While we may see trending health topics come and go, kombucha has been around for a long time. It’s gained a lot of traction lately and a reputation for having numerous health benefits. It’s even been in the Western market long enough to be sold at most large grocery stores.
But what is it? Why is it supposed to be good for us? Is it just for young people? Are there benefits for older people who want to try it or incorporate kombucha into their diets?
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented drink that contains yeast, sugar and black tea. According to WebMD, “The basic ingredients in kombucha are yeast, sugar, and black tea. The mix is set aside for a week or more. During that time, bacteria and acids form in the drink, as well as a small amount of alcohol. This process is known as fermentation, and it’s similar to how cabbage is preserved as sauerkraut or kimchi, or how milk is turned into yogurt.
These bacteria and acids form a film on top of the liquid called a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Kombucha bacteria includes lactic-acid bacteria, which can work as a probiotic. Kombucha also contains a healthy dose of B vitamins.”
Kombucha seems to have originated in China between 200 BC and 300 BC and was used at the time for detoxifying purposes and revitalization of overall health.
What Are the Proposed Health Benefits?
It can be difficult to know what the actual benefits are to something that is so popular. It’s been reported that it’s helpful with weight loss, hair loss, diabetes control, intestinal and gut health, and many, many more things. The challenge is that while it has been around forever, there isn’t much scientific data on the health benefits. So much of what we hear about it is purely anecdotal.
The one thing that seems to be consistently reported is the benefit that it aids in gut health. The Cleveland Clinic states, “Much of kombucha’s gut-friendly accolades are likely due to the tea itself, and the polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols are known to act as strong antioxidants in the body and decrease inflammation, which is the root cause of many diseases and conditions…
Kombucha also provides B vitamins, a handful of essential minerals, organic acids (Think: like when vinegar ferments). These acids, have shown to be antimicrobial, so they fight against bacterial growth. They can also promote detoxification by helping the liver get rid of undesired compounds that it has to process. Last, these acids help transport polyphenols in the body.
There aren’t a lot of good quality, robust studies to support a lot of kombucha’s hype, but the compounds it contains have been associated in some studies with lowering cholesterol, lowering blood sugar, antimicrobial action, decreased rates of cancer, and improvement of liver and GI function.”
Is it Safe?
As with most things, one of the key factors is moderation. There have been very few cases of kombucha poisoning. This can take place if too much kombucha is consumed or most often if the kombucha has not been properly brewed.
For those who drink it, drinking small amounts (the CDC recommends 4 ounces or less daily) of a commercial kombucha (that has been made in a factory under health regulations) on a regular basis generally do not experience negative side effects.
Keep in mind that due to the fermentation process, the ready-to-consume drink will have a small percent of alcohol in it. Store bought kombucha will contain approximately 0.5% alcohol and are sold as non-alcoholic products. Sugar is also added to commercial kombucha to make the taste more palatable. Both of these things are considerations for those who completely abstain from alcohol or sugar for various reasons.
It is also quite acidic, so if you monitor your food acidity or do not digest acidic foods well, you’re best to stay avoid it.
Home-brewed kombucha is also an unpasteurized product. Read about the difference between pasteurized and unpasteurized juices/drinks and the possible risks here on the Michigan State University website.
Is it Beneficial for Seniors?
Drinking store bought kombucha in moderation may well be beneficial for anyone, including seniors. If you have no underlying medical conditions and are in overall good health, speak with your doctor about trying it.
It’s not always wise to try out every new (to us) and popular health craze. We must assess for ourselves if it could benefit us or harm us before we decide to partake. If you’re unsure if it’s right for you, speak with your doctor before eating or drinking anything new, kombucha included.
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