Fermented tea known as kombucha has been rapidly growing in popularity among health food lovers. But it’s actually been around for thousands of years. It originated in China in the third century B.C. Then it made its way to Russia, India, and Japan where it became a staple among Samurai warriors. Today it is also popular in Poland, Germany, Bulgaria, Indonesia and many other cultures.
Kombucha is made from green, black or white tea. It’s fermented for at least a week with sugar and a fungal culture consisting of a mixture of bacteria and yeast. The starter is called a “SCOBY,” which is an acronym for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast.”
The culture, also sometimes referred to as the “mother,” resembles a light brown, tough, gelatinous disk, which is a living, growing organism. With each batch of the tea, the organism can regenerate and create a new culture called the “baby,” which can be shared with a friend much like the sharing of a sour dough starter.
I got my first S.C.O.B.Y. from a friend in Paonia, Colorado during a summer trip along the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains. I didn’t know what to do with it. My donor told me to keep it in the dark and it can tolerate temperatures from 40° – 140° F. I tucked it away in the floor of the van under the bed and almost forgot about it after we got back to the Front Range.
I looked up ‘kombucha’ in Sally Fallon’s book Nourishing Traditions: “What a strange drink…a drink obtained by allowing an infusion of tea to ferment with the aid of a special inoculation and a little sugar. One finds this drink in many countries of Asia and Europe (China, Japan, Indonesia, Russia, Bulgaria, Poland and Germany) called by various names: Tesschwamm, tea fungus, kombucha, wunderpilz, hongo, cajnij, teekvass. This tea possesses antibiotic properties that are used in medicine in Russia. [Claude Aubert Les Aliments Fermentes Traditionnels] and “The potentially large amount of glucuronic acid in the beverage is especially exciting to us, just as it was to Soviet scientists and cancer researchers…Glucuronic acid is not readily commercially synthesized, but the healthy human liver makes large amounts of it to detoxify the body. In the liver the glucuronic acid binds up all poisons and toxins–both environmental and metabilic–and rushes them to the excretory system. Toxins once bound by glucuronic acid cannot be resorbed into the system so we are rid of them. [Tom Valentine Search for Health]
After fermenting my sweet tea (1 quart of water to each tea bag and 1/4 cup of organic cane sugar) with a S.C.O.B.Y. for 2 weeks, I add different fresh herbs and flowers, ginger root, and either pomegranate juice or concentrated black cherry, or fresh fruit, cap it and let it ferment the sugars again. This creates a fizzier tonic type drink, depending on the herbs used.
Most of these herbs and flowers come from my yard: lavender, calendula, raspberry, rosemary, currants, pansies, hollyhock and strawberry leaf to name a few. But relatively little scientific evidence has confirmed the health claims of traditional cultures drinking the tea. Recently, researchers from the University of Latvia gathered 75 studies attesting to the proven health properties of kombucha.
Here are 18 healthy reasons they suggest to raise a glass of kombucha.
Kombucha contains substantial amounts of glucuronic acid (GA). GA is well known as a detoxicant. In the body it combines with toxins like pharmaceuticals and environmental pollutants. It then converts them into compounds that are soluble and the body can excrete. Drinking kombucha may also help prevent tissues from absorbing industrial toxins in the environment.
Kombucha contains abundant antioxidants including vitamins E, C, beta-carotene, and other carotenoids. Like black tea, kombucha also contains polyphenols and other compounds with antioxidant powers. But because it is fermented, kombucha is much more powerful than plain tea. Its antioxidant activity has been found to be 100 times higher than vitamin C and 25 times higher than vitamin E. For that reason drinking traditional kombucha may help cure chronic illnesses caused by oxidative stress.
Kombucha sets iron free from black tea. That helps increase levels of blood hemoglobin, and improves oxygen flow to tissues. It also improves the body’s absorption of other non-heme (plant-derived) iron.
Oxidative stress suppresses the immune system but kombucha’s high levels of vitamin C support immunity. Its antioxidant power also protects against cell damage, inflammatory diseases, suppressed immunity, and tumors.
5. Gastric Illnesses
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are toxic to the gut. They can lead to gastric ulcers. Indomethacin, a popular NSAID, can disrupt blood circulation to the stomach’s mucous membrane. Kombucha has been shown to effectively heal gastric ulceration. The researchers believe the fermented tea protects the mucin content of the stomach. Its antioxidant activity also protects the lining of the gut. Kombucha also reduces gastric acid secretion that can damage the mucous membrane. In fact, kombucha has been found as effective in healing ulcers as prescription omeprazole (brand name Prilosec).
Kombucha helps balance the metabolism. Animal studies show the tea may cause weight loss by encouraging calorie restriction.
Research dating back to 1929 found kombucha can decrease blood sugar levels. More recent animal studies report that kombucha significantly reduces blood sugar levels in diabetic rats. Another study suggested kombucha may be considered a candidate for the treatment and prevention of diabetes.
8. Kidney Toxicity
Kombucha may help eliminate kidney damage caused by environmental pollutants and may be beneficial to patients suffering from renal impairment. Kombucha has also been used to prevent calcification in the kidney and may prevent the formation of kidney stones.
9. Endothelial Function
Oxidative stress can damage the lining of blood vessels. That damage is a precursor to atherosclerosis, and a threat to heart health. Antioxidants in kombucha help promote regeneration of cellular walls in blood vessels.
In clinical trials involving 52 atherosclerotic patients with high cholesterol, kombucha helped lower levels to normal. In studies involving ducks, kombucha significantly reduced levels of LDL cholesterol and simultaneously raised HDL levels after just 10 days. Other animal studies show kombucha may decrease total cholesterol as much as 45–52%. It may also significantly decrease triglyceride and LDL levels while increasing HDL.
Kombucha has been used to prevent headaches and dizziness caused by hypertension. It’s been recommended for treating high blood pressure.
Organic acids found in kombucha convert trivalent iron compounds from plant sources to divalent iron ions. This makes iron from plant sources more available to the body. And vitamin C in kombucha enhances iron absorption. Researchers suggest kombucha is particularly recommended for elderly people and vegetarians because it enhances the absorption of iron and helps prevent iron deficiency.
13. Liver Function
Kombucha protects against liver toxicity in animals from overdoses of acetaminophen (Tylenol). Researchers suggest it might provide a useful therapy for humans as well.
14. Nervous System
Kombucha contains several amino acids, methylxanthine alkaloids (caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine), ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and B vitamins (including folic acid-B9), necessary for normal metabolism in the nervous system. It can help with headaches, nervousness, and epilepsy prevention. It may also prevent depression in the elderly.
Daily kombucha may help asthma patients. It contains significant amounts of theophyline, a bronchodilator. The treatment dose of theophyline is 0.18–1.0 g daily. Just one cup of kombucha contains about 1.44 mg.
16. Joint Problems
Glucuronic acid in kombucha can be converted by the body into glucosamine, chondroitin-sulphate, and other polysaccharides and glucoproteins associated with cartilage, collagen, and the fluid that lubricates joints. It may also help relieve arthritis, rheumatism, and gout.
Consumption of kombucha has been associated with lower cancer rates. Researchers believe it increases the immune system’s anticancer defenses. It may prevent cancer proliferation at early stages of tumor growth due to its glucuronic, lactic, and acetic acid content, as well as its antibiotic compounds. It may have anticarcinogenic effects especially for hormone-dependent tumors.
Cell studies suggest it may be useful for prostate cancer treatment and prevention. It’s also been studied as an anticancer agent against human lung, osteosarcoma, and renal cancer cell lines.
18. Antibiotic Resistant Infections
Kombucha contains strong antibacterials to combat infectious diseases such as diptheria, scarlet fever, influenza, typhoid, paratyphoid fever, and dysentery. Its high total acidity makes it effective against Helicobacter pylori, Salmonella typhimurium, Staphylococcus aureus, and Bacillus cereus. It’s been suggested that kombucha may be an effective alternative to synthetic antimicrobials that are becoming increasingly ineffective.
I was surprised there were so many other benefits other than the glucuronic acid and the probiotics. I was hoping to use the drink as insurance against environmental toxins that are ubiquitous in a developed country, or the occasional restaurant meal or processed food. Now I keep a cupboard of jars fermenting for various rates at all times. (If you would like to try this drink, or get a S.C.O.B.Y. of your own and start brewing leave a comment with your contact information and I will let you know if I can forward this to you.)
Darlene Nixon, BGS, CHom can be reached for professional natural health consultations at 720-432-0228
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And many thanks to Margie King, Health Coach.