Maintaining overall health can be difficult to impossible without a healthy gut. Looking for a tasty boost to their digestive system, many kombucha drinkers tap into the benefits of probiotics, antioxidants, and a fermented drink that can help bring balance to a critical but complicated system. But just how does kombucha encourage gut health and help drinkers create a positive lifestyle?
The answer seems to be that kombucha may do a lot more than we originally anticipated. Even though there is a long way to go before we get a complete picture, those drinking kombucha for gut health have many reasons for confidence.
Before you can understand kombucha's connection to your gut microbiome, it's important to know what kombucha is along with its generally accepted health properties. While you may have heard of it before, it's not uncommon for people to confuse it with ordinary iced tea. But even though kombucha is made with tea, there's much more to the drink that has quickly become a beverage of choice around the world (where it wasn’t already a regular staple).
Besides the many unique flavors of kombucha, the connection with a healthy lifestyle is one of the main reasons for the explosion in popularity. Much of the potential here comes down to kombucha's connection with the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is considered a "supporting organ" made up of trillions of microorganisms (microbes), each playing a vital role in the overall function of your body and immune system.
When microbiota function properly, they stimulate the immune system and break down potential toxins in the body. They also synthesize vitamins and amino acids, such as Vitamins B and K, and break down simple sugars (e.g., table sugar and lactose). Unfortunately, many of us have a microbiota that isn't behaving as it should, which can lead to a host of problems.But this dilemma is also where kombucha might be doing its best work. Research shows that kombucha can actually play a role in controlling gut microbiota, helping drinkers harness the positives while avoiding issues associated with microbiota imbalances. Such imbalances (called intestinal dysbiosis) can lead to a variety of ailments, including food intolerance, chronic fatigue, and a host of others.
If your body is healthy, the microbiome has a community of pathogenic and symbiotic microbes that coexist with one another. However, if there is a disturbance within your body, such as a poor diet, illness, or prolonged use of certain medications, dysbiosis or other ailments can occur.
Beyond improving this essential balance, kombucha can affect gut health in other ways as well, including:
To fully understand why people regularly drink kombucha for gut health, it helps to know exactly what's in the fizzy drink. Kombucha is a fermented tea that provides a much different kind of fizz than what you'd find in a soda. And to answer a popular question straight away, the fermentation process does produce a little alcohol in the drink, but it's not enough to consider the drink alcoholic (it's always at 0.5% alcohol or less).
The essential ingredients used for brewing kombucha are tea, sugar, and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast known as a SCOBY. Some natural kombucha brews are often mixed with fruit juices and other natural spices to give them a different flavor once they're done fermenting.
Kombucha's benefits begin with its fermented, probiotic-rich nature. Some even believe kombucha can be useful in preventing a variety of health conditions, though researchers are still exploring this aspect in order to give us a better overview. That said, the benefits of fermented foods and probiotics have become quite well known, and kombucha drinkers take advantage of what kombucha offers for their gut health.
Kombucha consumption has been booming over the past decade, with growth expected to remain very strong for years to come. Much of its popularity is due to the associated health benefits, although expanding flavor selection has helped to accelerate the trend. The health impact plus the unique flavors now offered have made it a natural competitor for soda, which is often criticized for its health drawbacks.
But tea aficionados point to another reason kombucha has gained a foothold in popular culture: it's an excellent companion for athletes. Although many athletes have turned to sugar-saturated sports drinks following a workout, the trend is now favoring alternatives like kombucha. As consumers become more aware of the harm processed foods can bring, along with the benefits of organic and fermented foods, it's not hard to see why we're in the early stages of an ongoing kombucha boom.
There are two main types of kombucha: raw and pasteurized. While raw kombucha hasn't been heated or manipulated to kill bacteria, this doesn't mean raw kombucha is bad for you. Many types of bacteria are good for us, and that's what most of the bacteria in raw kombucha are. We're more accustomed to beverages that are pasteurized, but carefully crafted raw kombucha is where the most natural gut benefits lie.
Although the end results are much different, both types of kombucha start the same way—every kombucha is made up of the same ingredients starting out. Raw kombucha, though, is made through a precise process and an exact mixture of the right ingredients. It's important to remember that all raw kombucha sold in stores meets FDA regulations.
When kombucha is pasteurized, both harmful and beneficial bacteria are killed in the process. Most brewers will add other probiotics so the drink still has some benefits, but it's still considered pasteurized. Adding probiotics after pasteurizing kombucha is typically done by those who brew kombucha at home in order to remove any contamination that may occur where regulations aren't put in place.
While alcohol is removed during the pasteurization process, raw kombucha can have the alcohol removed in a different way: by dropping atmospheric gas and separating it from the rest of the mix. This might sound like it's fresh out of MacGyver, but it's a process that has been refined to an exact science. When all is said is done, the alcohol content is always less than 0.5% and responsible kombucha makers even recycle the alcohol for other purposes (like hand sanitizer and biofuel).
Fermentation is a preservation process that relies on good bacteria and yeast, turning the sugar we consume into acids and/or alcohol. It will change the way the food or beverage tastes, but fermentation also extends the life of these products significantly.
Fermented foods usually taste somewhat sour due to the level of acidity in the product, so they're occasionally referred to as an acquired taste. That isn't always the case, however; many people love foods like yogurt because of the certain tang it gives our tastebuds. It's simply a preservation process that changes the composition of food, providing healthy bacteria and that tangy taste many of us have come to love.
Since fermented foods contain probiotics, they can help you digest foods. After all, you do need good bacteria to help your body break down carbohydrates and other types of food. Probiotics from fermented foods have been proven to help with a number of digestive problems, such as IBS, Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis, and others.
In addition to this, your body can't make all vitamins on its own, either. Specific vitamins, including all B vitamins and vitamin K, need help from an outside source to be produced at the required scale. Fermented food provides the help your body needs for the production of these vitamins, paving the way for one of kombucha's best-established health benefits.
As we now know, kombucha contains antimicrobials, meaning it helps the gut microbiome get rid of pathogenic microbiota. In layman's terms, it expels the bad microbiota that causes illness and keeps the good form of microbiota. While a healthy gut does include pathogenic and symbiotic microbiota, it's not a great idea to have too many pathogens running around in the microbiome.
Ultimately, much of the magic behind kombucha comes from allowing the right bacteria to grow within our gut, helping to regulate our digestive system and lowering health risks. Although it all sounds a little technical, what's important to know is that kombucha provides an organic boost where your gut needs it the most.
Aside from the health benefits kombucha may offer, it's also one of the most versatile drinks around, given the number of flavor offerings currently on the market. With the many ways great brewers today customize kombucha, it's even becoming the type of drink that can fit any occasion. Many people use it in baking and cooking, and it can also be the perfect foundation for an antioxidant-packed smoothie.
At Brew Dr., our raw, organic, and probiotic-rich kombuchas come in a variety of flavors, with each one offering a unique taste along with the many gut benefits that kombucha is known for. Listen to your gut and choose your favorite flavor today.