Whether you’re scrolling social media or strolling through your grocery store, you’ve probably noticed kombucha. Although it’s been consumed in China for its healing properties for more than 2,000 years, this fun, fermented fizzy drink has only recently gained popularity in the U.S.. Its rising popularity is largely thanks to the total-body health benefits kombucha delivers, including improved gut and liver health, impressive cholesterol-lowering benefits and weight loss. But new research also suggests that kombucha may ward off yeast infections, making it particularly health for women. Dive in and find out if it’s right for you!
What is kombucha?
Kombucha is made from sweetened tea (typically black or green tea) that has been fermented by a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, commonly referred to as a “SCOBY” (Symbiotic Culture Of Bacteria and Yeast). The fermentation process takes between one to three weeks and results in a drink that is slightly effervescent and tangy, with a small amount of alcohol as a byproduct of fermentation. Homemade kombucha is composed of 1.5 to 2% alcohol, while commercial kombucha generally has 0.5% alcohol by volume.
During the fermentation process, the SCOBY consumes the sugars in the tea, producing a range of substances including acetic acid, gluconic acid, and various other organic acids, which give kombucha its characteristic tart and slightly sour taste. It also produces a small amount of carbon dioxide, giving the beverage a light fizziness. You can make your own SCOBY with this simple recipe from our sister site) or buy one (more on that below).
5 health benefits of kombucha
Drinking kombucha regularly can boost your well-being in a number of ways. Read on for the top benefits.
1. Kombucha wards off yeast infections
“Drinking kombucha on a regular basis can help maintain vaginal health,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, author of The Cultured Cook. That’s because kombucha’s acetic and lactic acids help keep vaginal pH in the slightly acidic state that keeps harmful yeasts and bacteria in check. Integrative gynecologist Felice Gersh, MD, explains that when the vagina loses this acidic quality, it leads to an overgrowth of pathogens that can trigger bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
But what about the yeast Candida albicans, which is the most common culprit behind vaginal yeast infections: Does drinking kombucha make Candida overgrowth worse by supplying it the sugar it loves to feed on? No, assures Dr. Gersh, who notes that when kombucha is made properly (see recipe below), it’s not a high-sugar beverage.
In fact, kombucha may actively inhibit the growth of Candida: A report in the Journal of Food Biochemistry found that when kombucha is made from green or black tea, kombucha has antifungal and antibacterial properties. “This data suggests that kombucha made from green or black tea can inhibit the growth of Candida species [responsible for most itchy and uncomfortable vaginal yeast infections],” says Dr. Gersh. “And kombucha made from lemon verbena, fennel and peppermint teas has been shown to have antimicrobial action against multiple strains of Candida.”
Schoffro Cook adds that making your own kombucha is a great way to guarantee that your kombucha is healthy and brimming with probiotics. “While kombucha is made with sugar, minimal sugar is left in the final kombucha beverage, as the microbes literally eat the sugar as their fuel, enabling them to proliferate,” she explains. “Provided you select a kombucha with a naturally low amount of sugar and no added sugar, it won’t contribute to a Candida yeast infection,” assures Schoffro Cook. (One to try: Health-Ade Kombucha, Lemon-Ginger, buy on Amazon, $3.99 for 16 oz.)
The probiotics in kombucha help with BV, or bacterial vaginosis, too. A recent review of 18 studies published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmacological Sciences found that probiotics significantly increased the cure rate for bacterial vaginosis, plus prevented the infection’s recurrence.
2. Kombucha boosts immunity
Kombucha can raise levels of two healthy gut bugs (lactobacillus and bifidobacterium). For that reason, Taz Bhatia, MD, author of the upcoming book The Hormone Shift, recommends enjoying fermented fare such as kombucha daily after a bout of sickness like the flu. “More than 70% of your immune system is found in the gut, and these foods supply the probiotic bacteria that recharge that system after it’s done the taxing work of fighting an infection,” she explains. Indeed, researchers reporting in the British Journal of Nutrition say people with higher levels of the healthy bacteria took 31% fewer sick days than those who had less of the microbes.
3. Kombucha improves heart health
A 2014 animal study published in the Journal of Food Science tested the cardiac benefits of kombucha (or “bio-tea,” as they called it). The researchers found that kombucha decreased the risk of heart attack. It also significantly decreased heart weight, blood glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL “bad cholesterol” while elevating levels of HDL (“good cholesterol”) and plasma albumin, a protein that regulates blood volume and pressure. Basically, it’s a whole lot of really good stuff for your heart.
4. Kombucha stabilizes blood sugar
There’s sugar in pretty much everything these days, and as much as that might keep our sweet tooth happy, it does no favors to anyone struggling with diabetes. In an animal study, French researchers tested the protective effect of kombucha on various organs including the pancreas, liver, kidney and heart in diabetic rat models. The results showed “significant antidiabetic potential,” which could make a huge difference for folks who are constantly struggling to keep their blood sugar levels in check.
5. Kombucha boosts mood
Elevating your mood is perhaps the most surprising benefit you might unlock with kombucha. That’s because the probiotics in kombucha keep the interior of the gut healthy, preventing unhealthy bacteria species from overrunning the system. William Davis, MD, author of Super Gut, observes, “Probiotics are the cornerstone of ‘reseeding’ your garden with good gut flora and healthy bacterial species.” And what’s good for the gut is good for mood: In one study, probiotics significantly reduced depression.
Note: Dr. Gersh cautions that people with impaired immune systems, severely ill gastrointestinal tracts, children and pregnant/nursing women should not drink kombucha.
How to make kombucha
Check out Schoffro Cook’s recipe for kombucha from her book, The Cultured Cook:
- 4 quarts filtered, unchlorinated water
- 1 cup unrefined sugar
- 4 black tea bags
- 1 kombucha culture, like Fermentaholics Kombucha Live SCOBY Starter (buy on Amazon, $13.49)
1. Bring water to a boil in a large stainless steel pot. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Add black tea bags, and boil for an additional few minutes to kill off any unwanted microbes that may be present on the tea bags. Turn off the heat and allow liquid to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags.
2. Allow tea to cool to room temperature or slightly lukewarm, no higher than about 70°F. (Any hotter and it can damage the kombucha culture.) Pour the steeped tea into a clean ceramic crock or wide-mouthed glass water jug.
3. Add the SCOBY and any tea it came with to the vessel. Don’t want to buy your own? Schoffro Cook advises asking someone in your community who makes his or her own kombucha to share their SCOBY.
4. Cover the top of the vessel with a piece of clean linen or cotton and place an elastic band around the rim to hold the cloth in place.
5. Place covered crock in a quiet area with air ventilation in a warm, but not sunlit, area where it will not be disturbed. The ideal fermentation temperature range is 73 to 82° F. “Once you’ve located a spot for it, don’t move it while the kombucha is fermenting, as it may interfere with the culturing process.”
6. Wait 5 or 6 days to harvest your kombucha. First, check the taste of your kombucha. If it is sweeter than you’d like, allow it to ferment another day or two. If it has a vinegary taste, you may need to bottle future batches after a shorter period of time. “It’s still fine to drink, but it may need to be diluted with water at the time of drinking to avoid irritating your throat or stomach,” says Schoffro Cook.
7. Pour all but approximately 2 cups of your fermented kombucha tea into a glass jar or container with a lid, (or pour in multiple single-serving resealable glass jars) and store it in the refrigerator. (You’ll use the reserved two cups of kombucha, along with the SCOBY, to make your next batch of the healthy, fermented beverage.)
Tip: To increase its fizziness, add a pinch of sugar and wait a day or two to drink it so the sugar is eaten up by the proliferating probiotics. “If you keep it longer than a week, you may need to loosen the lid of the kombucha in the fridge to allow gases to escape and to prevent the glass from breaking due to excess pressure that may occur over longer periods of time,” she says.
Says Schoffro Cook: “That’s it. You made your first batch of healthy soda!” Enjoy it alone, or click through for tips on how to use it to make a kombucha cocktail!
For more on the benefits of kombucha and how to make your own:
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
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