Kombucha is considered to be a raw beverage because of its richness in enzymes and probiotic elements that are not destroyed through pasteurization. Although the medicinal properties of kombucha tea have been studied for more than 100 years, conventional medicine has just started researching it with some convincing results.
The Kombucha culture is a mix of a variety of yeasts (similar to those used in beer) and bacteria (similar to those used in yogurt) and a gelatinous cake called the symbiot. This culture acts like a veritable biochemical factory, transforming simple sugars into a multitude of highly beneficial substances.
Kombucha contains several types of enzymes and good bacteria; organic acids; vitamins C, B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and amino acids; antioxidants and polyphenols and typically less than .5 % alcohol. It is not unusual to come across sedimentation or a floating gelatinous substance. The presence of these substances is actually a good sign that the drink is raw and ready to drink.
Kombucha is a beverage packed with mineral-replenishing electrolytes and is a healthy alternative to popular drinks that are often packed with caffeine and refined sugar. It’s often referred to as mushroom tea, but kombucha is not made from mushrooms; the bacteria and yeast that grow on top of the beverage result in a blob that resembles a mushroom. It is actually made by adding the bacteria and yeast to sugar with tea and allowing the brew to ferment.
In the newest research published in the Journal of Medicinal Food 2014, researchers from the University of Latvia say the following about the health benefits of kombucha:
“It is shown that [kombucha] can efficiently act in health preservation and recovery due to four main properties: detoxification, anti-oxidation, energizing potencies, and promotion of boosting immunity.”
In the first half of the 20th century, extensive scientific research was done on Kombucha’s health benefits in Russia and Germany, mostly because of a push to find a cure for rising cancer rates. Russian scientists discovered that entire regions of their vast country were seemingly immune to cancer and hypothesized that the kombucha, called ‘tea kvass’ was the cause. So, they began a series of experiments which not only verified the hypothesis, but began to pinpoint exactly what in kombucha was so beneficial.
German scientists picked up on this research and continued it in their own direction. Then, with the onset of the Cold War, research and development started being diverted into other fields. It was only in the 1990s, when Kombucha first came to the U.S., that the West has done any studies on the effects of Kombucha. But, thanks to its rising commercial popularity in the last decade, the older Russian and German research has been made available in English to Westerners, and a few wide-spread anecdotal surveys have been sponsored by Kombucha manufacturers. While there are limited amounts of research done on the beverage, there is a wealth of research on many of the nutrients and acids in kombucha.
The Origins of Kombucha
The origins of Kombucha are speculative at best. It is thought to have originated in the Far East, probably China, and has been consumed there for at least 2000 years. Scientists believe it was ancient China, the first and mythological Qin Dynasty, who started brewing the beverage and called it “Elixir of Life”. In ancient Japanese texts Kombucha is mentioned the first time in 414 AD when emperor Inkyo was troubled with internal digestive problems and summoned his doctor, Dr Kombu, who introduced it to the imperial court and according to old scrolls has given the beverage its name.
It has been used in Eastern Europe, Russia and Japan for several centuries. From Russia, kombucha spread to Prussia, Poland, Germany and Denmark but it seems to have died out during World War II. After the war Dr. Rudolph Skelnar created a renewed interest for kombucha in Germany when he used it in his practice to treat patients who had cancer, metabolic disorders, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Many health claims about kombucha are not yet proven due to the lack of research studies. But, it has certainly been shown to have similar antibiotic, antiviral and anti-fungal properties in lab tests. In rats it’s been shown to protect against stress and improve liver function. There is also a lot of experiential evidence from people who have been using kombucha over many years. Many of the benefits reported include improvements in energy levels, metabolic disorders, allergies, cancer, digestive problems, candidiasis, hypertension, HIV, chronic fatigue and arthritis. It’s also used externally for skin problems and as a hair wash among other things Some of the health benefits are listed below:
.Calming effect: Kombucha tea contains certain acids that can calm your body and mind. Regular consumption of the tea can help you overcome stress, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety and other mental and emotional problems.
.Detoxifying: One of kombucha’s greatest health benefits is its ability to detox the body. Detoxification helps in cleansing the liver and aides in cancer prevention. Kombucha is very high in Glucaric acid, and recent studies have shown that glucaric acid helps prevent cancer.
.Cancer prevention: Kombucha has also been proven beneficial for preventing cancer. A study published in Cancer Letters found that consuming glucaric acid found in kombucha reduced the risk of cancer in humans. President Reagan reportedly drank kombucha daily as part of his regimen to battle stomach cancer.
.Weight loss: Data from a study in 2005 showed evidence that kombucha can improve metabolism and limit fat accumulation. Although more studies and research needs to be conducted before the results can be confirmed, other weight loss studies have adequately proven the acetic acid and polyphenols can lead to weight loss.
.Prevents arthritis: Kombucha contains glucosamines, a strong preventive treatment for all forms of arthritis. Glucosamines increase synovial hyaluronic acid production which functions physiologically to aid preservation of cartilage structure and prevent arthritic pain, with relief comparable to NSAIDs and advantage over glucocorticoids. Hyaluronic acid enables connective tissue to bind moisture thousands of times its weight and maintains tissue structure, moisture, lubrication and flexibility and lessens free radical damage, while associated collagen retards and reduces wrinkles.
.Aids digestion and maintains good gut health: Because it’s naturally fermented with a living colony of bacteria and yeast, Kombucha is a probiotic beverage. This has a myriad of benefits such as improved digestion, fighting candida (harmful yeast) overgrowth, mental clarity, and mood stability. As such, it’s noted for reducing or eliminating the symptoms of fibromyalgia, depression and, anxiety.
.Instant energy: Kombucha’s ability to invigorate people has been credited to the formation of iron that is released from the black tea during the fermentation process. It also contains some caffeine and b-vitamins, which can energize the body. Through a special process known as chelation, the iron released helps to boost blood hemoglobin, improving oxygen supply to tissues and stimulating the energy producing process at the cellular level. In other words, by helping the body create more energy (ATP), the ancient tea can help those who regularly drink stay energized for extended periods of time.
.Boosts immunity: Kombucha is rich in anti-oxidants which works wonders for boosting your immunity and energy levels.
Composition of Kombucha
Glucuronic acid is the body’s most important detoxifier. When toxins enter the liver this acid binds them to it and flushes them out through the kidneys. Once bound by glucuronic acid toxins cannot escape. Glucuronic acid is one of the more significant constituents of Kombucha and is a by-product of the oxidation process of glucose. As a detoxifying agent it’s one of the few agents that can cope with pollution from the products of the petroleum industry, including all plastics, herbicides, pesticides and resins. It captures the phenols in the liver, which are then eliminated easily by the kidneys. Kombucha can also be very helpful for allergy sufferers. Glucosamines are another by-product which lubricate the the structures associated with cartilage, collagen and the fluids which makes Kombucha an effective remedy against arthritis.
Lactic acid is essential for the digestive system and assists blood circulation, prevents bowel decay and constipation. It aids in balancing acids and alkaline in the body and is believed to help prevent cancer by regulating blood pH levels.
Acetic acid acts as a powerful preservative and inhibits harmful bacteria.
Usnic acid is a natural antibiotic that can be effective against many viruses.
Oxalic acid is acts as an effective preservative and encourages the intercellular production of energy.
Malic acid helps detoxify the liver.
Gluconic acid is produced by bacteria and can break down to caprylic acid. It is of great benefit to those that suffer from candidiasis and other yeast infections like thrush.
Butyric acid is produced by yeast. It protects human cellular membranes and combined with Gluconic acid strengthens the walls of the gut to combat yeast infections like candida.
The downside of this wonderful beverage is that kombucha’s probiotics do not survive the pasteurization process, and drinking it unpasteurized, if it was not produced in sanitary conditions, may pose a food safety threat, especially for those who are pregnant or have compromised immune systems. Some of the reported side effects of excessive and/or contaminated kombucha consumption include stomach upset, acidosis, allergic reactions to the molds that can develop during fermentation, and toxicity from heavy metals from home-brewing in ceramic pots. The best way to consume the drink would be to brew it at home yourself, which we will detail in our next post.