Should I Drink Kombucha?
Getting in good gut-health shape is certainly a popular topic for nutrition and wellness these days. One place to start is with the funny-sounding named fermented tea called kombucha.
Avera Medical Group Integrative Medicine physician Dawn Flickema, MD, along with Certified Health Coach Becky Hanzen, offer their expert opinions on this drink, what it does and who it can help.
What exactly is kombucha?
It’s been known as the “Elixir of Life” for many people for many years, but kombucha is fermented tea. Tea is set out and bacteria grow in what’s basically sugar, steeped tea and a bacteria colony starter. While it’s been popular for years in “granola hippie world,” we’re seeing an upswing in people taking stock of their own health. Healthy gut bacteria is one of the first things to address, and anything related to helping the gut heal and repopulate good bacteria – like this tea – is now popular.
Should I consider drinking it?
If you do so in moderation, it’s fine for most folks. But it can be too strong of a probiotic astringent for some. And while most people will be OK, we all seem capable of overdoing good thing. A little bit of something is usually best, because anytime we overdo it, even with water, we can have issues.
We do recommend people try it because it has great healthy probiotics we need to feed the “good” stuff in our microbiome. If you try it and get an upset tummy or even diarrhea, reduce the amount. Sometimes those signs mean you really need the “good bugs” but it was such a big “blast” your body wasn’t ready. So take it slowly.
What makes up this “elixir” exactly?
Its basic ingredients, for example, in two gallons of kombucha, are:
- About 16 cups filtered water
- 24 grams (12 bags) black tea
- 1½ cups white sugar
The bacteria and yeast feed off the sugar as the tea steeps, so when we drink the finished product, we do get less sugar per serving. But there is still sugar. In some products you’ll find on the shelf, you may find more added sugar than is good for you.
Many people make their own, and while that can be a good idea, if it’s not done in a clean environment, it can go very wrong. People have been known to get very sick from “bad” kombucha – it is bacteria, after all. Purchasing it instead reduces this risk, but in doing so you surrender a lack of control on sugar content. Some products have additional additives, too, and none of them are inexpensive.
There are TONS of brands and flavors – what should I look for when buying them?
Look for those with less sugar, to keep things simple, and remember there’s also a slight amount of alcohol in this product. People avoiding alcohol should be aware of that fact. Since it is being marketed more widely now, it’s grown more expensive, so we’d encourage trying it in moderation, and while doing so, keep checking your own response, as well as your taste preference.
Are products with added flavors OK? Are there drinks of this type to avoid?
Just like with any food we buy: read the label! Less is best.
Each gut biome is unique, so it makes sense to say kombucha isn’t for everyone. Who should avoid it most? Is there such a thing as too much of this drink?
People who have extreme sensitivity due to conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colitis or others should not start with something as potent – and bitter – as kombucha. They might instead start with some spore probiotic supplements and gradually increase the dose over a few weeks.
Like many things – too much is not good and can lead to upset stomach and other signs of digestive distress.
How long would I need to drink it to notice changes in gut health?
For a person without any other conditions, we’d recommend starting with a frequency of about two or three times a week to see how it goes. What you’re looking for are health benefits. Are your bowel movements getting more regular? Are they too frequent? When people get loose stools from this drink, they’re using too much.
Does it matter if I drink it cold, warm or at room temperature?
We’d recommend it preferably at room temperature or cool; that way the good bacteria in the drink will be active and alive. There are nutritional benefits with hot kombucha, but you’ll miss out on its main upside: those good bacteria.
Many people actually like the sour taste, or develop a taste for it. Regular drinkers with good gut health may enjoy a hot kombucha now and then, but the best benefits come from a room-temp serving. We’d also recommend against having it over ice.
If I were going to try a new routine for gut health and include this drink, what advice would you offer?
Since there are many foods that offer great fermented benefits, don’t limit your efforts to just trying this tea. Sauerkraut is an amazing gut health food, and it’s really inexpensive. You might also try cooking with miso, which is another flavorful and effective gut-health aid. If you do try kombucha, read the labels and avoid trying ones with lots of added sugar.