Kombucha: Is This Superfood All It’s Cracked Up to Be?

This up and coming ‘superfood’ might not be so super
Flickr/ideaconstructor, Licensed under Creative Commons

The year is 2015: nobody’s eating gluten, but everyone’s drinking… kombucha?

Well, at least everyone who wants in on the benefits of the latest and greatest health-food.

Maybe you haven’t heard of this supposedly healthy fermented tea beverage yet, but an increase in both google searches and sales for Kombucha suggests that it’s certainly on the rise as one of the next "great" superfoods.

Only, the truth about kombucha is that there’s not much research to back up it's alleged health benefits..

“There is really very little evidence to support any kind of claims about kombucha tea. So we don't know if it does anything at all," Andrea Giancoli, spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said in a 2013 story on NPR.

Some of those claims have included improved digestion, a stronger immune system, and even cancer prevention.

 According to Mayo Clinic, kombucha is made with tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.

“Although it's sometimes referred to as kombucha mushroom tea, kombucha is not a mushroom — it's a colony of bacteria and yeast,” Brent A. Bauer, M.D. explains on the Mayo Clinic website. “Kombucha tea is made by adding the colony to sugar and tea, and allowing the mix to ferment. The resulting liquid contains vinegar, B vitamins and a number of other chemical compounds.”

Backing Giancoli’s statement about the supposed superfood, Bauer also noted that there’s no scientific evidence to support any of the assumed health benefits of drinking kombucha.

In fact, one 2003 study, which reviewed “all human medical investigations of kombucha”, found that “the largely undetermined benefits” of kombucha did not “outweigh the documented risks.”

And yes, there are actually some health risks associated with kombucha.

Bauer mentioned reports of negative effects such as stomach upset, infections, and allergic reactions, and also made note of the risk for contamination when the drink is brewed at home, which many proponents of the drink do often since at close to $5 for a store-bought bottle, the stuff doesn’t necessarily come cheap.  

According to Bauer, if ceramic pots are used to brew kombucha, a risk for lead poisoning could even come into play.

The bottom line: without enough scientific evidence to support any of the health claims of kombucha, it’s probably best to steer clear of the beverage, at least until more conclusive research can help us better understand its effects. 

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