Kombucha: Verdict is still out on whether this fermented drink is as fabulous as some claim
It’s hard to think of a 2,000-year-old drink as a fad. Yet, Kombucha has had its moments in the sun and in relative obscurity since 220 BC.
The fizzy drink originated in Manchuria, northeast China, during the Tsin dynasty. Back then, people valued it for its detoxifying and energizing properties. More than 600 years later, in 441 AD, a physician took it across the border to Japan, to provide relief for the emperor’s gastric ailments. Cut to the 1950s, Kombucha surfaced in Germany after blazing a trail through Russia. In the early 2000s, Kombucha became the trend that decided to stay, with takers across the Western world. In India, 2016-17 seems to be the year when the number of Kombucha makers and retailers started to grow exponentially.
Over the years, the legend of Kombucha has snowballed. Depending on whom you talk to, it is thought to be effective in fighting cancer, diabetes, gastric ulcers, high cholesterol, hypertension, inflammation, and infections and boost energy, and immunity.
Kombucha, to put it simply, is fermented tea. To make it, a weak infusion of very sweet black, green or matcha tea is set aside with SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, for a minimum of seven days. SCOBY contains acetic acid bacteria and osmiophilic (sugar-loving) yeast that break the sugar and tea down into organic food acids, tea polyphenols, ethanol, amino acids such as lysine, minerals such as copper, iron and zinc, carbon dioxide, and B vitamins including folic acid. Studies show that fermented drinks - Kombucha included - can help cultivate good gut microbes, which in turn can boost immunity, energy and overall well-being.
But because Kombucha is often homemade, its composition can vary. This makes it quite hard to pin down the exact benefits. Still some components like polyphenols and acetic acids remain constant across all batches of Kombucha. Studies show that the polyphenols in Kombucha are stronger than in regular tea, giving Kombucha stronger anti-inflammatory, antioxidant powers.
Additionally, the acetic acid in Kombucha can kill harmful bacteria. In 'Antiproliferative and antimicrobial activity of traditional Kombucha and Satureja montana L. Kombucha.', published in JBuon, Cetojevic-Simin DD reported that acetic acid formed while fermenting Kombucha is more effective against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli than other acetic acids. Staphylococcus aureus is a commonly occurring bacteria that causes infections ranging from skin ailments to septic arthritis and urinary tract infections in humans. Escherichia coli is usually harmless, but it can cause diarrhoea in some cases.
Sliver of evidence
It’s premature to declare Kombucha a miracle drink or a sham. Yet everyday research moves a step closer to unpacking the 2,000-year-old mystery that is Kombucha.
In February 2019, researchers Youngmi Jung et al published an article on the effects of Kombucha tea on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in mice, in the Food Science and Technology journal. Their key finding: Having Kombucha tea slowed hepatic steatosis, or the accumulation of fat cells on the liver, in mice. The reason is simple. Microbiota or gut bacteria finds its way from the stomach to the liver through what is known as the gut-liver axis. Poorer lifestyles and eating habits can increase the number of bad gut bacteria, some of which can be toxic for the liver. By improving the microbiota in the gut, you increase the fighting power of the liver.
A few years ago, U.S. Hiremath, M.P. Vaidehi and B.J Mushtari at the University of Agricultural Sciences in Hebbal, Karnataka, conducted a study with just 24 patients suffering from non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. The researchers gave each subject 60ml of Kombucha tea every day for 90 days. In the end, the study found the average fasting blood sugar came down from 128 mg to 103 mg/dl. The researchers said the next step was to test this finding on a larger group of people.
In 2012, Ahmed Aloulou et al noticed slower uptake of bad cholesterol and improved liver-kidney function in diabetic rats in a 30-day study. They published their findings in 'Hypoglycemic and antilipidemic properties of kombucha tea in alloxan-induced diabetic rats', in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine journal.
There have even been a few studies on the anti-carcinogenic properties of Kombucha tea, though there doesn’t seem to be enough data to prove or disprove the claims yet. Some researchers have also expressed concern that the medicinal effects of Kombucha have largely been studied in animals, especially mice.
In January 2011, researchers led by Rasu Jayabalan published research in the Indian Journal of Biotechnology, to show that drinking Kombucha could slow down and even prevent the uncontrolled splitting of cells, which is how cancer spreads in the body. Srihari Thummala et al carried out research to show drinking Kombucha messes with the molecules responsible for angiogenesis or the growth of new blood vessels that help tumours grow in prostate cancer. In January 2019, a study published in The Lancet Oncology journal said that gut microbiota - which loves fermented foods - could play a role in cancer prevention. Microbiota is the billions of microorganisms that live in the body and assist in functions from digestion to respiration.
A pinch of salt with your Kombucha
Given that the research is in the early stages, we don’t yet know if Kombucha can help manage the symptoms of cancer, diabetes, and fatty liver, leave alone treat these conditions. We cannot stress this enough.
Doctors strictly advise that pregnant and lactating women stay away from Kombucha. Medical practitioners across the globe have also tracked cases of acidosis and lead poisoning back to overuse and badly brewed Kombucha. In some cases, the patient already had other complications before having a bad reaction to Kombucha. Still, it is useful to bear in mind that we don’t fully understand how Kombucha works.
In the end, there is such a thing as too much Kombucha. And until we learn more about its effect on the human body, it might be best to use your discretion.
Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. To know more on this topic, please visit https://www.myupchar.com/en/healthy-foods/drinks
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Updated Date: Sep 10, 2019 13:45:26 IST
Tags : Brmefits Of Fermented Drinks, Escherichia Coli, Fermented Drinks, Fermented Tea Benefits, Kombucha, Kombucha Benefits, Kombucha Tea, Kombucha Tea Benefits, Kombucha Tea Diabetes, NewsTracker, Staphylococcus Aureus
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