Fermented Tea: Is Kombucha a Curative Drink?

Paloma Basilio

Editor’s note: [The intention of this article is to introduce the reader to kombucha tea in relation to health benefits and is in no way a replacement to medical advice. If you have medical questions, please contact your health care professional.]

Kombucha is an acidic, tea-like drink which many people have sworn to be a curative drink for their health crisis.

At first glance kombucha looks like a mushroom, but it is in fact a cluster of bacteria and yeast build up, according to Shannon Sunde, a certified health coach and registered yoga teacher in the Seattle, Wash., metropolitan area. The “mushroom” is known as a SCOBY, which stands for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, and also as the mother. When placed into the kombucha brew a new mushroom, called the daughter, is produced from the mother. The process is never ending as every two weeks a new mushroom is produced.

Nvate Kombucha, fermented tea SCOBY, digestive health, natural immune function

Kombucha is “a cluster of bacteria and yeast build up,” which is produced by the kombucha “mushroom.” Credit: greenteatoday.com

According to Sunde, kombucha is “a fermented mixture made from tea, sugar, bacteria and yeast giving it its acidic and effervescent quality.” The taste is acidic and almost tastes like sweet vinegar.

Kombucha originated in Northeast China and soon after spread to Russia via the Silk Road, where it became very popular. Kombucha has been circling around for many centuries in Asia and Europe, but its use in the United States had been slim, until recently. With migration, kombucha slowly made its way to the United States where it is fairly popular now.

Although kombucha is not a scientific fix for health conditions, it has tremendous support from people all over the world. Kombucha has been linked to “weight loss, reducing hot flashes and to helping clear acne, psoriasis and other skin problems,” according to the Kombucha Brewing website. “[Kombucha] makes it harder for disease causing bacteria and viruses to find a suitable growth environment.”

Why Do So Many People Swear by this Acidic Tea?

Kombucha’s popularity grew as people began taking notice to the stated health benefits of drinking the tea. “Increasing digestive health, diminishing the effects of [irritable bowel syndrome] and Crohn’s disease,” are some health benefits of kombucha according to Sunde. “Ulcers and reflux disease; appetite suppression, lowering heartburn and cholesterol; treating acne, combating menstrual problems, immune function stimulation and lowering the incidence of headaches. Just to name a few [benefits],” Sunde said. “The list of claims goes on and on.”

Kombucha is a fermented drink which is what causes it to do so much good. “It seems that it’s acidic and detoxifying effects on the body, and in the liver in particular, lend to its ability to support the body’s natural disease fighting abilities, as well as its microorganisms colonizing the gut, and keeping the bad bacteria at bay,” Sunde explained.

Maria Rodriguez, a kombucha drinker for the last six months, said that it has prevented her acid reflux from occurring since she began drinking the tea. “I have suffered with severe acid reflux for the past 25 years,” she said as she has tried every medicine out there for the prevention of acid reflux, but nothing had worked for her.

“I did extensive research on kombucha before I decided to try it out for myself,” Rodriguez said. She went on to say that she is “very grateful” that she decided to drink it because not only has it helped with the acid reflux, but that it has given her “more energy and that she feels better as a whole.” Rodriguez actively spreads the word about how kombucha has benefited her. She has gone so far as giving away kombucha “mushrooms” to her customers and employees.

Nvate Kombucha, fermented tea SCOBY, digestive health, natural immune function

This is kombucha being made at home. Credit: Paloma Basilio

Even with Rodriguez and Sunde’s positive experiences with the drink, there are no studies that confirm or support these claims. “On the record, there is not one single trial in any major medical journal that details kombucha’s ability [to cure],” Sunde said. “Without solid evidence, it is difficult to speculate, however, many, many people have found it does have effectiveness for their health concerns and in my opinion, it may go back to the fact that kombucha has the ability to support the body’s natural immune function and thus enhances our ability to fight off diseases such as cancer.”

Side Effects of Drinking Kombucha

According to WebMD, side effects of drinking kombucha may be “stomach problems, yeast infections, allergic reactions, jaundice, nausea and death.” The website stresses that people with suppressed immune systems should not drink the tea because the “tea can support the growth of bacteria and fungus that can cause serious infections.”

If making the tea at home, be careful to maintain as germ-free of an environment as you can because these batches “can become contaminated with fungus—Aspergillus—and bacteria,” as stated on WebMD.

How is Kombucha Made?

Another thing to point out is that the kombucha sold in grocery stores isn’t as effective as making the tea at home. “Most manufacturers of kombucha teas purchased in stores have pasteurized their product, effectively negating the positive effects of the microorganisms and yeasts as they are killed during this process,” Sunde said. The bacteria and yeast is what reaps the benefits of kombucha.

The interesting thing about the process of making kombucha is that it is a never ending. In order to start your own tea someone must give you an already developed kombucha “mushroom.” If you don’t have a friend to give you a kombucha mushroom, they can be purchased on the Kombucha Brewing website for $18.95.

The process of making kombucha is basic, according to the Kombucha Brewing website. First, brew an amount of water that is determinate on the number of tea bags you choose to use. When the brew is cooled, pour it in a glass pitcher. Next, add white and brown sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until the sugars have dissolved. Then, take the kombucha mushroom that has already been prepared and place it in the pitcher. Cover the pitcher with a paper towel and leave it to ferment for two weeks. By the second week a new kombucha mushroom has been produced. For further brewing instructions, visit the aforementioned website.

Sunde and Rodriguez highly recommend the use of kombucha because of the health benefits it provides. And although they are not the only ones whom recommend the tea, further research needs to be done to warrant the effectiveness of the tea, as WebMD and Sunde noted. Kombucha survived through centuries of use, and continues on into the 21st century.

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