Kombucha Tea: Benefits, Recipe, & Side Effects

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Emily Borth(MS, RDN)

Kombucha is a fermented, lightly fizzy sweetened tea with benefits like aiding in digestion, promoting weight loss, facilitating detoxification, and lowering cholesterol levels. It also helps in boosting heart health, controlling diabetes, and protecting the liver.

What is Kombucha Tea?

Kombucha tea is a refreshing beverage made by the fermenting of sweetened tea with a symbiotic combination of acetic acid, bacteria, and specific yeast cultures. Believed to have originated in northeast China during the third century BCE, this miraculous tea is valued for its unique, refreshing taste and impressive range of medicinal benefits. It is famously known as the ‘Immortal Health Elixir’ in ancient Chinese literature. Other names for kombucha include Manchurian mushroom tea, Russian tea, Kargasok tea, spumante, tea beer, tea cider, and tea kvass. [1] [2]

It has various flavors depending on whether it’s made from black or green tea and tastes somewhere in the middle of apple cider and champagne. [3]

kombucha tea with SCOBY

Kombucha may reduce heart disease risk. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Nutrition Facts

As per the USDA National Nutrient Database, [4] kombucha is a good source of energy, carbohydrates, sugar, and sodium. It also contains a range of yeast and bacterial species with polyphenols, amino acids, and organic acids. Post-fermentation, the tea develops into a nutritional powerhouse with the richness of minerals like sodium, numerous beneficial enzymes, a range of vitamins such as vitamins B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B9 (folic acid), B12 (cobalamin), vitamin C (ascorbic acid), and many healthful chemical constituents such as gluconic acid, oxalic acid, acetic acid, glucuronic acid, usnic acid, fructose, and lactic acid. [5]

Health Benefits

Let’s take a closer look at the many health benefits of kombucha.

Protects Against Environmental Pollutants

Kombucha contains large amounts of organic acids like glucuronic acid and powerful antioxidants which help in shielding the body from oxidative damage. A research study published in the Chinese Medical Journal, reveals that the antioxidants present in kombucha tea lookout for free radicals and neutralize their effects. This helps in repairing and protecting the body from chronic diseases and inflammation. Furthermore, it prevents the harmful effects of pollution caused by petroleum products along with plastics, pesticides, resins, and heavy metals, and maybe particularly beneficial to people suffering from kidney problems. [6]

Improves Digestion

Kombucha is fermented with a live colony of bacteria and yeast, so it works as a probiotic by sustaining gut health and provides relief from various abdominal disorders including chronic constipation and diarrhea. According to Dr. Katarina Horak’s book ‘Body Detox’, digestive enzymes present in kombucha tea enhance the effects of glucuronic acid and aid in the breakdown of proteins and saccharides, making the digestive system more efficient. Probiotic compounds, including those found in kombucha, have been shown to improve “a wide range of gastrointestinal diseases including gastric ulcers, IBS, ulcerative colitis, celiac disease, and other inflammatory bowel diseases.” [7] [8]

Promotes Weight Loss

Dr. Klaus Kauffman, in his book, Kombucha Rediscovered!: Revised Edition The Medicinal Benefits of an Ancient Healing Tea, states that kombucha tea improves the balance of bacteria in the gut, which enhances one’s overall well being. Moreover, healthy gut bacteria protect against obesity and promote a healthy metabolic rate. Also, the sugar and calorie content in this fermented tea is very little, five times less than sugary soft drinks. An animal study published in the journal Nutrition showed that regularly consuming kombucha inhibited weight gain, likely related to changes in appetite. Additionally, subjects given kombucha lived longer than controls. [9] [10] [11]

Protects Liver

Kombucha possesses the remarkable ability to protect the liver which is responsible for detoxifying the body. It contains a powerful detoxifier glucuronic acid which binds harmful substances within the liver and flushes them from the body in urine via the kidneys. This helps in protecting the liver and keeps it functioning efficiently. A research study published in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences has shown that this tea helps prevent decreases in the levels of glutathione, an antioxidant, and is remarkably effective in decreasing medication-induced hepatotoxicity. A comparative study conducted on black tea, kombucha tea, and enzyme-processed black tea has proven the superiority of kombucha tea in providing hepatic protection against hepatotoxicity, likely due to the antioxidants it contains. [12] [13] [14]

Maintains Cholesterol Levels

Another superb benefit offered by kombucha tea is the maintenance of healthy levels of cholesterol. Research studies have provided qualitative evidence regarding the cholesterol-lowering anti-lipidemic properties of this tea which help in delaying the absorption of LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and triglycerides, and elevating the levels of HDL (good cholesterol) in the body. [15] [16]

Prevents Heart Diseases

Animal studies show that drinking kombucha can be beneficial for the heart as it lowers cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood. Additionally, certain changes that occur during the fermentation process resulting in improved antioxidant performance and ultimately better protection against free radical damage which is associated with heart disease. [17] [18]

Protects Against Diabetes

Kombucha is a natural therapeutic agent which helps in suppressing increased blood sugar levels. A 2012 study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal states that kombucha has better inhibiting properties as compared to black tea and protects the pancreas (involved in digestion and blood sugar regulation), liver and kidneys. The study suggested that kombucha tea may be “a potential strong candidate for future application as a functional supplement for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.” [19]

Anticancer Potential

The antioxidant-rich tea possesses anti-microbial properties and prevents conditions such as cancer as it contributes productively to maintaining cellular health and strong immune defense. Walaszek Z, a researcher with the Department of Carcinogenesis, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, USA, published a report in Cancer Letters Journal that D-glucaric acid present in it is quite effective in the prevention of various types of cancer. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine demonstrated that consumption of ginger kombucha showed antioxidant effects “by balancing multi antioxidant factors in different tissues in the breast cancer models.” [20] [21]

Relieves Arthritis Pain

As discussed previously, kombucha contains significant antioxidant compounds. Evidence published in the journal, Clinica Chimica Acta, suggests that treatment with antioxidant therapy is a potentially powerful addition to conventional therapy, especially for those with rheumatoid arthritis. [22]

Kombucha contains glucosamines which are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of all types of arthritis. Glucosamine present in it stimulates the production of hyaluronic acid, which helps in the maintenance of cartilage structure and provides relief from the pain associated with arthritis. Hyaluronic acid aids in reducing the free radical damage, lubrication, and elasticity of the joints by empowering the connective tissue to bind the moisture. [23] [24]

Enhances Mood

A 2018 study published in the journal, Nutritional Neuroscience, showed that depression and anxiety often occur in conjunction with various gut problems, potentially related to inflammation, microbiome, dietary deficiencies and more. “Pre-clinical studies indicate the benefits of fermented foods in relieving perturbed gut function and for animal models of depression and anxiety.” Existing studies are promising, however, more research is needed to confirm these effects in humans. [25]

Kombucha has a variety of amino acids, methylxanthine alkaloids (caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and B vitamins (including B1, B6, B9, and B12), which are needed for a healthy nervous system. This may potentially help in inhibiting the release of the stress hormone cortisol, battling depression, balancing mood, and enhancing concentration. [26]

Boosts Immunity

Kombucha is rich in numerous antioxidants that strengthen the immune defense and boost the energy levels of the body. The anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties of this tea help in fighting various bacterial and viral infections. A study on this tea published in the Biomedical and Environmental Sciences Journal has validated that kombucha “has potent antioxidant and immunomodulating properties” which may help in boosting the immune system and relieving oxidative stress. [27]

Anti-microbial Effects

Kombucha tea has anti-microbial properties which may prove effective against a variety of pathogens. Investigative research has revealed that apart from acetic acid, it contains other anti-microbial components, which even at neutral values of pH, provide protection against a range of microorganisms including Staphylococcus aureus, Staphylococcus epidermis, Escherichia coli, Salmonella enteritidis, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Listeria monocytes, and Helicobacter pylori. [28]

Treats Asthma

The theophylline in kombucha is well known as a bronchodilator, which helps control chronic asthma due to its anti-inflammatory, immunomodulatory, and bronchoprotective effects. A 2014 review published in the Journal of Medicinal Foods confirms the beneficial effects of daily kombucha consumption on lung infections and asthma. [29] [30]

Heals Gastric Ulcers

Kombucha provides relief from discomfort caused by gastric ulcerations. A study published in the Food & Function Journal has revealed that antioxidants and phenols present in this tea help in protecting the mucin content in the gastric tissues and decrease the secretion of excess gastric acids. The same study also suggested that the efficacy of the tea in healing gastric ulcers is at par with the commercially available drug, omeprazole. A separate review indicates that kombucha’s gastric healing properties may be attributed to a multitude of factors including its antioxidant activity, its ability to reduce gastric acid secretion. [31] [32]

Improves Cellular Health

Kombucha helps in maintaining cellular health which is vital for the healthy functioning of the body. The Journal of Environmental Biology published a study, which showed the protective effects against induced cytotoxicity in an animal model, evidenced by a decrease in tissue lesions in those subjects given kombucha. Furthermore, it demonstrated positive results with respect to the factors implicated in the reduction of cellular toxins. [33]

Other Uses

Finally, kombucha is an effective wound healer, and may “be useful for preventing peritoneal adhesions.” Apart from a plethora of health benefits mentioned above, kombucha culture can also be utilized to manufacture artificial leather.   [34] [35]

How to Prepare Kombucha Tea?

Kombucha tea is prepared by mixing the colony of bacteria and yeast (called SCOBY, which is an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”) into sugar and tea, which is followed by fermentation in suitable and sterile conditions. [36]

While sometimes referred to as kombucha mushroom, there is no mushroom associated with kombucha. The SCOBY is also called the kombucha mushroom or Mother. This live yeast present in the beverage provides it an active life that carries on even after transferring it into the storage containers. The culture includes Candida stellata, Zygosaccharomyces baili, Brettanomyces bruxellensis, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Torulaspora delbrueckii, and Schizosaccharomyces pombe yeasts. [37]

After fermentation, the resultant fluid is a healthy beverage containing a wealth of vitamins, vinegar, and many powerful components.

Side Effects

Although kombucha has been valued as a phenomenal healer, brewing the tea under non-sterile conditions can cause contamination and spoilage which can be extremely harmful. [38]

  • Ceramic pots for brewing: Usage of ceramic pots during the brewing process of the kombucha tea can raise the risk of lead poisoning. The tea, while brewing, has the potential to elute lead from the glaze coating used in the ceramic pots making it unfit for consumption. [39]
  • Gastrointestinal toxicity: Another potential side effect of kombucha tea is gastrointestinal discomfort, with symptoms including nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and headaches. [40]
  • Lactic acidosis: A case study of one patient with HIV showed that consumption of this tea can result in lactic acidosis which is characterized by problems with the liver, unable to remove excess acid from the body. [41]
  • Suppressed immune system: While kombucha can activate the immune system, it is not suitable for those on immunosuppressant medication.

Prior to considering kombucha for therapeutic usage, it is always advisable to consult a medical professional to better understand its potential effects.

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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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