Guest Posting: Kombucha Health Benefits, by Tadeusz Zagrabinski

In this guest posting, Tadeusz reviews the health benefits of kombucha. He has previously written a five-part series on the importance of the individual ingredients and processes that are traditionally used to make kombucha.

Kombucha Health Benefits. Are there any?

Kombucha Health Benefits. Are there any? And if so, what exactly are they? The time has come to tackle this topic.

But first a toast to your health! Cheers, Prost and na zdrowie!

When Kombucha came to Europe from Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century (for more details, please click here), it was a different Kombucha than the one that we know today.

In those days, it was a folk remedy, and it was hyped-up to be a wonder drink for many different ailments. And there was some substance to it, as Kombucha was not only made at homes but it was also offered and sold, along with Kombucha extracts and/or Kombucha concentrates at different pharmacies and health food stores (Reformhäuser in German).

In 1927, a first-ever patent was issued by the German patent office (No. 538 028).

The patent was for: “Process for the preparation of therapeutically active preparations with the help of Kombucha.”

(for more, please click here)

It was issued for Mr. Siegwart Hermman and the pharmaceutical company “Norgine” A.G. in Prague.

From early 1960s to 1980s, a German doctor Rudolf Sklenar recommended using Kombucha for his patients “mainly against metabolic diseases, rheumatism, gout, gastrointestinal ailments, high blood pressure, recovered blood fat levels, and diabetes. All with success.” (see here).

“More than in any other illness, the young doctor was interested in (…) cancer.”

“However, he did not see the solution to the cancer problem in the purely conventional medical treatment (…). Rather, he recognized approaches for prevention and healing in biological therapies. (…) He has achieved the best healing results with a combination of kombucha and Escherichia coli-treatments (Kolipräparaten)”.

His work was described by his niece, Rosina Fasching, in a book titled Tea Fungus Kombucha: The Natural Remedy and Its Significance in Cases of Cancer and Other Metabolic Diseases.

His work and the work of some other doctors led to an increased popularity of Kombucha in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. That led to the publishing of books about Kombucha and to even more hype about its health benefits.

Soon, Kombucha seemed to be a remedy for almost anything.

Exactly the same thing happened in 1950s in Italy, where the mysterious “Fungo cinese (Chinese mushroom)” became a craze, Which even led to some incidences where some people were even stealing “the holy water” from churches in order to make Kombucha with it.

That “holy water” was supposed to increase Kombucha’s health benefits even more.

All the books that were published in 1980s and 1990s (almost all in German, some were later translated into English) mention many ailments and diseases which Kombucha was supposed to have cured.

We have most of those books in our Kombucha Café

Below are just a few.

They all mention the healing properties of Kombucha in their titles: “Naturally Heal with Kombucha,” “Naturally Healthy with Kombucha,” “Kombucha – the Tea with Big Healing Power,” and “Kombucha -The Concentrated Healing Power from Nature,” just to mention a few.

Almost all of those books have testimonies of ordinary people who speak about what Kombucha helped them with and what it supposedly has cured.

Now is there or was there any substance to their claims?

Before I answer that, I must point a few things out.

As I mentioned before, Kombucha back then was quite different, and there were specific instructions how to make it. It was also important to follow those instructions. To see how different it was, let’s take a look at the recipe provided in the above-mentioned book, “Tea Fungus Kombucha.”

First, the amount of sugar that was supposed to be used was much higher, than what is being used in today’s Kombucha. It was recommended to use at least 100 gr of sugar per liter (with some recipes calling for even 150 gr). The tea that was supposed to be used was black tea only, and there was a specific time length of fermentation that was recommended. Also, the pH level needed to drop to about 3 pH.

All that was necessary for all the important organic acids to develop. Specifically the hyaluronic acid (as mentioned in Rosina Fasching’s book).

The dosage was also important, since this Kombucha was “heavier” and quite often more acidic than the “lighter” Kombuchas of today. So there was a recommended daily amount that people were supposed to consume.

So, in other words, Kombucha was taken like medicine rather than being enjoyed as a beverage, like it is today.

Kombucha of that time was also never filtered, nor was it force-carbonated. It was also never produced in massive amounts like it is today (commercially).

So, what about all those testimonies from all the people who claimed that Kombucha helped them with regaining health or overcoming different illnesses?

Were all of the testimonies just a figment of imagination? A bunch of lies? Was there some truth to them? Or maybe something in between?

One aspect, which can not be eliminated, is the power of the placebo effect.

So what is the placebo effect?

“The placebo effect is when a person’s physical or mental health appears to improve after taking a placebo or ‘dummy’ treatment. Placebo is Latin for ‘I will please’ and refers to a treatment that appears real but is designed to have no therapeutic benefit.” (here)

It is hard not to think about it, taking into account all the hype that has always surrounded Kombucha (nowadays included). But that is only one aspect.

In order to look into the possible health benefits of Kombucha, one has to take two things into consideration. Its ingredients and also the fermentation process that transforms those ingredients into other substances.

So, a simple Kombucha will only have four ingredients: tea, sugar, water, and the culture.

And that is basically how all Kombucha was made in earlier times.

Various teas do possess proven health benefits, and one can find medical studies and publications about them. This “Beneficial effects of green tea: A literature review” is just one example.

Here’s another example, this time mentioning Pu-erh tea: “Pu-erh Tea: Benefits, Dosage, Side Effects, and More.”

So teas, used in proper amounts, will provide extra benefits.

Among many substances, teas contain polyphenols.

“Polyphenols are a general term for polyphenol compounds in tea, and has been shown to have good effects on antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, cancer prevention and regulation of lipid metabolism,” as it is written in “Antioxidant mechanism of tea polyphenols and its impact on health benefits” (see here) and also in “Chemical Composition of Kombucha.”

Teas also have a significant effect on the beneficial substances that are produced during the fermentation process, like vitamins. And vitamins are essential for good health.

Kombucha fermented with green or black tea contains high levels of Vitamin C or ascorbic acid, and trace amounts of some B vitamins. Vitamins are necessary components for numerous biochemical and physiological processes that take place in the body. Vitamins cannot be synthesized within the body; therefore, they must be supplemented in the diet to obtain healthy levels. The water-soluble Vitamin C and Vitamin B (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, B6, biotin, B9, and cobalamin) have been reported in kombucha.

Kombucha is a complex beverage composed of a number of compounds, some of which are minerals (F, K Mn) that come from the tea itself. Vitamins and minerals are used by the body for a number of metabolic pathways along with physiological functions. Minerals are inorganic substances in which play an important role in the human body. Small amounts are required by the body for normal function, growth, and maintenance . Essential minerals, such as potassium (K+), cobolt (Co2+), manganese (Mn4+), copper (Cu2+), iron (Fe2+), magnesium (Mg2+), and fluoride ions (F−) can be found in Kombucha made from green and black tea. Bauer-Petrovska and Petrushevska-Tozi (2000) quantified the content of manganese, iron, nickel, copper, zinc, lead, cobalt, chromium, and cadmium in Kombucha. Mineral concentration can range from 0.004μg/mL for cobalt to 0.462μg/mL for magnesium.

Chemical Composition of Kombucha

Sugar is very crucial for the fermentation process, but sugar is generally considered to be “the bad boy.” Mostly white refined sugar is used in Kombucha making. Cost usually plays a major role.

We use unrefined brown sugar to make our Bärbucha Kombucha.

At least this type of sugar still contains some small amounts of trace minerals. That’s always better than nothing, and that’s exactly what refined white sugar gives you.

But sugar is only the starting point in order to get the beneficial organic acids. And those will be created during the fermentation process, during which sugar will be broken down into sucrose and glucose. And those are further broken down into various organic acids.

Kombucha is made up of a number of organic acids, such as acetic, gluconic, glucuronic, citric, L-lactic, malic, tartaric, malonic, oxalic, succinic, pyruvic, and usnic. The composition and metabolite concentration within Kombucha can vary greatly due to the starter culture used, sugar and tea concentration, fermentation time, and the fermentation temperature.

Chemical Composition of Kombucha

Acetic acid‘s benefits are well known, as acetic acid is the main acid of regular vinegars, like apple (cider) vinegar.

Glucuronic acid is important for the metabolism of microorganisms, plants, and animals and helps in detoxification of the body, as it “helps remove harmful substances from the body” (see here and also here)

L-lactic or lactic acid is produced by lactic acid bacteria.

There are several potential health or nutritional benefits possible from some species of lactic acid bacteria. Among these are: improved nutritional value of food, control of intestinal infections, improved digestion of lactose, control of some types of cancer, and control of serum cholesterol levels. Some potential benefits may result from growth and action of the bacteria during the manufacture of cultured foods. Some may result from growth and action of certain species of the lactic acid bacteria in the intestinal tract following ingestion of foods containing them.

Health and nutritional benefits from lactic acid bacteria

Lactic acid is also very beneficial for skin health (see here).

The amount of lactic acid bacteria in Kombucha will differ from region to region, as specific conditions will influence the build-up of the Kombucha culture (Scoby). For that reason, Kombucha made in Ireland, for example, will usually be richer in lactic acids than Kombucha produced in Germany.

Some other substances that are present in Kombucha include: vitamins B (B1, B2, B6, B9, and B12, see here), beneficial yeasts, amino acids, enzymes, flavonoids, and proteins.

Most of them are also quite beneficial.

So, as we can see, Kombucha as a drink is very complex, and it can vary significantly, depending on many factors, like the initial ingredients, the amount of those ingredients and their quality, the fermentation time, and the geographical location, etc.

Other factors that can enhance the beneficial aspects of Kombucha, will be the additional substances that can be used along with tea or instead of tea.

Those can be as follows: herbs, mushrooms, and other botanicals.

We have a separate line of Kombucha made with those.

Our Chaga Kombucha is made with a Siberian Chaga mushroom (see here for Chaga benefits). Jiaogulan Kombucha is made with a Chinese Jiaogulan herb, also known as the “herb of immortality” (for potential Jiaogulan benefits, see here).

Lapacho Kombucha is made with the inner bark of the Lapacho (Pau d’arco) tree (for potential Lapacho benefits, click here).

Schisandra Kombucha is made with Chinese five-flavor berries called Schisandra (for some Schisandra benefits, check here).

And finally, our Hemp Kombucha is made with Organic hemp containing 4% CBD.

Let’s not forget our yearly seasonal specials.

Stinging Nettle Kombucha (Brennnessel in German) is made with the first young nettles that come out at the beginning of April (for nutritional and pharmacological importance of this herb, click here).

Creeping Charlie Kombucha is yet another example. It “is a medicinal plant that is known in traditional medicine for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiviral, and anticancer properties.”

(for more, see here)

Our Elderflower Jun combines the medicinal properties of elderflowers (see here) and those of raw honey (see here).

And just one more example is our Ginseng Oolong Kombucha made with a Lan Gui Ren tea.

This is a special Oolong which combines green Oolong tea and ginseng powder. They are both rolled together into small balls. Ginseng has been valued in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) for thousands of years, as it has many health benefits (for some of them, click here)

So, these are just a few examples of how to increase the potential benefits of Kombucha.

Now, let’s go back to “plain” tea-based Kombucha and its health-promoting properties.

When looking through the published scientific literature, one can find out that Kombucha is often characterized as having these specific activities: antioxidant, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and even anti-cancer (for more, see here).

Below is yet another quote from the above-linked article:

Kombucha has many beneficial effects on human health, such as detoxifying the blood and reducing cholesterol levels, blood pressure, kidney calcification, inflammatory problems, arthritis, rheumatism, gout symptoms, obesity, menstrual disorders, menopausal hot flashes, insomnia, stress, and nervous disturbances. Kombucha is also known to stimulate liver functions, glandular systems, the immune system, and interferon production; improve hair, skin, and nail health; improve eyesight; normalize intestinal activity and balance intestinal flora; and prevent the formation of bladder infections [4,44]. The beneficial effects of kombucha are known to be attributed to the metabolites released during the fermentation process.

Kombucha Healthy Drink—Recent Advances in Production, Chemical Composition and Health Benefits

And this is not the only article that mentions the positive influence of Kombucha on drinkers’ health.

There are a lot of publications in many languages. Unfortunately, you only have access to most of them when you purchase them. So, they are not available as an open source.

But it does not matter.

When you stop and think for a moment, and when you only take into account just two aspects in which Kombucha can help: detoxification and better digestion.

That is already a huge help!

A toxic body is a weakened body. When your body is toxic, your whole system has to work overtime trying to remove the accumulated toxins. And those, in excess, can lead to different diseases or problems.

Better digestion through normalized intestinal activity and thanks to a balanced intestinal flora (see the quote above) leads to a better absorption of nutrients from foods and drinks.

That, along with detoxification, leads to improvements in health and to having a stronger immune system (as most of it is located in your gut and your digestive system).

A stronger immune system does a better job of keeping you healthy in protecting your health through eliminating possible problems.

For those two reasons alone (detoxification and better digestion), people should drink Kombucha.

In the English-speaking countries (especially US, Canada, and Great Britain), Kombucha is generally recognized as a probiotic drink, which can be described as such on the label.

In Europe, only pharmaceutical products can be labeled as probiotics. Being probiotic is only one aspect of Kombucha’s benefits. So, what are probiotics?

A definition of probiotics is as follows:

“Probiotics are live microorganisms that are intended to have health benefits when consumed or applied to the body. They can be found in yogurt and other fermented foods, dietary supplements, and beauty products.” (for more, see here)

Modern Kombucha (the one produced after 1995, and specifically after 2010) got most of its hype as being a probiotic drink.

The major reason for that is that Kombucha became popular at about the same time when a lot of studies were done on the significance of gut health and a gut and brain connection.

But as I mentioned above, the probiotic properties of Kombucha are only one of the health-beneficial aspects. In my humble opinion, being “probiotic” is not one of the strongest points of Kombucha health improving properties.

There are many other fermented foods (and drinks) that contain a lot more probiotic bacteria than Kombucha.

The true strength of Kombucha lies in different organic acids, enzymes, and other beneficial compounds. The probiotic aspect is just additional.

Relying only on this probiotic aspect of Kombucha has led to a strange situation in the last couple of years when some major commercial Kombucha producers started adding specific strains of bacteria in order to be able to state on the label that each bottle of their Kombucha contains billions of a specific bacteria.

Yes, those bottles can contain billions of bacteria (usually Bacillus Coagulans GBI-30, 6086), but those bacteria were simply added to Kombucha. They are not a result of the natural fermentation process. And that is not the same.

You could as well buy a probiotic pill with billions of bacteria, and you would dissolve it in, let’s say, beer to claim that this beer is probiotic and healthy–or just plain water.

It is just not the same.

And when you look up this GBI-30, 6086 bacteria strain, then you will find out that it is a patented product.

As a matter of fact, any type of probiotic bacteria that can be counted and stated on the label must be a bacteria that was manufactured first and then added to Kombucha later.

In a natural fermentation process, you will never get accurate counts of specific bacteria or any other microorganism for that matter. They will always vary from batch to batch.

And here is a quote from a published article confirming what I wrote above:

Many existing purported probiotics belong to the Lactobacillus genus, which are often present in kombucha. To satisfy the claim of probiotics (the emphasis is mine), several probiotics are often added to commercial kombucha products. Bacillus coagulans, a lactic acid-producing bacteria resistant to high temperature, has been one of the most common. Other probiotics that are added to commercial kombucha products include Bacillus subtilis, Saccharomyces boulardii, and Lactobacillus rhamnosus.

Microbial and Chemical Profiles of Commercial Kombucha Products

Are there any extra benefits that stem from this procedure? Maybe.

I, personally, would always choose a natural product over a pill.

We offer many fermented foods and drinks, and a lot of our customers did take probiotic pills before buying our products. From their testimonies, we know that naturally fermented foods helped them in a better way, than any of those prescribed pills.

Probiotic bacteria are actually not the only thing that is being added to Kombucha. Vitamin B12, which is quoted by some publications as being naturally present in Kombucha, is also added post-production so that it can be listed on the labels.

Back to our Kombucha.

Although our Kombucha is made in a similar way, like Kombucha from the eighties or nineties (small batch, in glass, not filtered and not artificially carbonated), there’s one significant difference.

It is the amount of sugar that we use to make it. Instead of 100 to 150 gr of sugar per liter, like in the old days, we use 55 gr.

As I mentioned before, this higher amount of sugar was needed for all the important organic acids (plus other substances) to develop. Made with such high amounts of sugar, Kombucha was either still very sweet and sour or it was very vinegary. That depended on the length of the fermentation process. As a result, one could only drink so much of it.

About eight years ago when we started producing and selling our Kombucha, there were some older people who knew Kombucha from the eighties. Almost all of them asked how many milliliters of Kombucha they should drink during the day.

That was the result of the specific dosages of the medicinal Kombucha from the eighties and nineties. Or maybe even from much earlier.

Modern Kombucha, including the one that we make, is much lighter and definitely less sweet. It is made primarily to be enjoyed.

We are tea connoisseurs. That is why most of our Kombucha is made with different single teas.

And we have quite a selection.

Even our Special Line, which features those above-mentioned botanicals (like Chaga, Lapacho, etc), uses substances that are traditionally enjoyed steeped like a tea (Chaga tea, Lapacho tea, Hemp tea, etc). Think of them in terms of herbal teas or tisanes.

We do not claim that our Kombucha has any medicinal properties. But if it helps someone with their problems, whatever they may be, then we are always happy to hear that.

Over the years, we’ve had many customers who shared their stories of how Kombucha helped them with their specific problems.

For us, our Kombucha is mainly a perfect substitute for commercial sodas and alcoholic beverages. It’s a perfect addition to the important aspect of staying hydrated. But obviously, it is not a substitution for daily water consumption.

So, we enjoy our Kombucha like one would enjoy a glass of good wine or champagne. That’s the reason why we even serve it in wine glasses.

One more important aspect to keep in mind. Regardless how of beneficial Kombucha might be, or is not, it will never be some “magic pill” that will cure all the diseases or ailments one might have.

Keeping (or returning) to good health is a process that is much more complex.

In order for that to happen, many aspects of everyday life must fall into place.

And those will include things like: a balanced and healthy diet, good hydration, getting enough sleep and rest, doing some exercise (even if it’s a simple walk) and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle, spending enough time in nature, getting enough sun (read vitamin D), being happy, eliminating stress, eliminating or at least working on those lower emotions like hatred, envy, anger, jealousy, etc., following one’s passions, and much more.

If you are not willing to make any changes in your life, and if you continue living in stress (and in fear), and if you keep on eating “CRAP”, no amount of Kombucha or fermented foods will help you.

Just remember that constant stress kills your intestinal bacteria and it weakens your immune system. Good gut bacteria need fiber as nourishment, and fiber is missing in refined and processed foods. Excess of refined sugars creates imbalance in your digestive system. It also makes your body acidic, which is a perfect environment for yeast infections, and, eventually, even for cancer.

So the choice is yours.

An update!

Recently, two studies show at least two more possible benefits stemming from drinking Kombucha. One study shows a blood sugar reduction in type 2 diabetes, as mentioned here. The second study was conducted in Australia, and it can be accessed by clicking here.

This article is from Tadeusz’s Bärbucha Kombucha blog and appears here with his express permission.

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