The benefits and risks of kombucha

three glasses of kombucha tea

Kombucha is a beverage made from fermenting tea with a culture of bacteria and yeast. The culture, known as a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY), is a disk-shaped mass of cellulose that forms on the top of the tea while it ferments.

Kombucha is believed to provide health benefits such as improved digestion, increased energy, and reduced inflammation. It is also thought to have detoxifying effects.

Read: The best and worst juices for your health revealed

Kombucha has been consumed for centuries for its health benefits and is now widely available at many supermarkets. You can also make your own at home.

Research posted to the Journal of Chemistry notes that the probiotics and antioxidants in kombucha may have a number of therapeutic benefits, such as helping support a healthy gut microbiome, as well as supporting other organs and body systems such as the liver, heart, and nervous system.

Kombucha can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a healthy diet. However, it is important to note that kombucha is not a cure-all and should not be used as a substitute for medical treatment. It may even be harmful if consumed in large quantities.

Possible negative side-effects of kombucha
Kombucha is promoted as a health drink, but there are risks associated with drinking it, especially if it is home brewed.

It can cause bloating and digestive upset
Consuming too much of anything is often a bad thing. But drinking a lot of kombucha in one go can cause symptoms such as excess gas, nausea and vomiting.

If you make kombucha at home it will be carbonated naturally, which occurs when carbon dioxide (CO2) becomes trapped in the liquid due to a tight seal not allowing it to escape. Many store-bought kombuchas are carbonated by force, this is when machines are used to artificially add carbonation to a drink.

No matter how it’s carbonated, these beverages deliver CO2 into the digestive system, which may cause bloating and excess gas.

Kombucha also contains compounds called FODMAPs, specific types of carbohydrates that can cause digestive distress in many people, particularly those with IBS.

Read: Struggling with IBS? You’re not alone

Additionally, some people just may not tolerate kombucha well, or have a poor digestive reaction when drinking it.

It may lead to ingesting excess calories
Some people drink kombucha as a sweet, carbonated alternative to soft drinks. And while it’s arguably better than a can of Coca-Cola, it still contains calories. We often forget about these sneaky little things when talking about health food and drinks and it can be easy to accidentally consume excess calories.

The number of calories varies widely in different brands of kombucha, and it can be difficult to calculate the exact amount when brewing it at home.

Some manufacturers may add more sugar or sugar-rich juices to their kombucha for flavour. Making it taste nicer but upping the calorie count.

People who frequently drink beverages high in calories are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who don’t. This is because liquid calories are much easier to consume and less filling than calories from solid foods.

So, if you’re using kombucha as an alternative to soft drinks, just be sure to keep an eye on how many calories you’re ingesting.

Infection risk
Kombucha is safe for most people but those with weakened immune systems should ensure the kombucha they consume is pasteurised or avoid it altogether. 

Unpasteurised kombucha contains a mix of different types of bacteria and yeasts, and opportunistic bacteria can sneak in. That’s what can lead to infections in certain people.

The risk of drinking raw kombucha is potential food poisoning from any nasty bacteria that might’ve worked its way into the batch. The risk of sickness is much higher when you’re making kombucha at home or drinking a friend’s homebrew than if you’re drinking commercially manufactured kombucha, where there are usually food safety measures in place.

Although rare, there have been reported cases of severe allergic reactions, acidosis and liver complications due to potentially contaminated kombucha consumption.

Since kombucha is unpasteurised and contains small amounts of caffeine and alcohol, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid it as well.

Read: What exactly is the microbiome?

It could lead to excessive caffeine consumption
Kombucha is usually made with black or green tea, both of which contain caffeine.

For those sensitive to caffeine or who already drink caffeinated beverages, adding kombucha may increase caffeine consumption. People sensitive to the effects of caffeine may feel anxious or jittery if consuming too much kombucha.

Plus, drinking kombucha close to bedtime may cause sleep disruptions.

How much is too much?
To reap the benefits of kombucha without consuming too many calories, limit your intake to one to two 240ml servings per day.

It’s important to note that most kombucha bottles contain two servings – about 480 ml.

Choose high-quality, low-calorie, low-sugar products stored in dark glass containers. This packaging protects the probiotics from light damage.

Pick a kombucha that delivers no more than 50 calories per serving to keep liquid calorie intake in check.

Do you drink kombucha? Do you buy it from a store or brew your own? Let us know in the comments section below.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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