Kombucha is a mix of bacteria and yeasts that is placed in tea to create a health tonic of sorts. It's said to help regulate blood sugar and possibly help with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, making it a drink of interest to diabetics. The question remains, however, of whether it works. The jury is still out.
Kombucha is a "scoby," or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts. Physically, it is a gelatinous colony that may remind you of a mushroom. Used for centuries in China, Japan, Korea and Russia, kombucha is steeped in tea and sugar for several days. The result is a drink that tastes something like sparkling apple cider, depending on the type of tea you use. The mixture produces a range of vitamins, minerals and acids that proponents say are healthful for a range of conditions, including diabetes.
Kombucha tea is said to have a number of effects that make it of interest to diabetics. For example, if you use a more sour tea, kombucha may help by moderating fluctuations in blood sugar. In addition, it reportedly helps with diabetic complications such as high blood pressure and improving your cholesterol profile. It's also said to increase energy and improve digestion. Unfortunately, little modern scientific evidence exists to support any of these claims. The NYU Langone Medical Center reports the earliest investigations of kombucha took place in Germany in the 1930s, but more recent studies have been examining kombucha as a probiotic. For example, a January-March 2011 article in the "Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology" studied the promise of kombucha and other healthful bacteria in fighting periodontal disease, of which diabetics are at greater risk than nondiabetics. Scientists also suspect that changes in the bacteria in the gut can affect the uptake of carbohydrates and thus, blood sugar control.
Alternative Treatments among Diabetics
With diabetes being the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, affecting close to 26 million people and 79 million more in the pre-diabetic stage, it's no wonder Americans are turning to alternative therapies to treat or prevent the disease. It's natural to want to avoid prescription medications and expensive doctor visits. The American Diabetes Association reports that 22 percent of people with diabetes used some type of herbal therapy in 2009, and 31 percent used dietary supplements. You should know, however, that herbs and supplements aren't regulated in the same way as prescription drugs, and there aren't any government scorecards to tell you how effective the treatments you take are. If you decide to buy or make kombucha, talk to your doctor about it.
NYU reports that safety studies of kombucha have demonstrated that it is generally not toxic; however, that depends on the sanitary conditions of the environment where it is made. There was a single report of anthrax getting into the tea because of infected cows nearby. Kombucha "starters" are often passed around through friends, so you couldn't be sure of the safety of any particular batch. In addition, because you can make it with any tea, there's no way to know the exact content of acids, enzymes and vitamins, and thus what effect it will have on your condition. So far, no public health authority recommends taking kombucha for help with diabetes or its complications.
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Kombucha Tea
- Seeds of Health: What is Kombucha?
- American Cancer Society: Kombucha Tea
- American Diabetes Association: Herbs, Supplements and Alternative Medicines
- "Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology"; Probiotics in Periodontal Health and Disease; Anirban Chatterjee et al.; Jan.-Mar. 2011
- "World Journal of Gastroenterology"; Recent Advances and Remaining Gaps in Our Knowledge of Associations between Gut Microbiota and Human Health; Volker Mai and Peter V. Draganov; Jan. 2009