Kombucha is a fermented beverage that has been used for its health benefits for thousands of years. Originating in ancient China, this acidic, carbonated tea has been associated with longevity and good health.
Research suggests that kombucha may indeed play a significant role in improving health in many areas of the body like gut health, liver health, and cardiovascular health.
What Is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented beverage originating in ancient China. It is usually made from sugar and black tea but green tea or oolong tea may be used as well. The tea is then fermented by adding a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast known as a SCOBY.
With a close resemblance to a mushroom cap, the SCOBY is a mixture of a strong biofilm of microorganisms containing acetic acid–producing bacteria like Acetobacter xylinum and Gluconobacter oxydans. It also contains yeast species such as Saccharomyces and lactic acid–producing bacteria such Lactobacillus.
The SCOBY is added to the sweetened black tea and allowed to ferment for 7 to 10 days. Once the fermentation process is completed, kombucha—an acidic, slightly sweet, carbonated beverage—is the result.
While kombucha is a pleasant and refreshing drink, research indicates that there is much more to this fermented tea. Studies show that kombucha has a wide array of beneficial micronutrients including polyphenols, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. These studies suggest that kombucha may have some fascinating health benefits, such as improving gut health, acting as an anti-inflammatory, improving liver health, acting as a cholesterol lowering agent, and improving cardiovascular health.
Research also indicates that kombucha may have additional health benefits by acting as an antimicrobial effect against certain bacteria and fungi. It should be noted that kombucha may have small amounts of ethanol, or drinking alcohol, due to the fermentation process but not enough to be considered an alcoholic beverage.
Kombucha and Gut Health
One of the potential benefits of kombucha may be its effects on gut health. Research shows that fermented foods may have a positive effect on gut health due to the amounts of prebiotics and probiotics. Prebiotics are nondigestible, food-like substances, such as fiber, that when ingested promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. Examples of prebiotics include psyllium and inulin.
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that colonized the gut and help improve digestion and gut health. While kombucha doesn’t contain any prebiotics, it is filled with probiotics. Some of these beneficial bacteria, such as Lactobacillus, have been found to help restrict the growth in the gut of harmful bacteria, such as drug-resistant Escherichia coli.
Other studies have found that probiotics strains found in kombucha such as Lactobacillus may have a beneficial effect on the barrier of the intestinal wall by helping to promote mucus secretion. Learn more about types of probiotics here.
One study showed that kombucha with inulin may be beneficial in helping to alleviate constipation. Study participants suffering from constipation were placed either into a control group receiving water or a group receiving a kombucha and inulin combination. After 10 days, the study found that those ingesting the kombucha and inulin drink had a significant increase in bowel movements compared to the control group. Those in the kombucha group also had a significant decrease in feeling like they had incomplete bowel movements, as well as a positive change in stool formation measured by the Bristol Stool Chart.
Animal studies have found that kombucha may be beneficial for improving the diversity of the gut microbiome. One study found that kombucha intake over a 4-week period promoted the growth of more short chain fatty acid producing bacteria and less harmful bacteria in the gut. This same study found that kombucha intake acted as an anti-inflammatory for the tissues of the intestinal walls.
Inflammation in the gut is linked to a whole host of diseases and poor health outcomes, such as obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and even type 2 diabetes. High amounts of inflammation are also linked to a greater risk for a shortened lifespan. Given that kombucha may act as a powerful anti-inflammatory, it may promote greater longevity.
One animal study found that mice who drank kombucha lived longer than their peers who didn’t. Kombucha may, therefore, also act as an anti-aging agent. One in vitro study found that kombucha inhibited the enzyme collagenase, which breaks down collagen. Collagen is needed for strong, supple, and healthy skin.
Kombucha and Liver Health Benefits
Research shows that kombucha may also have beneficial effects on liver health. Studies suggest that kombucha may help to protect liver tissue against environmental and dietary insults as well as helping to improve liver function.
One animal study found that kombucha intake helped to improve glucose tolerance without any changes to diet or calorie intake. The study also found that kombucha intake was associated with a beneficial increase in insulin production. Insulin is the hormone that takes glucose out of the blood stream and into the cells for energy. Studies show that kombucha may also benefit the liver by helping to improve glucose metabolism.
Kombucha may also act as a protector of liver tissues. One animal study found that kombucha intake was associated with a significant decrease in the liver enzymes alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). AST and ALT are enzymes found within liver cells. ALT and AST help to convert foods like protein into a usable form of energy within the liver cell.
When liver cells are damaged, these enzymes are leaked into the bloodstream making blood serum tests elevated. High ALT and AST usually indicate liver damage. Studies suggest that kombucha ingestion may be able to not only prevent but also reverse liver damage because of its antioxidant activity.
One animal study involving mice with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) found that kombucha protected liver cells from damage. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat is deposited into liver cells, thereby decreasing the functionality of the liver. If left untreated, NAFLD can develop into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.
NASH is a condition that causes high amounts of inflammation in the liver along with liver cell damage. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer. Studies suggest that kombucha may help to prevent NASH and improve NAFLD by decreasing the amount of free fatty acids within the liver cells. The fermented tea was also found to reduce apoptosis or programmed cell death of liver cells.
Kombucha and Cardiovascular Health Benefits
Research shows that having healthy cholesterol levels leads to a longer life and fewer cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, high blood pressure, and peripheral artery diseases.
Studies suggest that kombucha may help to improve cholesterol levels. One animal study found that kombucha intake lowered cholesterol levels even when a high cholesterol diet was consumed.
Another animal study found that rats consuming kombucha had lower triglyceride levels, “bad cholesterol” or low density lipoprotein levels (LDL), and very low-density lipoprotein levels (VLDL). When high, triglycerides, LDL, and VLDL can contribute to poor cardiovascular health.
Interestingly, while the study found that kombucha consumption lowered bad cholesterol levels, it raised high-density lipoprotein levels or HDL levels. Having healthy HDL levels is associated with better cardiovascular health.
In addition to lowering bad cholesterol levels and increasing good cholesterol levels, studies found that kombucha may decrease homocysteine levels. Homocysteine is an amino acid that is produced naturally by the body when the amino acid methionine is broken down. High amounts of homocysteine in the body has been associated with a diet high in animal-based proteins and meat, and also with increased risk of developing blood clots in the arteries, which may lead to heart attack and stroke.
While studies suggest that kombucha intake may help to lower cholesterol and homocysteine, research indicates that this fermented tea may also act as an antioxidant to protect against free radical damage. One study found that kombucha may even have properties that help to lower the blood pressure. The study examined the blood pressure lowering effects of kombucha against those of an angiotensin covenanting enzyme (ACE) inhibiting drug.
ACE inhibitors help to lower blood pressure by slowing down the production of enzymes that cause narrowing of the blood vessels. When the blood vessels are more open, the heart doesn’t have to pump as hard to move blood throughout the body which lowers blood pressure. When compared with an ACE inhibitor drug, kombucha wasn’t as powerful at slowing down enzyme production, but it did have a significant ACE-inhibiting effect.
In short, kombucha may have many potential health benefits and properties ranging from acting as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant to improving gut health, liver health, cholesterol levels, and cardiovascular health. Kombucha may also act as an anti-aging beverage due to its potential to lower inflammation and decrease free radical damage. With all of its potential health benefits, kombucha is an amazing beverage to supplement any health routine.
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