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Does Drinking Kombucha Have any Health Benefits?

Kombucha is widely popular beverage that is claimed to have health benefits based on its content of probiotics, bacteria that promote a healthy gut. Evidence for benefits is, however, thin.

Shira Cohen is studying Nutrition at the School of Dietetics and Human Nutrition at McGill University, specializing in Global Nutrition. 

Kombucha is a slightly sweet, acidic beverage that is made by adding a mix of bacteria and yeasts to tea. Some animal experiments have suggested improved liver function after the organ is damaged by acetaminophen (Tylenol). In diabetic rats kombucha suppresses the activity of two enzymes, amylase that breaks down carbohydrates and lipase that breaks down fats. This can lead to better blood sugar control.

Experiments with rodents are often irrelevant when it comes to extrapolating to humans.

For example, in an 11-week study, mice were fed a methionine-choline deficient diet that tends to cause inflammation, obesity and elevated triglycerides. After following this diet for 7 weeks, the mice were also given kombucha tea for the last 4-weeks. There was a reduction in triglycerides and inflammation and an improvement in liver function. However, it would be rare for a human to have a methionine-choline deficient diet so this study doesn’t mean much.

Although human studies are scarce, there are some. The laboratory of Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology, Institute of Microbiology and Biotechnology, University of Latvia, Riga, Latvia conducted a study over a 15 year period on humans. The researchers report some antioxidant effects and reduction of blood cholesterol. It is noteworthy, though, that consuming blueberries, carrots, oranges and other fruits/vegetables can yield the same results. In short, there is nothing really special about kombucha.

There is little risk in consuming moderate amounts of kombucha but any health claims must be considered with suspicion until they are confirmed by human clinical trials. It must be remembered that mice are not men.

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