Wildy popular, kombucha claims to have numerous health benefits. We asked nutritionists if it’s really the ‘health halo’ everyone says it is…
Kombucha is an acquired taste. It’s a fizzy, sweet and sour, probiotic fermented tea. Like marmite, coriander or liquorice, you’ll either love it or loathe it. The first time I tried it, my nose crinkled at it’s twangy tartness.
Although fermented foods have been a staple of Asian cultures for thousands of years, kombucha has only recently become incredibly popular in the UK – this popularity has partly been driven by its touted health benefits.
Due to the live-bacteria element, kombucha is said to increase one’s “good” bacteria and balance out the “bad” – improving digestion, strengthening the immune system and reducing blood pressure.
And now that significant commercial shelf space is dedicated to kombucha products, there seems to be no escaping this widespread belief that the products promote gut health. But do they?
Spoiler alert: upon speaking to several certified nutritionists, it turns out that there isn’t much research to back up many of the claims behind this popular wonder-drink.
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What is kombucha?
“Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea drink. The tea is combined with a bacterial mother (called a scoby) and sugar and left to ferment for a period of time. During the fermentation process, gas is produced, making the drink ‘fizzy’,” explains nutritionist, gut health and autoimmune specialist, Clarissa Lenherr.
“The flavour is usually tart and has very small traces of alcohol from the yeast fermentation.”
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“Fermented foods have gained particular popularity over the past few years, thanks to their touted gut-health benefits,” says Lenherr. “Gut health has been a massively trending health topic, and anything gut-friendly has gained significant attention.”
Kombucha contains live cultures from the fermentation process, she explains. “The reason it is suggested that kombucha is good for the gut comes down to the idea that these cultures might make their way to the intestine to colonise and support a healthy and diverse microbiome.”
Eve Kalinik, nutritionist, gut expert and best-selling author says that because kombucha is made by fermenting tea, “it contains some of the same polyphenol plant compounds which have an antioxidant effect that helps to mitigate damage to cells and manage inflammation”.
These exact same polyphenols can also help to feed our existing gut microbiota – “which helps to support an overall healthier gut,” she says. “The fermentation process also means that kombucha contains bacteria, yeast and organic acids that are believed to be beneficial for our gut.”
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Is kombucha actually any good for you?
“Unfortunately, we are lacking human studies on the impact of kombucha on our gut microbiome,” says Lenherr. “We are still unsure as to how much of the bacteria survive the stomach acid and make their way into the intestines to colonise.”
Kalinik confirms the lack of evidence: “There is still no scientific evidence on the ‘probiotic’ benefits of kombucha which includes survivability of the microbes contained in the drink, but it may have a similar positive effect on the health of the gut since it contains strains of lactic-acid bacteria that would be found in typical probiotic formulas.”
But, don’t be disheartened, if you enjoy consuming kombucha and you notice a beneficial change in your gut health or digestive symptoms, then keep going for it, says Lenherr.
Are there side effects of drinking kombucha?
“There are trace elements of alcohol in kombucha, so I would not suggest strong or frequent amounts for children,” says Lenherr. “It is also advised to avoid in pregnancy.”
If you suffer with Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or any other significant digestive concern, then kombucha may actually trigger symptoms, she adds, “so it is best to work with a gut-health nutritionist or specialist when introducing fermented foods”.
“Drinking too much of it may cause some digestive symptoms since you can overdo it with ferments,” adds Kalinik. “It also contains some caffeine – so if you are particularly sensitive to or avoiding caffeine, that would be something to consider.”
Lenherr says she does recommend kombucha to clients who she believes could benefit from swapping out fizzy drinks or alcohol “for something that is lower in sugar with bubbles – also for any client who needs support with additional friendly gut bacteria, I might ask them to try kombucha amongst other fermented foods, to help support a healthy gut microbiome”.
Her favourites? FIX8 and Lo Bros.
Kalinik says Kombucha is “great for nights off the wine” – and her favourite brands include JARR and LA Brewery.
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