health

Is kombucha actually good for you? Here's what an expert said.

Kombucha. Have you tried it? Course you have! We all have. It's everywhere - from supermarket shelves to gyms, bars and restaurants. You can even find it on tap at awfully trendy inner city cafes.

This weird-tasting fermented tea has a squeaky clean reputation and has kinda become a Big Deal in the beverage world - and it's absolutely exploded in popularity over the past few years. 

And for good reason. 

It's been touted for a whole load of different health benefits, ranging from digestion to metabolism, immunity and more. Noice!

Watch: Here are some popular foods that are super hard to pronounce. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia

But while it's been promoted as the superior drink because of all its health-boosting benefits, do you know if any of these claims are actually backed by science? We don't.

Bottom line: Is kombucha actually good for you?

We had a little dig around and asked a nutrition expert if this wildly popular drink is just as good as everyone thinks it is. Here's what she said.

What is kombucha?

If you don't know what kombucha is (where have you been?), it's basically a type of slightly sweet, slightly acidic, fizzy fermented green or black tea, explains nutritionist Fiona Tuck, founder of Vita-Sol.

And while it's become a 'thing' as of late, kombucha isn't exactly new. You might be surprised to hear that it's actually been around for yonks and is believed to have originated from China about 2,000 years ago.

So, yeah - not a new thing, folks.

And it's not your average tea, either. It's basically made by adding a colony of live bacteria and yeast (called scoby) to the tea, and letting it ferment for a few weeks. Yum.

Listen: Meet the makeup artist who uses kombucha as skincare on this episode of You Beauty. Post continues below.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Sugar and sometimes fruit may also be added, and the tea is left to ferment for a few weeks. The fermentation produces live cultures and organic acids thought to be beneficial for health," said Tuck.

The drink is so popular that many kombucha lovers even go down the homebrew route to customise their own version of it. However Tuck said that when brewed incorrectly, it can pose a serious health risk.

"The pH of the product is important and caution should be taken with homemade kombucha drinks that are not carefully controlled and tested, as there is a possibility for the growth of pathogenic microorganisms which could be detrimental to health," she said.

Sheesh! Definitely don't try this at home, pals.

"Commercial kombucha would be produced in strict, controlled environments and therefore unlikely to pose the same health risk, although commercial manufacturing could compromise the viability of the live beneficial microorganisms," she said.

Wait. Does kombucha contain alcohol?

It does! Kinda. Kombucha usually contains a small percentage of alcohol due to the fermentation process, but it’s not enough for you to feel any effects.

"Kombucha is considered a non-alcoholic beverage," confirms Tuck.

"There may be very low amounts of alcohol produced in kombucha as a by-product, however the amounts are minimal and commercial kombucha needs to contain under 0.5 per cent alcohol as per national standards for non-alcoholic drinks."

Gotcha.

What are the supposed health benefits of kombucha?

Alright, when it comes to all the health claims about kombucha there are a few main things you'll see floating around.

Kombucha is said to do everything from strengthening the immune system to reducing blood pressure, as well as delivering detoxifying benefits. 

However, one of the biggest promoted health benefits of kombucha is the ability to help improve the digestive system and how it can positively impact gut health. 

Kombucha is commonly advertised as 'probiotic' and it really taps into the growing interest surrounding the microbiome and balancing out the 'good' bacteria and 'bad' bacteria.

Kombucha. Image: Getty.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, can it actually help with your gut health?

According to Tuck, live cultures like post-biotics have been proven to support gut health - although when it comes to kombucha, reaping these benefits really depends on the quality of the drink. Because they're not all the same.

"When kombucha is naturally fermented without pasteurisation and filtering, it contains live cultures or beneficial microorganisms and organic acids or post biotics," explains Tuck. "These are thought to have beneficial effects on our gut and health in general." 

"We know that short-chain fatty acids, a type of post biotic, have many proven health benefits, but as for if these health benefits are the same from drinking kombucha, it really depends on the quality of kombucha being produced and the viability of beneficial microbes," she adds.

So, does kombucha actually do anything?

There's currently only one study that has looked at the health benefits of kombucha in humans - so there's really not a lot out there when it comes to scientific evidence.

The study found that daily consumption of kombucha has been associated with normalised blood sugar in adults with non-insulin dependant diabetes, however it's important to note that the study was not controlled or randomised. 

The authors of the study also noted that many of kombucha’s claims, like benefits involving rheumatism, gout, hemorrhoids and nervousness, are all based on anecdotal and unverified findings - so these kinda things aren't really backed by scientific evidence. 

Interesting.

"The regulation around probiotic food claims is very grey in Australia. Some manufacturers may claim probiotic benefits but may not have tested the product for probiotic viability after a certain shelf life, and therefore the benefits of a product are questionable," said Tuck.

ADVERTISEMENT

So, what does all this mean? 

Well, the benefits all really come down to an individual's diet and overall health, as well as the quality of kombucha they're consuming - as mentioned before.

"If you're choosing to drink kombucha, it would therefore be advisable to choose a product that has tested that the live cultures are still live or viable at the end of the shelf life," said Tuck. 

Sounds... difficult.

"It can therefore be confusing to know whether you are drinking something that is going to be beneficial or not."

However! This is not to say kombucha doesn't do anything. It just means that there needs to be more research in regards to supposed health benefits - so it's important to keep your expectations realistic.

"Just because the health benefits have not been tested, doesn’t mean that they are not there. We know live cultures and organic acids are beneficial for health and it is therefore presumed that there may be benefit in drinking live culture drinks," said Tuck.

Should I drink kombucha?

Bottom line is: You do you. 

Tuck said if you enjoy kombucha, drink it! "It would be a better choice than sugary soft drinks, alcohol or diet sodas."

Just be wary of consuming too much of it, though - especially if you're already struggling with gut issues and such.

"There are some people that may be more sensitive than others to kombucha and people with gut issues or histamine intolerance need to be mindful as the live cultures could trigger bloating, gas-type pain or even skin flushing in sensitive individuals, especially if they drink too much."

Tuck also stresses the importance of getting the foundation of a healthy diet right if you're wanting to reap any benefits.

"If you have a diet that is low in plants, polyphenols and prebiotics, high in ultra processed foods and [you're] purely relying on kombucha as your health saviour, then it is unlikely you will see the benefits that you are looking for," she said.

"Adding a little kombucha to a healthy diet is more likely going to be beneficial than not, so go for it if that is what you want to do." 

"The main issue with kombucha is the taste. If you love it, drink it. If you hate it then simply eating a diet rich in plant foods and adding small amounts of fermented foods is another way to get your health kick!"

Feature image: Getty