So, I’m in the Whole Foods at Columbus Circle with my mom over the weekend, and she starts telling me how she’s in love with this citrusy and effervescent drink she recently discovered after watching a healthy and fit looking 20 something stock-up. After reading the claims on the bottle , she decided to give it a try. It sounded like love at first sip. She takes me over to the refrigerator and grabs a bottle of Kombucha. She hands me the bottle and asks, so what is this? and of course is it healthy?!?
So what is this? What is Kombucha? What a really great question. Kombucha (pronounced Come-Boo-Cha) is a combo of bacteria and yeast. Yup, that stringy stuff floating around that you’re not supposed to shake too much is live active cultures and colonies of slimy microbes. As I begin to tell her what’s in her favorite new drink, she looks mildly grossed out, but not yet willing to let go. Kombucha (aka kombucha mushroom tea–not because it comes from mushrooms but because the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) resembles a mushroom) has been around in Far Eastern and European Countries for years and is touted for its health benefits. And while I’ve tasted it, I’ve never been into drinking Kombucha. The main reason I don’t drink Kombucha is that I don’t really drink anything with calories (1 serving of the drink has about 30); but, that’s a subject for another post on another day…
So is it healthy? The answer is I don’t know. There you have it. I’m just not sure. I’ve heard all the claims and have a lot of health conscious pals who guzzle it, but up until the point when my mom wanted to stock her fridge with the stuff, I didn’t really have strong feelings about it one way or the other. But after our Whole Foods encounter, I decided to really check it out.
What I discovered is that there are no human studies to back the claims (cure for cancer, improved immunity, relief from joint pain, PMS relief, better looking skin, boosted metabolism, improved memory, etc) that many Kombucha manufacturers and worshippers tout. I couldn’t find one. While there are a few of studies in lab rats that show a potential for health benefits like increased antioxidants, improved digestive, kidney and liver function in specific laboratory controlled circumstances, I came across even more information that pointed to the possibility for side effects like headache, diarrhea, lactic acidosis, allergic reactions, nausea, liver damage, and infections. So, in my mind, it’s all about risk vs. benefit. With anything you put into, onto or near your body, you’ve got to weigh the risk and the benefit.
Want to know my recommendation to mom? I encouraged her to destock her fridge and replace that Kombucha with sparkling water & fresh orange (for that refreshing citrusy effervesce) and organic unsweetened yogurt (for those good/safe probiotics). If you know me you know what I’m gonna say next: if there’s any doubt, throw it out. In the case of Kombucha, there is reasonable doubt.
All that being said, stay tuned! I’ll keep an ear to the ground for you, and I’ll update my thoughts if there are any additions to the research that change my opinion.
Kombucha, the fermented tea: microbiology, composition, and claimed health effects. Greenwalt CJ, Steinkraus KH, Ledford RA. J Food Prot. 2000 Jul;63(7):976-81. Review.
Probable gastrointestinal toxicity of Kombucha tea: is this beverage healthy or harmful? Srinivasan R, Smolinske S, Greenbaum D. J Gen Intern Med. 1997 Oct;12(10):643-4.
Unexplained severe illness possibly associated with consumption of Kombucha tea–Iowa, 1995. From the Centers for Disease Control and
A case of Kombucha tea toxicity. SungHee Kole A, Jones HD, Christensen R, Gladstein J. J Intensive Care Med. 2009 May-Jun;24(3):205-7.
Kombucha “mushroom” hepatotoxicity. Perron AD, Patterson JA, Yanofsky NN. Ann Emerg Med. 1995 Nov;26(5):660-1.
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Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats. Aloulou A, Hamden K, Elloumi D, Ali MB, Hargafi K, Jaouadi B, Ayadi F, Elfeki A, Ammar E. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2012 May 16;12:63.
Studies on toxicity, anti-stress and hepato-protective properties of Kombucha tea. Pauline T, Dipti P, Anju B, Kavimani S, Sharma SK, Kain AK, Sarada SK, Sairam M, Ilavazhagan G, Devendra K, Selvamurthy W. Biomed Environ Sci. 2001 Sep;14(3):207-13.