Why You’re Drinking Kombucha for All the Wrong Reasons
Drink it because you enjoy the taste of it, not because you think it’ll make you healthier. It won’t.
Kombucha has been touted to improve gut health amongst a variety of other claims, many of which to this day are still largely anecdotal even though the drinking of this fizzy, fermented beverage can be traced back several thousand years.
The health benefits of kombucha are largely attributed to probiotics, the good-for-you microbes like Lactobacillus present in the SCOBY - short for symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast—a blend of bugs that forms a floating film called a pellicle on top of kombucha as it brews.
Scientists have credited these microbes, yeast, and bacteria with improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal conditions, reducing the side effects of antibiotics, and treating yeast infections, among other perks. They're an essential part of what's called the microbiome, the balance of bacteria that lives within our bodies.
But do we gain anything from the “micro” amounts we consume through Kombucha?
At any given point there are at least 500 different species of bacteria inhabiting our guts, for a total of 300 trillion microorganisms. On the flip side, even the most concentrated probiotic capsules you can buy at your local pharmacy and grocery store contain only about five species and 50 billion bugs. Kombucha? Even fewer than that. That's far from enough to make any real difference in health (Math says that equals only .0167%, less than 1%!!!)
And as with any probiotic product, it's tough to know exactly what you're getting. The microbial cocktail each serves up depends not only on the contents of the tea and the SCOBY, but also factors like the incubation temperature and how long the stuff's been sitting on the shelf.
So, what now? Well, provided you have a healthy immune system, swapping out a beer or a sugary soda for a sour, bubbly bottle of kombucha now and then probably won't hurt you and might save you a few calories (if you go for a brand without sugar added, there's about 60 calories per serving, half that in soda)
But if it's a probiotic boost you're seeking, other items at the grocery store such as yogurt or kefir, provided you can tolerate them, boasts more good bugs, has been more solidly linked to health benefits (including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, abnormal cholesterol levels, and obesity and fewer risks).
Bottom line: You don't necessarily need to ingest more bacteria, even the beneficial types.
According to Professor Zhaoping Li, Professor of Medicine and Chief of the Division of Clinical Nutrition at UCLA: "You have good seeds, you just need to take care of them. You don't need to keep planting in poor conditions," Li says.
In other words, you're better off nurturing the flora already growing in your gut with high-quality soil and fertilizer, aka a healthy diet full of vegetables, fruits, and bacteria-feeding fiber. "If you really want to grow the garden with rich variety, take good care of it by eating right."