydrate. You’d be wise to read the label just in case. 

You might be interested to hear all of the dramatic health claims about kombucha. In my search, I unearthed numerous animal and in vitro ( test tube) studies which seemed to suggest benefits in various circumstances, as with regards to liver function, lipid metabolism, oxidative stress and even cancer. However, none of these lab studies were conducted in such as way as to apply to humans. 

The Mayo clinic site

states there are no proven benefits to drinking kombucha. This may be more of a statement about the lack of evidence than it is a statement about an absolute lack of benefits. 

A 2014 study published in Journal of Medicinal Food suggests that kombucha " is suitable for the prevention against broad spectrum metabolic and infective disorders.” This study is a literature review and as such is subject to all the biases and potentially flawed methodologies of each of the individual studies reviewed. 

It is measurably true that kombucha contains probiotics and antioxidants from green tea. The health benefits of green tea, from which kombucha is made, are well documented. Therefore it is not unreasonable to ask whether there are any benefits from kombucha as well. 

WebMD’s presentation of the subject is the best and, I think the most balanced.

They highlight the composition, the claims, and the lack of clinical trials on kombucha. They also mention possible health problems with home made kombucha. They also caution against pregnant or lactating women, and the immunocompromised, from drinking kombucha. They do go on to highlight the big picture which is that for healthy people, most of the time, kombucha is a safe and potentially beneficial drink. As with many things, the claims are greater than the science. Also as with many things, more research is needed.  

Would you like to know more about superfoods, dietary supplements and nutraceuticals ? Did you know the National Institute of Health has a division just for you. Check out the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health,

a division of the National Institute for Health, paid for by your tax dollars. 

Stay tuned for more food news on next week’s Food Friday.