Kombucha – Worth The Hype?

You may have probably seen Kombucha all over the place. Splashed over Instagram, in health food shops, in cafes and at the gym. Health claims that seem to good to be true and in some cases a price tag that doesn’t seem justifiable. New superfoods pop up all the time and in all honesty most of it is nonsense. So are the claims true, what even is Kombucha and can it help you if you have IBS?

What is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented drink that has been around for centuries, originating in China. The components of kombucha include (1):

  • black or green tea – containing antioxidants and caffeine
  • sugar – needed to ‘feed’ the bacteria and the fermentation of the sugar leads to the release of carbon dioxide, which gives the drink some fizz
  • Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast or a SCOBY –  a key component to the fermentation process, eating the sugar reducing the sugar content of the drink. It is comprised of various bacterias. The various bacterias are thought to have different health effects, which is probably where a lot of the health claims have come from

Once these ingredients have all been mixed together they are left to ferment for around 7 – 10 days. Once this process is complete the drink is full of polyphenols, fibre, vitamins, antibiotic substances and bacteria.

Due to the array of healthy components found in the drink kombucha has become a cure for all manner of diseases and health issues. Health claims have included its anti-inflammatory properties, reducing blood pressure, improving your immune system and helping your gastrointestinal function. But which of these are actually true and is it worth investing in?

Side note: due to the fermentation process kombucha will contain a small percentage of alcohol. If you are intolerant or want to avoid it is best not to consume this drink.

What does it do?

Well, unfortunately to date there are no great quality studies to back up all these claims. But that isn’t to say it isn’t worth drinking. More studies are currently being conducted and there are still some benefits to kombucha despite lack of clinical trials in humans.

Due to the ingredients in kombucha, it may help to relieve constipation, improve your immune system and you may see increased vitality upon consumption of the beverage. This is most likely due to the probiotic properties from the SCOBY and the antioxidants found in the tea (2).

It is also worth being aware that kombucha in some cases, particularly if home brewed, can have some unfortunate side effects such as dizziness, nausea  and headaches (3). This is usually due to unsafe and unhygienic preparation of SCOBY. To avoid any issues make sure to buy your kombucha from a reputable source.

Is it FODMAP friendly?

While kombucha may help with digestive issues it is actually a high FODMAP food meaning for some with IBS it may worsen symptoms. Due to it being a high FODMAP food, stick to portion sizes. Personally I find I can tolerate kombucha quite well with no IBS flare afterwards, however I don’t drink more than two small bottles a week. This is what works for me, experiment with how much you can tolerate, starting small with how much you drink and increase gradually.

The takeaway message:

It’s a delicious drink which comes in a variety of flavours. My favourite is any flavoured with ginger. I find it helps settle my stomach to drink things with ginger in them and kombucha is no exception.  The drink has the potential to help your IBS issues as it contains probiotics and some fibre, both of which have been found to help with IBS.  Remember though that is is a high FODMAP food and to stick to a portion size. If you are finding your IBS symptoms worsen after consuming try to limit your consumption or avoid altogether.

Also remember if you do fancy trying some make sure to buy the brands that have less than 3% sugar!

So the claims aren’t all true and this isn’t the superfood of all superfoods but there is some mechanistic support of the potential health benefits and it won’t hurt you to drink some now and then. At the end of the day there is no one food that will ever cure all health issues and make you feel super human. It’s all about balance, eating in moderation and with variety.

References:

  1. Kapp, J. M., & Sumner, W. (2019). Kombucha: A systematic review of the empirical evidence of human health benefit. Annals of epidemiology, 30, 66-70.
  2. .Vina I, Semjonovs P, Linde R, Denina I. Current evidence on physiological avtivity and expected health effects of kombucha fermented beverage. J Med Food. 2013 Sep 2;17(2):179-188.
  3. Srinivasan R, Smolinske S, Greenbaum D. Probable gastrointestinal toxicity of Kombucha Tea. J Gen Intern Med 1997; 12:643-644.

 

Photo by Milo McDowell on Unsplash

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