At first, kombucha may sound a bit strange — like a fish out of the water. For the uninitiated, it can easily be the last thing you’d think of when it comes to achieving health. However, don’t let the bubbles and the oddness of it all fool you.
Truth be told, the fermented blob with a seaweed-looking floating mass is your key to unlocking a life that’s as worth living as you want it to be. You might ask: What’s kombucha’s secret sauce? Actually, when dissecting the bubbly drink that’s been dubbed the “Tea of Immortality”, all roads lead to gut health.
Think of your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) as you would the fuel system of your car. Simply put: Without fuel, your car won’t move an inch. Thus, without the ability to process and break down your food intake into energy, your body weakens day by day. And eventually falters.
At the centre of all this action is the microbiome in your gut, the billions upon billions of microscopic microbes in the stomach that help in the breakdown of food to keep your body running as seamlessly as possible.
And this is why grabbing a kombucha instead of your regular cola drink these days is wise. Simply put, you are introducing probiotics: a powerful army of good bacteria to your gut. To protect your body from the onslaught of bad microbes that could undermine your health from within. Witness the power of probiotics. Read on.
The Supreme Importance of Gut Health
There’s no going about it. Since the first man walked this earth thousands of years ago, food is front and centre of human existence. It’s a primary driving force.
As history would have it, there were men on a mission who went on weeks fasting without food and surviving the ordeal. Still, it takes but a few days for the majority of us mere mortals to succumb to hunger. More precisely, it takes but 3 days to survive without water and 8 to 21 days to survive without food, studies point out.
This is why gut health is a must. The efficient breakdown of food into energy for the body to use stands paramount. If your ability to turn what you eat into useful energy is compromised, you end up losing the nutrients that your body needs. In this sense, you are shortchanged — getting the shorter end of the stick.
What many do not know is that millions upon millions of microorganisms, collectively called the microbiome or gut microbiota, that are unseen to the naked eye are central to the digestive process. Without these wonderworkers, you’d be getting fewer calories from the food you eat and struggle to absorb essential minerals, not to mention become an easy target for disease. Making sure you get your fair share of these helpful microflorae is therefore the order of the day.
Microbiome: The Microbiotic Highway to Health
It’s a given. Every high schooler in the United Kingdom would one way or the other, in the course of science classes, come in direct knowledge of the digestive tract. We know that the moment we put foods in our mouths and eat the digestive system takes care of it, breaking down food nutrients into smaller parts for the body’s use.
- Proteins break into amino acids
- Carbohydrates become simple sugars
- Fats become glycerol and fatty acids
What many of us don’t realise is that millions of unseen microorganisms living in the intestines play an integral part in the digestive process. Dubbed the gut microbiome, this microflora involves 300 to 500 different species of bacteria living in the digestive tract. Truly, the numbers are outstanding, to say the least.
- The number of microorganisms inhabiting the GI tract has been estimated to exceed 10
- That number equals a hundred trillion; the number of bacterial cells is 10 times more than the number of human cells in the body
Before, the GI tract is one pathway that seems pretty simple to understand; the one-way tube that starts with the mouth and ends up in the anus was to a large degree thought of as straightforward. It moved food via peristalsis breaking them into bits and pieces the body can absorb.
However, decades of research have made it increasingly clear that this microbiome also called “gut microbiota” and “gut flora” plays a crucial role in food digestion. Specifically, it digests food structures that otherwise cannot be broken down by human gut enzymes. In short, the microbiome has an active role in the absorption of the nutrients of the body.
It’s no coincidence then that gut health refers to the function and balance of bacteria present in the gastrointestinal tract. As food needs to be broken down in the gut to be introduced as nutrients, various bad microorganisms can sabotage the process. Warding off these infectious agents (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi) is key to a healthy digestive system.
Indeed, it’s a good bacteria vis-a-vis bad bacteria scenario. Making sure you have an ample supply of the good ones is the way to go.
How Sweet Soda Compromises It All
There are all sorts of tummy complications that can happen for just about every human being on the planet. In a span of a lifetime, no one is immune. And that applies to the British nation too.
Research revealed that 43% of the British population have had digestive problems at one time or another. Of these, only 59% have made it a point to visit a doctor and seek treatment.
|Digestive Symptoms||% of the Total|
It must be emphasised that gut health requires balance in the intestinal flora (also called gut flora, intestinal microflora) to be functional. In this regard, there are many ways you can compromise your gut. Or for that matter the microbiome.
For instance, there is excessive drinking. Alcohol can inhibit your digestive juices making it a lot more difficult for your body to transform food into easy-to-absorb nutrients. With partially digested food, you could experience loose stools, gas and bloating.
And yet, soda might be an even more sinister way you can compromise gut health. People view a can of soft drinks as a refreshment. Truth be told, however, you introduce possible harm to your GI tract when you do.
A cold soda may give you the refreshment you want in a drink but it’s filled with high sugar. Specifically, we’re talking about high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
To date, HFCS has been singled out as Food Enemy #1. Dubbed as “liquid candy”, soda has been a primary source of HFCS. It’s no accident that the rising consumption of the drink has coincided with the steep rise of obesity in developed nations (the UK and the US).
To note, sugary soft drinks contain no nutrients at all. Right off the bat, it has zero nutritional value. That means no vitamins, no essential nutrients, no minerals or even dietary fibre. When you drink soda, you increase your caloric intake giving you more reasons to go fat.
But soda is also bad news for your gut. Aside from giving you weight issues, soda inhibits beneficial bacteria activity.
Studies have shown that HFCS in soda limits the production of theta. Specifically, the bacteria stops the production of Roc (regulator of colonisation) which is essential in the existence of Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron in the gut. Experts believe the fructose and sucrose in soda also disrupt a long line of beneficial microflora.
Specifically, it alters the intestinal microbiota resulting in metabolic issues and glucose intolerance. Plus, study shows artificial sweeteners interfere with the regular efficient function of the good gut bacteria contributing to dysbiosis in the process.
Dysbiosis is the imbalance of bacteria that results in a slew of the gut and digestive issues. Some of these are in the table shown above. The more you drink soda, therefore, the more you compromise gut health.
Kombucha and the Science of Probiotics
You might feel alarmed about what foods you put on the table. And you should. Certainly, there are a host of delectable dishes and drinks that have been proven to ruin your gut — especially when eating these become a habit.
Fortunately, there are ways you can also boost your GI tract with the right food. The top of that list is kombucha. Truth be told, it’s probiotics at its finest.
By definition, probiotics refer to live bacteria found unique to certain foods that are beneficial to the gut. What’s more, kombucha or fermented tea (Camella Sinensis) is teeming with these good microorganisms. Below are five ways the bubbly brew can strengthen your gut.
1.) Kombucha is a Top Source of Good Probiotics
Kombucha (also named tea fungus, tea mushroom) originated in the East, specifically in China in 220 B.C. at the start of the Qin Dynasty. The name itself is a misnomer. It’s a Japanese loanword that the West used to refer to fermented tea when fermented tea in Japan is called kōcha kinoko or red tea mushroom.
While the drink is truly fermented, the term kombucha itself translates to “tea made from kelp”. Western scholars theorise English speakers associated the thick gelatinous film that’s a common feature of the drink with seaweed.
Though an ancient drink, kombucha is steadily gaining ground in the West recently and has a global market size of US$1.67 billion as of 2019 — a number expected to grow to US$2.4 billion by 2027. Indeed, the fizzy drink with a slightly pungent taste has become a steady presence in many British and American supermarkets lately.
At its core, kombucha is made by using a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (SCOBY) to ferment sugared tea for a week or more. Usually, the drink uses true teas, black or green tea. During this fermentation process, a mushroom-like film appears on the surface of the drink.
Now you know why kombucha is also known as “mushroom drink”. Take note that the SCOBY of the newly-produced kombucha can be used to create new kombuchas. Also, all that fermentation produces acetic acid - similar to those found in vinegar - and traces of alcohol.
Of course, what separates kombucha from your regular soda drink is probiotics. And with this comes a long list of health benefits. Small wonder it’s been called the “Tea of Immortality” over the years.
Some of the good bacteria found in the fermented drink are:
Source: National Library of Medicine
And that’s just for starters. There is a much longer list of bacteria that awaits you with every drink of kombucha. To boot, all that probiotics mean the fermented drink can help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and diarrhoea.
IMPORTANT NOTE: There are a host of factors that influence kombucha microbiota (e.g., vessel, environment) so if you plan to make one at home from green tea or black tea, you need to be as meticulous as possible. If not, you could end up risking yourself. A good alternative is to put your trust in good brands.
2.) Kombucha’s Bioactive Compounds: Get All the Benefits of a True Tea
Whether you’re dealing with green tea, black tea, white tea or oolong, you’re raking in the benefits of a true tea - especially true if you’re sourcing it from the finest high-quality tea from East Asia. That means all the goodies from the leaves of the Camella Sinensis plant that’s grown by top artisans in the most conducive of environments: the best terroir and weather conditions.
So, you indulge yourself with polyphenols and all the health benefits plant nutrients can give you. These antioxidants fight cell-damaging free radicals that ravage the body on a cellular level and are a major cause of a long list of life-threatening diseases (e.g., heart disease, type-2 diabetes, cancer).
All that natural treat should astound you. In fact, studies have shown getting your vitamins and minerals from plants and natural means is a lot better than taking supplements regularly.
And kombucha has shown its massive antioxidant potential. One study showed the drink’s antioxidant effects on the liver.
Even better, you have a slew of herbs that adds to the aroma and taste of kombucha, not to mention strengthen the drink’s antioxidant health benefits. Below are examples of herbs usually put in the mix with kombucha.
COMMON KOMBUCHA HERBAL TEA INGREDIENTS
Table 2: Common Kombucha Natural Ingredients and Health Benefits
Even more impressive, you have lots of quality choices to choose from to satisfy your discriminating tastes. Here’s a cornucopia of kombucha options to get you started.
3.) Kombucha can Kill Bacteria
Bacteria-induced diseases may seem benign in today’s high-tech world. But in the centuries past, history was littered with cases of plagues caused by bacteria.
A most prominent example is the Black Death, a plague caused by the rat-spread Y. Pestis bacteria that claimed over 25 million lives in the 14th century. All that death meant about a third of Europe’s population was decimated.
Well, the good news is kombucha can kill harmful bacteria. First up, the fizzy drink contains polyphenols that are noted for their anti-viral, anti-fungal and antibacterial properties.
Secondly, kombucha’s fermentation produces acetic acid, a known antibacterial that’s present also in vinegar. This acetic acid gives kombucha notable mild carbonation. Plus, more importantly, these acids can nullify the effects of harmful microorganisms.
Even better, a government study has identified nine chemical groups in a kombucha fermented beverage (KFB) that acts synergistically to give rise to antimicrobial activity. These chemicals in the drink are alcohols, acids, lactones, condensed heterocyclic compounds, antibiotics, esters, aldehydes, fatty acids, and alkaloids.
4.) Kombucha versus Heart Disease
Right off the bat, heart disease is the world’s biggest killer. In 2019 alone, ischaemic heart disease (IHD) claimed over 8.9 million lives worldwide, WHO data details. What’s even more worrisome is that the richer the country is, the higher the rate of heart disease-related deaths compared to lower-income nations.
In the UK, IHD is the #1 cause of death for males. Statistics show the disease took 55,064 lives in 2019 alone in this part of the planet. Even more gruesome, heart disease is the leading cause of death in America with over 600,000 deaths yearly.
This is where kombucha can be even more promising. A study showed that the drink can greatly enhance two known markers of heart disease, namely LDL or “bad cholesterol” and HDL or “good cholesterol”.
- Though the research was done on rats, it pointed out kombucha tea can decrease LDL by as much as 25% and increase HDL in the blood.
Let’s not forget that kombucha is based on true tea. By this attribute, the drink should be able to lower heart disease risks. One study in Japan revealed that people who drank over five cups of tea daily had a 26% lower risk of heart attack-related or stroke-related deaths compared to those who drank but one cup.
5.) Kombucha versus Diseases
Your gut is at the centre of your fight against diseases. Why? Simply put, 70% of your immune system resides in your GI tract, where bazillion bacteria thrive.
“Seventy per cent of the immune system is located in the gut. Nutrition is a key modulator of immune function.”
- David Heber, MD, PhD, professor emeritus of medicine at UCLA
As immune cells in your gut interact directly with the microbiome, nutrition plays a huge role in ensuring you protect yourself against the onslaught of disease. Indeed, the microbiome and a person’s immunity are directly intertwined.
If you want to boost your immunity, starting with healthy eating is a must. This is where kombucha can be most appropriate. As studies would show, the fizzy drink is beneficial in fighting a host of diseases.
How Kombucha Helps
Type 2 Diabetes
Table 3. Kombucha versus Major Diseases
Then again, there’s a much longer line of health issues that kombucha has been shown to effectively deal with. It’s no accident it’s been branded a “cure-all” by leading experts as it can even stimulate the renewed growth of hair.
If you’re recovering from sickness or are currently sick, it’s best you consult your doctor before you start drinking kombucha. Also, experts recommended you drink not more than 12 ounces of the bubbly brew daily.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid the probiotic drink as it contains small traces of alcohol and caffeine. For a more detailed explanation of its best use click here.
Wrapping Things Up
The billions of microorganisms in your gut is essential to health. Making sure you take good care of the microbiome with a powerful probiotic such as kombucha is spot on. By doing so, you’re thinking straight: increasing your ability to break down food while boosting your immunity. In short, you’re putting your chances of greater health several notches higher.
And if you think kombucha is a not-so-desirable dining experience, think again. You can even incorporate the fizzy drink into your favourite mouth-watering food. So next time your palate longs for soda, award your senses with something better. Stop right there and grab a kombucha instead!