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Kombucha: Myth or Miracle?

by Voices Wellness 25 Jan 2021

We take on this mystical drink everybody seems to be drinking––Are its touted health benefits fact, or just another fad? By LYDIA KWON.

You may have stumbled across this exotic-sounding beverage that has become increasingly popular in recent times. Featured in grocers, trendy cafes, and the social media feeds of fitness and beauty bloggers, this drink has gained somewhat of a cult following for its many touted health properties. Kombucha makers and drinkers claim this mystical liquid can combat various annoying ailments: indigestion, heart disease and even cancer; while detoxifying and improving your metabolism and general immunity, among other benefits. 

The glowing reviews of Kombucha and the sheer scope of benefits it seems to provide instills some doubt: How true are these claims? Could this drink really be the answer to a better health and body? After all, even Coca-Cola, the drink many health-conscious avoid today for its copious amounts of sugar, was first created by pharmacist John S. Pemberton as a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage,” and a “patent medicine.” Coca Cola claimed to improve your brain, cure headaches, an upset stomach, and fatigue, and was sold at pharmacies. Thankfully, the advancements and accessibility of scientific knowledge today means that it’s less likely we’re susceptible to the same confusion with Kombucha. 

In fact, specialists would warn us to take Kombucha with a pinch of salt. Dr. Jarrod Lee, founder of GutCARE Singapore, says that “There are multiple published studies on Kombucha, but none to date in humans. Conversely, there have been reports of adverse effects such as gastric problems, infections and allergic reactions from drinking Kombucha. Hence, at this point, there is no objective evidence that Kombucha has health benefits in humans, and may instead have adverse effects.” 

Dr. Jarrod Lee established the Endoscopy Centre and Division of Gastroenterology of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in 2010. He specialises in Advanced Endoscopy, Digestive Cancer Screening and Pancreatobiliary Disorders.

What then? While specialists cannot substantiate and defend the claims of Kombucha, so many are testifying to its benefits. In order to decide for yourself whether this drink is for you or not, it’s important to first understand what this beverage is and what it does. 

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a black or green tea fermented with bacteria, yeast and sugar. The fermentation process produces acidic compounds that cause it to be naturally effervescent, allowing it to taste like a carbonated drink. Here is the breakdown of some benefits Kombucha lays claim to:

Cancer

We wish it could, but there’s no hard evidence that Kombucha can cure cancer. It does, however, seem to have bacteria-killing effects due to the acetic acid it produces during the fermentation process, which can potentially kill harmful bacteria, leading to better general health. The tea is also high in polyphenols and antioxidants, which promote anti-inflammatory effects. Polyphenols have been found to block the growth of cancer cells, among other benefits, and these properties could add to the legitimacy of Kombucha’s cancer-preventing claims. 

Heart Disease

Kombucha could have an effect on reducing the potential of heart disease, but that’s largely due to the fact that it’s made from green or black tea. Tea (particularly green) has been backed by scientific findings to reduce the risk of heart problems, a property that could apply to Kombucha, although the exact findings are unclear. 

Indigestion

Again, this is a could-be situation–fermented Kombucha contains lots of lactic-acid bacteria which may have probiotic functions, although this has not been confirmed. Franck Carbonero, a microbiome scientist at Washington State University-Spokane, says “We don’t know if it does anything (for digestive health).” Some Kombucha brands, however, do add probiotics to their tea, so you may want to look out for that if you’re set on trying this drink.

Our Verdict

The claims of Kombucha are still vastly unexplored and unproven. Our advice? If you must, try it in the recommended amounts and see how you feel. Kombucha can be high in sugar and contains some alcohol produced during the fermentation process, so don’t go overloading on this. Most Kombucha brands come with information on the recommended intake. Keep within what’s instructed and take note to scour the ingredient list, as well as fully understand the fermentation process of your chosen Kombucha brand to avoid any potential negative reactions.  

If you’re swayed by Kombucha’s supposed perks, it’s important to consider that the same benefits have been evidenced already in other products. Digestive health, for instance, has long been shown to be improved by fermented health products like yogurt, which contains the probiotic functions the bacteria in Kombucha has yet to evidence. The antioxidant properties of Kombucha is also already evident in green tea. 

To sum it up, try Kombucha in moderation if you’re adverse to the more substantiated products like yogurt and green tea, and take it with a pinch of salt. Otherwise, it may be wiser to stick to what you know–at least until enough research proves otherwise. 

 

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