Move “oolong,” celery juice! Peace out, coconut water! In terms of trendy wellness tonics with real staying power, kombucha is the fairest (and fizziest) of them all.
But is this subtly funky brew — made by fermenting green, black, white, or oolong tea with sugar and a blob-like SCOBY (that’s a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) — legit good for you?
So far, signs point to yes. And the fact that it’s been around for thousands of years has to mean something, right?
So why, exactly, is kombucha good for you?
While many more human studies are needed to confirm kombucha’s health benefits, we do know it contains the same good-for-you compounds as regular tea, plus some extra health-promoting nutrients as a result of the fermentation process — B vitamins, acetic acid, and probiotics to name a few.
Let’s spill the tea on kombucha’s top potential health perks.
1. Kombucha is jam-packed with antioxidants that support your main “detox” organ
Because kombucha is really just tea that’s gotten a makeover, it still contains many of the same polyphenol antioxidant compounds as regular tea.
Antioxidants help scavenge and neutralize free radicals — molecules that damage cells, contribute to inflammation, and generally mess with your body’s ability to function optimally.
In at least one animal study, the free radical scavenging activity of kombucha was even higher than that of green tea.
Kombucha’s antioxidant effect may be particularly beneficial for your liver — the body’s main detoxification organ.
Animal studies show that drinking kombucha regularly reduces liver toxicity caused by dangerous chemicals, including carbon tetrachloride (a common dry-cleaning chemical) and lead, sometimes by as much as 70 percent.
2. Does green tea make you gag? Kombucha provides all the perks, minus the bitterness
If your ‘booch is made from green tea, all the better! Compared with other teas, research suggests green tea packs the biggest punch in terms of health benefits — and kombucha may deliver these benefits with a milder flavor profile than traditional green tea or matcha.
Case in point: A number of studies have shown that sipping green tea on the reg can help reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol, balance blood sugar, and increase calorie burn.
Green tea drinkers also tend to have a lower risk of several types of cancer, and up to a 31 percent lower risk of developing heart disease.
3. Kombucha can help halt that crazy blood sugar roller coaster
Frequent spikes and dips in blood sugar — a result of eating refined carbs like doughnuts or pasta in the absence of fiber or protein — can seriously eff with your mood and trigger sugar cravings, especially if you have type 2 diabetes.
Kombucha helps tame the blood sugar beast. One study on rats with diabetes found that kombucha helped slow the digestion of carbs, which lowered blood sugar. It also seemed to improve the function of the liver and kidneys — two organs affected when blood sugar is out of whack. (More research is needed on humans though.)
One potential reason: Kombucha contains acetic acid, a byproduct of fermentation, which has been shown to successfully lower blood sugar and insulin levels.
Bonus points for kombucha made with green tea! The main catechin antioxidant in green tea — epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG) — can influence the way glucose is absorbed by the body.
One research review found that green tea drinkers consuming 3 to 4 cups per day have an 18 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
4. ’Booch might just help you drop a few pounds
Kombucha isn’t a magic bullet, but its combo of antioxidants and acetic acid may support a healthy metabolism and keep you full — reducing the likelihood that you’ll overeat.
In one study, mice given vinegar high in acetic acid ate less food and lost more weight than other mice. Another study found that acetic acid helped slow stomach emptying, which could keep you feeling fuller longer.
The catechin antioxidants found in kombucha made with green tea have also been shown in studies to slightly increase metabolic rates and energy expenditure — aka calorie burn — in adults, which could potentially aid in weight loss — though the effects would probably be minor.
5. Gastrointestinally challenged? Kombucha contains gut-friendly probiotic bacteria
As a result of the fermentation process, kombucha naturally contains several types of “good” bacteria that may function as probiotics, and in turn, optimize gut health.
One study identified a “prominent Lactobacillus population” within kombucha.
Lactobacillus is a genus of good bacteria, which includes strains commonly seen in probiotic supplements, like Lactobacillus acidophilus. This means that kombucha may have probiotic benefits.
It could potentially help ease constipation, bloating, IBS, and more, but additional studies are needed to confirm these effects.
Opt for brands of kombucha labeled raw and unpasteurized. Otherwise, the heat applied during pasteurization can kill off any naturally occurring probiotic bacteria.
6. Kombucha’s good “bugs” may even support a healthy immune system
Around 70 percent of the body’s immune cells lie in the gut, so it’s in your best interest to keep it healthy.
The good news: Various Lactobacillus strains of bacteria, like those that have been identified in kombucha, seem to help improve the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the gut microbiome and increase the production of short chain fatty acids (SCFAs).
SCFAs are beneficial compounds that stop gut inflammation and help heal intestinal damage that might otherwise trigger an unhealthy immune response.
7. Strange but true, kombucha has antimicrobial properties, too
Everyone talks up kombucha’s probiotic benefits, but this fermented brew has antibacterial and antifungal properties as well, thanks to a combo of acetic acid and polyphenol antioxidants.
In fact, research suggests that kombucha made from black or green tea has strong antimicrobial properties against harmful bacteria and Candida yeasts. The overgrowth of Candida in the GI tract can lead to symptoms like oral thrush, UTIs, cramps, and bloating.
But — and this is important — these antimicrobial effects don’t mess with the beneficial bacteria and yeast involved in kombucha fermentation. Win-win!
It’s not quiteclear what these antimicrobial properties mean for your health just yet — much more research is needed to flesh that out — but it could be one more way kombucha helps support overall digestive and immune health.
8. Kombucha’s polyphenols pack a cancer-fighting punch
Much more research is needed in this area, but in one lab study, kombucha helped prevent the growth of prostate cancer cells. In another, kombucha was able to slow angiogenesis — the formation of blood vessels that feed tumor growth — and decrease the survival of cancer cells.
Experts think these cancer-fighting properties are partially due to kombucha’s polyphenols.
Tea polyphenols have been shown to protect against the development of cancers by interfering with enzymes needed for cancer cell growth. Research also suggests that regular tea drinkers are less likely to develop various types of cancer.
9. ’Booch could boost your heart by lowering your cholesterol
Kombucha may be a convenient and tasty addition to a heart-healthy diet. Studies on rats show that kombucha can reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol — two markers of heart disease — potentially even more so than green tea.
Tea can also help protect LDL cholesterol particles from becoming oxidized, which is thought to be an even bigger driver of heart disease.
Clearly, kombucha can be part of an overall healthy diet, but as with any food or drink, quality matters. How much you drink matters, too. Here are some kombucha cons to consider:
- It could be a hidden source of excess sugar. Typically, most sugar is “eaten up” during the fermentation process. Some brands add extra sweetness post-ferment. This means some brands contain just 4 grams of sugar per serving, while others pack a whopping 15 grams. Always read your labels!
- Drink too much and you’ll probably get bloated. It’s smart to keep kombucha intake to one or two 8-ounce servings per day. More than that, and you might experience bloating and GI distress due to excessive CO2 consumption from the carbonation.
- Homemade ’booch is more likely to contain alcohol. Store-bought must be under 0.5 percent alcohol, but homemade kombucha could contain up to 3 percent, making it a potentially unsafe choice for kids and pregnant or breastfeeding women. Of course, some people might consider this buzz a plus!
- DIY kombucha could also make you sick. Making kombucha can be safe, but you have to be a stickler for sanitation. Contaminated kombucha has been found to trigger severe allergic reactions, acidosis, and liver complications. Also, because it’s raw and unpasteurized, people with compromised immune systems should avoid it.
- It could mess with your sleep. While kombucha makes a great alcohol-free nightcap, it could potentially interfere with sleep if you’re sensitive to caffeine or if you consume too much.
- Boozy ’booch? This trendy bev won’t pack the same perks. While those new alcoholic kombuchas are enticing, keep in mind that alcohol can throw blood sugar out of whack, increase risk of leaky gut, and promote various cancers — likely canceling the benefits.
Kombucha is made by fermenting brewed tea with a SCOBY and sugar, which results in a fizzy fermented drink containing polyphenol antioxidants, probiotics, organic acids, and other healthy compounds.
While some claim kombucha can do everything, a lot more research is needed to confirm its perks. That said, early studies are promising and suggest this ancient brew may support digestion, boost immunity, balance blood sugar, and more.
It’s not a cure-all, but it can complement an already healthy diet and lifestyle.