kombucha tea

kombucha tea in a mason jar sitting on a table

Kombucha Tea: Facts vs. Fiction

Does drinking a cup of slightly sweet tea containing a live fermented mix of bacterial and yeast cultures sound appealing to you?

For many people who drink kombucha tea, it does by a long shot.

You can’t make a trip to the grocery store without seeing shelves full of bottled kombucha teas in various flavors, along with books and instructional kits on how to make it at home.

Many people see the word “fermented” — just like yogurt, pickles, sourdough bread, sauerkraut and tempeh — and assume they’re enjoying a delicious source of beneficial bacteria.

But is it really all that beneficial? Let’s find out with a review of how it’s made by true believers at home.

Making kombucha at home

Kombucha is created by brewing tea — black, green or oolong — removing the bags, then adding sugar while the brew is still hot, according to Food Source Information, a food production resource created by Colorado State University

Once the tea cools to room temperatures, a spongy culture called a SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast) is added to the brew along with a starter liquid made from previously fermented kombucha to prevent contamination of the tea.

(You can buy a SCOBY and starter liquid at a local health food store or even online.)

The tea and SCOBY are placed in a glass, plastic or stainless steel container, covered with a clean towel and out of direct sunlight for up to 10 days to ferment.

After that, the kombucha tea may be ready for extra flavoring but only if the pH levels of the mix are between 2.5-4.2 (no higher or lower for safety’s sake).

The fictional benefits

If the process of making kombucha at home sounds time-consuming and tricky, it is.

Making kombucha tea at home can be risky if people aren’t careful to keep it safe and sanitary from contamination from bugs like aspergillus that can harm people with compromised immune systems.

Back to addressing the initial question — Is kombucha tea really good for your gut? — there is very little hard medical evidence beyond subjective accounts to support it.

In fact, a recent review by researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine appearing in the Annals of Epidemiology found exactly one study (from 2002) documenting any health benefits of kombucha in human subjects.

Moreover, this review found a number of potential risks to human health, including hepatitis after drinking kombucha tea for two years.

That’s not surprising given that kombucha is unpasteurized and contains an unpredictable mix of bacteria that can create problems for people with weaker immune systems.

Plus, if you’re watching your weight, many mass-produced brands of kombucha drinks contain a lot of sugar, as much as 7 teaspoons per serving!

The best and safest way to replenish the bacteria your body and gut needs to maintain good health is also the most predictable one.

Taking a probiotic, ideally with multiple strains of beneficial bacteria like EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, does the work to protect and boost your immune system and is far better at treating and protecting you from a wider range of health issues too.

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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