A Guide to Understanding Kombucha and Gut Health

Learn about the connection between kombucha and gut health. Discover how this popular health drink can improve digestion, support a healthy immune system, and promote overall wellbeing.

The inspiration for kombucha likely dates back to the earliest humans, for whom fermented foods were an integral part of their diet. Today's best kombucha offers a similar dietary impact, combining authentic, organic ingredients into a drink known to have a positive correlation with gut health. Although relatively simple to make, carefully selected ingredients and a refined fermentation process is essential to the quality of the finished product..

While researchers are still figuring out everything kombucha can do, a look behind the curtain reveals unique properties that have shown to have significant benefits. Read on to learn more about how kombucha's ingredients can be important complements to a healthy diet and lifestyle.

What We Know About Kombucha and Gut Health

A delicate dance takes place in everyone's gut. While having gut bacteria is natural, a disproportionate number of "bad" bacteria can lead to a variety of gastrointestinal issues, such as nausea or an upset stomach due to intestinal dysbiosis. According to Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, balancing gut bacteria is one of kombucha's biggest strengths, lowering the chances of dysbiosis and improving overall digestion.

The ability of kombucha to help revamp the gut microbiome has also turned the heads of researchers. A daily beverage like kombucha – along with other fermented foods – can very quickly shift gut makeup and could be tied to a series of associated benefits. 

While promoting gut diversity and good digestion even faster than a fiber-rich diet, fermented foods have benefits that go well beyond improved digestion. Lowered risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer were also mentioned as possible long-term benefits of a diet that regularly includes fermented foods.

How long humans have been ingesting fermented foods is also an interesting indicator of how important these foods have always been to our diet. While some researchers insist the overall practice dates back millions of years, hard evidence shows it's been a part of the human diet for about 10,000 years at the very least. 

Whether they knew it in the Stone Age or not, our ancestors were giving themselves a leg up on digestion simply by including fermented foods in their daily lives.

The Ingredients and Essential Properties Behind the Fizz

Kombucha is only as good as the ingredients, which are very carefully chosen for maximum impact. Here's a breakdown of the ingredients and properties behind every bottle of kombucha.

The Type of Tea Matters

It all typically starts with the selection of the tea, which can be either in tea bags or loose leaves. While tea bags can be somewhat simpler to use, loose-leaf tea has an easier time expanding and provides a more consistent base. This tea is combined with water and sugar, and the resulting sweet tea is essentially the lifeblood of kombucha.

Related: 9 Surprising Health Benefits of Kombucha

Yeast and Bacteria

The magic starts to take hold when the yeast and bacteria are added to the tea. A mixture typically called a SCOBY ("Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast") is combined with the sweet tea, with the sugar from the tea a requirement for jumpstarting the process of growing the right bacteria.

Organic Herbs and Juices

The sweet tea and SCOBY get the party started, but today's kombucha drinkers enjoy a wide range of unique flavor options. Various fruits, herbs, and other organic botanicals are added to the foundation – the herbs typically before the fermentation process begins and the juices later in the process. By starting before fermentation, the herbs get a chance to breathe alongside the sweet tea and SCOBY for the remainder of the process.

Probiotics in Kombucha

The fermentation process helps to create a drink that is rich in probiotics, which are associated with a myriad of gut benefits. Probiotics are simply yeasts and live bacteria that combine to create an important byproduct of kombucha and other fermented foods. Per Web MD, probiotics can help with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and are likely connected with strengthening immune systems.

A Boost of Antioxidants

Diets heavy in antioxidants tend to align with strong overall health. From fighting free radicals and improving eyesight to reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants stemming from critical vitamins provide all sorts of assistance for the human body. The tea in kombucha – particularly green tea – can offer a meaningful regular dose of antioxidants that serves as one of its chief health benefits.

Keeping the Sugar Level Low

Although there is plenty of flavor in kombucha, it doesn't come from a high dose of sugar. Drinks high in sugar routinely end up on the naughty list of health agencies, which is why kombucha makes for such a compelling alternative to sodas and juices. Kombucha also doesn't include artificial sweeteners, which can be problematic in their own right.

The limited amount of sugar that is involved in the kombucha process is mainly there to facilitate the correct growth of bacteria, an essential function directly tied to improving gut health.

Related: Is Kombucha a Good Antioxidant?

Inside the Kombucha-Making Process

Making kombucha requires patience and a refined process that can guarantee consistently high quality. While kombucha can be made on a smaller scale, many types are made in enormous fermentation tanks that can hold thousands of gallons. The steps for making kombucha typically include:

  • A weekslong fermenting process. You can't really rush fermentation, as it can take from a couple of weeks up to a month for it to properly run its course. Precisely chilling each batch. Once fully fermented, kombucha is usually chilled to just a shade above freezing while the rest of the process is completed.
  • Removing the alcohol to a safe level. All kombucha needs to remain below 0.5% alcohol, which means that a special process is required to remove the excess. By dropping atmospheric pressure, the remaining alcohol is mostly converted into a gas and separated from the kombucha.
  • Light carbonating and bottling. Often similar to methods used by craft-beer makers, kombucha brewing ends with a sophisticated bottling process. While holding the kombucha at a cool temperature, it's lightly carbonated overnight and prepared for bottling. Afterward, the kombucha is held at the same cool temperature (often around 33 degrees) as it is prepared for shipping.

One question that people often want to know is about the extracted alcohol. Aiming to utilize as much material as possible, the most responsible kombucha makers convert the extra alcohol into biofuel or find other uses (e.g., making hand sanitizer) to ensure as little waste as possible.

A Closer Look at the Other Potential Benefits of Kombucha

Even though we're still in the learning process, recent research suggests we shouldn't underestimate the potential of kombucha. Some of the other data-backed benefits of fermented foods like kombucha include:

  • Lowering hyperglycemia in Type-2 diabetics. Hyperglycemia is a major concern for Type-2 diabetics, leading to problems like blurred vision, frequent urination, excessive thirst, and more. Although kombucha has been tied to combatting diabetes for a while, recent data shows it might specifically work to lower the risk of hyperglycemia by balancing the gut microbiome.
  • Decreasing the risk of obesity. As outlined by Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, kombucha can potentially help lower the risk of obesity. Research even shows that kombucha can help control and treat obesity under the guidance of a physician.
  • Lowering oxidative stress and inflammation. The ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation can have many health implications. The Mayo Clinic outlines many different ailments associated with uncontrolled inflammation and oxidative stress, such as heart disease and various cancers. While more research is needed to fully demonstrate the kombucha connection, medical experts agree that a diet that lowers such negative factors can be very beneficial.

Artificial Sweeteners vs. Naturally Sweet Kombucha

What isn't in kombucha can also be as impactful as what is. While many drinks utilize artificial sweeteners to offer a sweet taste without high calories, this dynamic also comes with serious drawbacks. Experts have outlined a series of health hazards associated with artificial sweeteners, including the potential for them to act as carcinogens when regularly used.

Even natural sweeteners don't completely improve the situation; studies point to the possibility of natural sweeteners disrupting gut health. Despite coming with fewer known health drawbacks, many people who rely upon natural sweeteners also tend to overuse them. They may be a step in the right direction, but natural sweeteners can mislead users into thinking they are healthier than they are in reality.

The kombucha drinker, meanwhile, can have the best of both worlds. While kombucha is naturally sweet, it doesn't have the health costs of artificial or natural sweeteners. Foods and beverages that are naturally sweet (like strawberries and kombucha) can provide a burst of sweet flavor while maintaining a balanced and healthy diet. Combined with a sensible lifestyle, kombucha can serve as an excellent alternative to conventional sweeteners that come with plenty of health risks.

The Right Kombucha Can Deliciously Complement Your Diet

Humans have been turning to fermented foods for nearly all of human history, but it's only recently that we are beginning to understand the dietary impact. When it comes to gut health, regularly drinking kombucha can help bring bacterial balance and open the door to many possible health perks.

But not all kombuchas are created equal either. While some use erratic processes like secondary fermentation, other producers focus on ensuring consistency all the way through the process. The right type of tea can also make an enormous difference, both in terms of gut health and flavor. When made correctly, kombuchas can offer a low-sugar boost of flavor that can be a cornerstone of a healthy diet.With our expertise in brewing tea, the makers of Brew Dr. know the importance of sourcing the perfect ingredients and crafting the best possible process for kombucha. Try one of our many unique flavors and find out why kombucha has become one of the most popular drinks in the world.

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