In China, kombucha tea is sometimes known as ‘the immortal health elixir’ which might lead one to the conclusion that it’s good for us; and while it might not be quite the Holy Grail (immortality is a stretch), it certainly does have some promising health effects.
The drink is made from sweetened tea that is then fermented using symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (known as a ‘SCOBY’ or ‘Mother’ due to its ability to reproduce), and has only recently gained attention in the West thanks to its apparent health benefits. Here we’ll look at these health claims and whether there’s any substance to them.
The main claims regarding the ‘detox’ effect of kombucha come from kombucha producers which is always a slight cause for concern. The claim made by marketers here is that kombucha can ‘detoxify’ the body due to the compound of glucuronic acid which is used by the liver for detoxification.
However, whether or not glucuronic acid is actually present in kombucha is open to debate. Glucuronic acid was suggested to be one of the key components of kombucha in early studies, and glucuronic acid conjugates in urine content (a waste chemical that comes from the acid) has been shown to increase following consumption.
More recent studies suggest that the active ingredient is in fact glucaric acid which helps to eliminate glucuronic acid conjugates. In other words, it’s not that you have more glucuronic acid after drinking kombucha, but that your body becomes more efficient at eradicating the glucuronic waste products – which could still help to make the liver more efficient. It is thus feasible that the acid could help to combat cancer but studies are still being carried out to confirm this idea and there is currently insufficient evidence to state with certainty the full extent of kombucha’s health effects.
Other Health Benefits
The other health benefits of kombucha include the health benefits that are generally associated with tea such as antioxidant properties that can help to prevent cell damage and cancer. Kombucha also contains Bacillus coagulans which is a probiotic organism that produces lactic acid and may be useful for aiding digestion.
There may be some side effects of kombucha and its highly acidic nature may have impacts on digestion. Patients using Remicade should avoid kombucha which has been shown in a number of cases to potentially aggravate symptoms of ulcerative colitis. There have been some reports of kombucha tea being fermented in unsanitary conditions, so it is important to be discriminating when choosing brands. It is possible to make your own kombucha tea, in which case you can be certain of the condition in which it was fermented and ensure that the process is kept as hygienic as possible.