Kombucha – healthy for you, or just another health fad?

Written by:

Yen Feng

Yen Feng

Yen is the editor of asia.gay. You can reach him at editor@asia.gay.

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Recently I’ve really gotten in kombucha – a type of fermented tea that purports to have all kinds of health benefits, from better digestion to preventing cancer.

It started a few months ago, when I had dinner with some friends at Kausmo, a little restaurant in Singapore’s Shaw Centre that offers a kombucha “flight” along with its meals. I remember bringing the clear, slightly tangy nectar to my lips and thinking, hmm, not bad!

It certainly was a far cry from when I first tasted it decades ago in New York. Back then, it was a niche drink sold mainly in health food stores and tasted mostly of vinegar. Cut to present day, this slightly fizzy tea has experienced a revival, with some experts calling it “one of the fastest-growing grocery segments in the past decade”. Market watchers say its value could grow tenfold from US$1.84b in 2019 to US$10.45b in 2027.

In Singapore, there have been more and more home-based brewers cashing in on the trend, offering all kinds of interesting flavours from lychee rose to goji and chrysanthemum flower.

Is it really good for you?

Kombucha is sweetened tea that has been fermented using a SCOBY – short for “symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast”. Said to originate from China thousands of years ago, this “tea of immortality” boasts of plenty of health benefits due to its nutritional content, which includes B vitamins, antioxidants, and probiotics. In many ways, it’s not unlike other fermented foods, like kimchi and sauerkraut.

Foods that undergo a natural fermentation process gain probiotic properties, and eating these foods may bring benefits like improved digestion and a more balanced gut microbiome. Many nutritionists – and certainly those who sell the drink – often tout the benefits that kombucha have on gut health due to these probiotics – though, it seems these claims are not backed by solid scientific research.

“Some sources claim that kombucha can positively impact gut health [by] decreasing inflammation and providing antioxidants because of the probiotics, however more research needs to be completed to confirm this claim,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, a registered dietitian in New York City.

Most of the prevailing research seems to be based on cellular and animal testing. According to a New York Times report, just one study looked at the health benefits in humans. In this study, 24 adults with non-insulin dependent diabetes consumed kombucha for three months, and their mean blood sugar levels reportedly stabilised to within normal ranges.

However the study was not controlled or randomised, and the authors of the review noted that many of kombucha’s claims were based on anecdotal and unverified findings.

What to make of this?

I’ve been drinking a little kombucha everyday for about two months now and while I can’t say I’ve experienced dramatic improvements to my health, I do enjoy its addition to my diet. The drink is slightly effervescent, which I enjoy, and a far healthier alternative to soft drinks.

That said, if you enjoy the drink like I do, too much of it may adversely impact your health, with side effects like bloating, and digestive issues from having too much acid in your system. Most guides recommend no more than 500ml per day.

Cheers to good health!

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