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Is kombucha tea really the “Champagne of Life” or an imposter?

A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables and protein sources that aren’t red meat, along with cutting back on your daily caloric intake, can do wonders for your overall health, waistline and, particularly, your gut health (promoting the presence of beneficial bacteria, including Lactobacillus).

So, you may be thinking eating probiotic-rich foods in addition to taking a good probiotic is a good thing for your health. However, the jury is very much on the fence about the true benefits of eating probiotic-rich foods.

These mixed messages haven’t slowed down the meteoric popularity of kombucha tea—affectionately called the Champagne of Life, Fungus Japonicus and Mushroom Infusion—on grocery and book store shelves as a complete cure-all nor has it changed the minds of foodies about its perceived value as an energy booster or “fountain of youth.”

Looking for the cultures

Tart and bubbly, kombucha tea is made when brewed black tea is steeped with sugar, then fermented with cultures of bacteria and yeasts in a glass container. After at least a week’s time, billions of microorganisms ferment, soon forming a kombucha mushroom or SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) on top of the tea.

The bacteria cultures contained in kombucha tea can vary greatly, from Saccharomycodes ludwigii to Candida stellate and Pichia fermentans. (Depending on how and where kombucha tea is made, it may also contain molds and fungi.

Despite the questions, people are buying millions of bottles of kombucha tea from companies like GT’s, Tonica and Celestial Seasonings at $4 per bottle. Last month, a new book by Steve Lee, the Portland-based entrepreneur behind Kombucha Wonder Drink, entitled Kombucha Revolution: 75 Recipes for Homemade Brews, Elixirs and Mixers, shows people how to incorporate the popular drink into daily diets.

The reality versus the hype

Unfortunately, the perceptions don’t match the debatable health benefits of kombucha tea. Surprisingly, the verdict from most conventional health sources (WebMD, Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society) matches some of the same concerns voiced by alternative health expert Dr. Andrew Weil.

For one, it’s tough for consumers to make kombucha tea in germ-free home environments and at room temperatures for as long as 12 days where it can become contaminated with harmful bacteria. In an op-ed, Dr. Weil expressed grave concerns about the contamination of home-brewed kombucha teas, as some have contained aspergillus, a toxin-producing fungus.

The high amount of alcohol in home-brewed kombucha teas is another concern, according to Dr. Melissa Wdowik of Colorado State University. In fact, the Whole Foods grocery chain pulled all brands of kombucha teas four years ago due to fluctuations in alcoholic content above the legal 0.5 percent limit, until those amounts dropped.

Also, the “real” health benefits of kombucha teas from the scientific realm are almost non-existent. Although some research has been done with animals, no clinical studies related to kombucha tea have been conducted on humans.

Finally, never assume you’re getting the beneficial strains good bacteria you’d normally receive from taking a probiotic like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic in kombucha tea.

Taking a daily probiotic made from multiple strains of beneficial bacteria is far more effective in treating a wide range of problems, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to traveler’s diarrhea, than drinking kombucha tea with no measurable benefits.

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