Whether or not a person will become an expert or never eat another mouthful is decided in mere seconds. They recoiled as if they had just drank straight white wine. Others drink and say it is a bliss-inducing elixir.
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Personal preferences aside, kombucha may be a worthy addition to your health arsenal, says dietitian Maxine Smith, RD, LD. Now almost as popular at health food stores as your regular supermarkets, kombucha is fermented from tea (usually black, though sometimes green) and sugar (perhaps white, turbinado, agave or honey). The end result? A slightly fizzy drink that’s probiotic-rich, meaning it contains live bacteria and yeasts or “healthy little microbes” that benefit your digestive system.
Smith says that some of the health benefits of kombucha are similar to those of yogurt, kefir, and raw sauerkraut. Specific bioactive compounds that are unique to kombucha are also included.
Breaking down kombucha’s benefits
The tea itself and the polyphenols it contains are likely to be the reason for the many benefits of kombucha to the gut.
The root cause of many diseases and conditions is inflammation and Polyphenols are known to act as strong anti-oxidants in the body and decrease inflammation. The amount of polyphenols increases as a result of the fermentation process.
Kombucha also provides B vitamins, a handful of essential minerals, organic acids (Think: like when vinegar ferments) such as acetic, glucuronic and D-Saccharic acids. These acids, Smith says, have been shown to be antimicrobial, so they fight against bacterial growth. They can also promote detoxification by helping the liver get rid of undesired compounds that it has to process. Last, these acids help transport polyphenols in the body.
Smith says that since some of those acids are produced from alcohol, it is worth noting that kombucha has low levels of alcohol. To put that in perspective, your average craft beer is just under 6 percent.
But just how beneficial is kombucha? “There aren’t a lot of good quality, robust studies to support a lot of kombucha’s hype, but the compounds it contains have been associated in some studies with lowering cholesterol, lowering blood sugar, antimicrobial action, decreased rates of cancer, and improvement of liver and GI function.
So just how much kombucha should you drink?
Too much of anything is bad for you, of course. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that four ounces of kombucha can be safely consumed one to three times a day.
Smith points out that the average bottle of commercially prepared kombucha exceeds a daily, single serving of 16 ounces.
“We just don’t have a lot of research identifying optimal quantities, or even benefits and risks of many probiotic foods,” she notes.
Possible hazards vary by drinker and fermenter
Smith says that drinking too much kombucha could lead to reactions like headaches, nausea, GI distress, and even going into a medical emergency where there’s too much acid in your blood.
If homemade kombuchas are made in clay vessels or other containers that have lead in them, it’s possible that lead toxicity is possible.
Those who should skip the kombucha altogether? We do know pregnant women and young children should find another drink of choice. So should those with certain chronic diseases (particularly liver or kidney disease or HIV), compromised immune systems and alcohol dependency, she adds.
Is there another caveat? People can be allergic to just about anything, so be aware of that.
And then there is the question of proper Sanitation. She saysinted batches can become contaminated with undesirable fungi and overproduction of yeast. It is wise to stick to a trustworthy source when consuming ferments.
Smith cautions not to drink if the color or smell is off and it smells like acetone from an acid overproduction.
She assures that most of the commercially packaged kombucha is fine. It might not be the best place to get a kombucha table if you are at a random flea market.
If you are a do-it-yourselfer, what about that? Smith says that if you have experience making ferment foods and have a clean, sterile environment, you can brew your own using a SCOBY.