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.

Are probiotic foods really beneficial for your gut?

Not only does eating a nutritious diet go a long way toward helping you live a longer life, it also helps you maintain good gut health.

I’m often asked if a diet focusing on probiotic-rich foods can have the same positive effects as taking a concentrated probiotic supplement.

The answer is complicated. Suffice it to say, the jury is still out about the advantages of consuming foods often associated with probiotics. Let’s take a closer look at foods that are made with bacteria to see how they compare to probiotics.

Kombucha: Made with sugar, bacteria, yeast and tea, this non-alcohol beverage is an often marketed as a “probiotic food.” Even its supporters say kombucha is an acquired taste due to its fermented odor and sour flavor. Also, the Mayo Clinic reports adverse effects linked to drinking kombucha (infections, allergic reactions and stomach problems).

Sauerkraut: Another famous probiotic food, sauerkraut is thinly cut cabbage that has been fermented with various lactic acid bacteria, including lactobacillus and leuconostoc and pediococcus. Unfortunately, most brands you’ll find at the grocery store are pasteurized, so they contain no live bacteria.

Miso: This traditional, thick Japanese paste, made by fermenting barley, rice and soybeans with salt and a fungus (kojikin) can be added to sauces, spreads or soups.

Sourdough bread: This kind of bread contains lactobacillus in higher amounts compared to yeast than others due to the fermentation process.

Are probiotic foods really beneficial for your gut?Pickles: The pickled cucumber is a popular food that has been put in a brine, vinegar or another solution and left to ferment for a specific time. But, avoid pickles made with vinegar, as they aren’t naturally fermented (like those made from water and sea salt).

Chocolate: A recent study found one probiotic strain (Bacillus indicus) combined with lemon fiber and maltodextrin in dark chocolate (50 percent cocoa) did survive processing at high rates and texture, taste and color wasn’t significantly affected.

Moreover, previous research concluded chocolate may be a better “carrier” for some probiotics because bacterial survival rates were four times greater.

Kefir: Called the “champagne of milk,” kefir is made from fermenting the lactose contained in milk to lactic acid and yeast that converts lactose into carbon dioxide, giving it a bubbly consistency.

However, consuming kefir may cause intestinal cramping and constipation, particularly when you start using it, according to WebMD.

Yogurt: This probiotic food is the most popular, but you have to make sure the yogurt you eat contains live cultures that are beneficial for your gut health. But that’s not all.

Part of the process in making commercially made yogurt brands includes high-heat pasteurization that kills any harmful bacteria and the introduction of new kinds of bacteria in widely variable amounts that may or may not make a difference to your health.

You’ll also have to choose between yogurt brands containing dairy fat versus sugar or artificial sweeteners, which come with their own individual sets of health problems.

And, if you like frozen yogurt, only a portion of the milk used to make much of it has been fermented, so not many brands offer the probiotic benefits you’re seeking.

The real problem

Are probiotic foods really beneficial for your gut?To enjoy bacterial benefits via this list of foods, in most cases, you’ll have to make them yourself. Also, you’ll have to change your diet substantially to make a dent in your gut bacteria.

Unlike studies in which patients are eating it two or more times a day, some experts believe consuming yogurt just once in a while won’t make a difference at all.

The good news: Taking a daily probiotic made from multiple strains of beneficial bacteria, such as EndoMune Advanced Probiotic, is far more effective in treating a wide range of health problems, from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to traveler’s diarrhea, than eating foods containing limited amounts, or a single strain, of bacteria.

For children, giving them EndoMune Advanced Jr. will help protect their gut health and immune systems too.

Vaginal Yeast & Urinary Tract Infections

This month is directed to the female readers, but the men are also invited to read it.

I am often asked about the benefits of Probiotics in preventing recurrent vaginal and urinary tract infections.  It is well known that the lactobacillus organisms are the major bacteria populating the vaginal lining cells (mucosa) and it’s these organisms that act as a barrier to prevent infections.

Scientific investigations have proven that female urinary tract infections result due to bacteria arising from the intestinal tract.  These bacteria spread to the vagina, then enter and infect the urinary bladder.

Research studies have discovered how lactobacilli can enhance the immune system against infections; Different strains of lactobacilli have specific benefits.

For instance, certain strains can produce bacterocins, antibiotics against specific infectious organisms.  Other lactobacilli produce a biofilm that prevents infectious bacteria from adhering and colonizing the lining cells.  Additionally, some lactobacilli produce hydrogen peroxide, which is bacterocidal to many of the pathogenic bacteria. It’s these mechanism and others that have been shown to be important in maintaining the health of the female urogenital tract.

Women have known for decades that yogurt may help prevent vaginal yeast infections. The normal vaginal mucosa is colonized by Lactobacillus acidophilus which is in some yogurts.  This bacteria is able to form lactic acid which lowers the pH and prevents the growth of Candida albicans.  Unfortunately, taking antibiotics can kill Lactobacillus acidophilus and allow for the development of a vaginal yeast infection.

Candida is always present in low numbers within the intestinal tract and is ready to populate when given the opportunity.  When antibiotics are taken, the good bacteria are reduced and the fungus can grow and spread.

There have been a number of studies and reviews on the benefits of taking probiotics containing different strains of lactobacillus bacteria.  When the appropriate strains have been given, the recurrence rate of urinary tract infections has decreased.1

In addition, oral probiotics have been shown to lessen vaginal yeast infections.2

Thanks for your interest in EndoMune.

Eat healthy and live well!

LawrenceJ Hoberman MD

(1) Probiotics for prevention of recurrent urinary tract infections in women: a review of the evidence from microbiological and clinical studies.- Falagas ME – Drugs – 01-JAN-2006; 66(9): 1253-61

(2) Probiotics for the prevention of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a review.  Falagas ME – J Antimicrob Chemother – 01-AUG-2006; 58(2): 266-72

Take Home Message

If you are prone to recurrent urinary tract infections or vaginal yeast infections, consider taking a probiotic that contains several strains of lactobacillus, including Lactobacillus acidophilus….like EndoMune.  Also, don’t forget to take a probiotic when prescribed an antibiotic.

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