Kombucha tea has become extremely popular among health enthusiasts over the past several years, and for good reason. This probiotic-rich fermented tea not only serves as a refreshing beverage on a hot day, but it may also support gut health, boost mental health, reduce infection risk, and provide antioxidant protection.
So far, we have few human studies proving kombucha’s beneficial effects. We do, however, know that the nutrients in kombucha are good for you, with research linking many of them to positive health outcomes.
1. Kombucha is a Source of Beneficial Probiotics
In the human digestive system live billions of both friendly and unfriendly forms of bacteria. This large colony of microorganisms is called the “microbiome.” As long as the balance between the bad guys and the good guys tips in the good guys’ favor, the microbiome will support many aspects of human health.
Should the unfriendly bacteria get the upper hand, however, and start to overtake the friendly bacteria, several complications can develop. These may include digestive upset, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, anxiety, and depression. An unhealthy microbiome can also increase the risk of obesity, liver disease, diabetes, and other damaging conditions.
As for why the bad guys may take over, there are several reasons. Taking antibiotics, eating a diet full of sugar and refined foods, or undergoing a long period of chronic stress can cause the good guys to lose ground.
Probiotics are friendly bacteria found in fermented foods like kombucha. Consuming them can help keep the microbiome balanced or restore balance to a disrupted system. This may improve digestive health, ease chronic inflammation, improve mood, and potentially even make weight-loss easier.
How many probiotics are in a serving of kombucha? It’s often unclear as it depends on how the beverage was made and the amount of time that passes before it gets to you (probiotics can die quickly). All forms will have some probiotics in them. In a 2014 study, researchers identified three bacterial species in the tea: Gluconacetobacter, acetobacter, and Lactobacillus.
2. Kombucha May Help Reduce Cholesterol Levels
Having a high level of LDL “bad” cholesterol may increase the risk of heart disease. There is some evidence that kombucha may help reduce cholesterol levels, most likely because of its probiotic and tea content.
In a 2015 animal study, researchers tested kombucha in subjects fed cholesterol-rich diets and found that kombucha had a beneficial effect on LDL cholesterol levels. Specifically, it reduced LDL cholesterol by 36 percent, while at the same time, increasing levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. It also had beneficial effects on liver and kidney function.
We need human studies to be sure of these benefits, but the evidence so far suggests that kombucha may be a good beverage to drink when you want to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease. We already know that tea protects LDL cholesterol from oxidation, which may help protect heart health.
3. Kombucha Provides Antioxidant Protection
Antioxidants are healthy components of foods and beverages that neutralize free radicals, reactive molecules that damage cells and DNA. Green tea is rich in antioxidants, which is one of the reasons it’s such a healthy beverage.
Since kombucha is made from green or black tea, it has antioxidants as well, which may provide similar health benefits as those from green tea. The fermentation process also helps to increase the antioxidants present.
Several animal studies have shown evidence of kombucha’s antioxidant activity. In 2009, researchers reported that kombucha was more effective than black tea at reversing free-radical damage. An earlier study found similar results. When researchers gave kombucha tea to subjects who had suffered liver damage because of exposure to lead, the tea decreased free-radical oxidation and DNA damage.
Antioxidants are known to protect against many adverse health conditions, including heart disease, cancer, age-related macular degeneration, and more.
4. Kombucha May Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
If you have diabetes or are at risk for the disease, you may want to drink kombucha more often. We don’t yet have any evidence that it reduces blood sugar levels in humans, but we do have animal studies indicating that it might.
In a 2002 study, for instance, researchers gave diabetic subjects kombucha and black tea for 30 days. The results showed that compared to black tea, kombucha tea worked better at not only controlling blood sugar levels but delaying the absorption of LDL cholesterol and boosting HDL cholesterol.
Kombucha is made from tea, and we already know that tea can help reduce blood sugar levels. It may also help prevent type 2 diabetes. It is important to always check the sugar levels in any kombucha that you buy, as some brands add extra sugar.
5. Kombucha May Help Reduce the Risk of Some Types of Cancer
Laboratory studies have found that kombucha can help prevent the growth and spread of cancerous cells.
In a 2013 study, researchers tested kombucha against human prostate cancer cells. They found that kombucha “remarkably” inhibited the ability of cancer cells to grow. The scientists wrote that their study demonstrated that “kombucha significantly decreases the survival of prostate cells….” and suggested that kombucha “may be useful for prostate cancer treatment/prevention.”
We need more studies on kombucha before we can determine for sure its anti-cancer potential, but we do know that the polyphenols in tea have protective effects. In fact, several studies have found that regular tea drinkers are much less likely to develop certain types of cancer than non-tea drinkers.