Kombucha is a fermented drink that has gained popularity in the United States because of its supposed health benefits. The fermentation process yields a product rich in B vitamins, vinegar, protein and other substances. Most kombucha products are raw and organic, meaning that the kombucha is never heated and all ingredients are produced without pesticides, genetic modification, radiation, sewage sludge or synthetic fertilizers. Natural flavors are often added to make the kombucha more palatable and include orange, ginger and cayenne.
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Purchase or Brew Your Own
You can purchase ready-made Kombucha or make your own. Kombucha is made from a colony of yeast and bacteria -- called a kombucha scoby or starter culture. You can purchase a scoby or get one from a friend who brews his own. The culture looks like a wet, gelatinous, sponge-like pancake or a mushroom-like substance that you soak in a mixture of hot water, sugar and black tea for at least seven days, according to NYU Langone Medical Center. Your hands and anything that comes into contact with the culture must be sterile, because as the mixture ferments, it will pick up any microorganisms hanging around. Layers develop as the Kombucha brews. Peel off a layer to grow your next batch. You can view a video and get the recipe for making Kombucha online from “Medill Reports,” published by Chicago, Northwestern University’s Medill school.
Kombucha is touted as remedying hair loss, preventing cancer, improving digestion, boosting your immune system and improving energy levels. Since kombucha is never heated, it contains live cultures that are thought to have a probiotic effect. Vital vitamins, minerals and organic compounds are also preserved. Consuming B vitamins, produced during fermentation, aids in metabolism, says exercise physiologist Jack Wilmore in his book, "Physiology of Sport and Exercise." Other compounds, such as L-lactic acid, glucuranic acid and acetic acid, also have potential health benefits.
Research on the benefits of kombucha has never included human subjects, only animals. The most favorable evidence about the effect in humans comes from personal and anecdotal experience. Although research on animals has shown positive effects on the immune system and liver, there is no scientifically validated evidence that drinking Kombucha provides any health benefits for humans. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, nausea, jaundice, shortness of breath, throat tightness, headache, dizziness, liver inflammation and unconsciousness are some reported problems associated with Kombucha tea. The cause of these issues might be related to toxins present in the mixture. NYULMC advises against drinking homemade Kombucha, because additional safety precautions make the commercial production process safer.
Kombucha contains caffeine and alcohol. Caffeine comes from the tea in the original mixture and the alcohol content is a result of the fermentation process. Amounts vary brand to brand and decaffeinated products may be available. If you are pregnant or nursing, avoid consuming large amounts of kombucha. Check with your doctor if you are taking any medications. Some people have reported upset stomach and allergic reactions after ingesting kombucha.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- NYU Langone Medical Center: Kombucha Tea
- Medill Reports: Do-It-Yourself Kombucha Tea
- Physiology of Sport and Exercise; Jack H. Wilmore, et al.
- The New York Times: A Strange Brew May Be a Good Thing
- Medill Reports: Kombucha Tea: Friend or Foe?
- University of Houston Law Center: The Kombucha Tea Recall
- Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Kombucha
- U.S. Department of Agriculture: Organic Production/Organic Food