Anyone who knows me knows I’m all about the bubbly — and by bubbly, I mean 'booch. Kombucha came into my life the same way most trendy, supposedly ~healthy~ foods do these days: via Instagram. When my favorite influencers started uploading photos of themselves drinking the stuff from fancy glass bottles, I was intrigued. But before I took a sip myself, I did a little research to find out if kombucha is actually good for you, according to scientific standards, at least. After all, you should always check your facts before putting virtually anything into your body, but I was mostly doing some digging to make 100 percent sure this wouldn’t end up being another disastrous situation for my stomach, like the time I tried apple cider vinegar shots for digestion and experienced major bathroom troubles the next morning.
Given the fact that I'm still drinking kombucha to this day, my prior research had obviously resulted in an all-clear. After skimming through a few more recent articles on the subject, though, I've grown just a smidge more doubtful about how healthy this trendy drink actually is, and I've learned more about what the beverage really contains in terms of ingredients.
For instance, as per the Mayo Clinic’s breakdown of the beverage, kombucha is actually a fermented tea made with “tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast.” Which, granted, doesn’t sound particularly yummy, but through its fermentation process, the Mayo Clinic explains, probiotics are formed, which are supposed to be ah-mazing for gut health.
So here I am, minding my own business, about three years and dozens of bottles of kombucha later, when a new study comes out, claiming that probiotics — aka the stuff that supposedly makes kombucha so good for you — aren't really all that great for your body. As you can imagine, I’m pretty shook. Where in my own research did I go wrong? What have I overlooked?
As per The Cut, the study, which has been published in the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, looked into a 2016-2017 FDA inspection, which investigated over 650 facilities that produce probiotic supplements. According to the outlet, after analyzing that FDA inspection, study author Pieter Cohen, an associate professor of medicine at Cambridge Health Alliance, found that more than half of these distributors were issued purity, strength, and identity violations. Translation: Their probiotic supplements weren't exactly everything they were advertised to be.
What's more, probiotics safety issues were also brought up in Cohen's paper. Why, you may ask? Well, most probiotic supplements aren’t always regulated by the FDA, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meaning there’s always a risk that these products might contain toxic chemicals in the living microbes (in case you didn’t know, probiotics are living microbes, thought to be healthy bacteria).
However, to play devil’s advocate, this does ultimately depend on who’s making and producing the items, and how carefully they’re going about the development of their product. At that point, at least from what I’m understanding, it comes down to the consumer trusting its supplier. In other words, you’re eating, or, in kombucha’s case, drinking the product at your own risk.
Kombucha itself might not be under fire, but what about probiotics in general? Have I just been over here, sipping my 'booch, completely blind to the fact that probiotics aren’t even effective in the way that my body needs them to be? According to Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, there’s really no need to dump out and kick your kombucha habit to the curb just yet.
For starters, Derocha says, probiotics are good for you — which, again, brings me back to my point that what's actually somewhat problematic here, is how probiotics are being developed, the purity of the brand’s ingredients, etc. So it’s not probiotics you have to be concerned about; you just have to familiarize yourself with the brands you're buying to ensure that whatever you’re consuming was made properly.
“Probiotics aid in proper digestion of food and support immunity, while efficiently absorbing nutrients in the gut,” Derocha tells Elite Daily. On top of that, she adds, probiotics take control over the bad bacteria in your body, encourage the production of vitamins and minerals like vitamins K, B12, B5 and biotin, "improve digestive health, decrease inflammation, and boost immunity.”
So clearly, probiotics are pretty bae on their own, but what about the probiotics in kombucha? Are they legit? Derocha says they are. “To make kombucha, you need SCOBY, or symbiotic cultures of bacteria and yeast that form a thick, rubber-like mass, which aids in the fermentation process,” she explains to Elite Daily via email. From there, she says, the SCOBY feeds off the tea’s sugar and starches, converting them into carbon dioxide (aka the fizzy stuff), acids, alcohol, and — drumroll, please — probiotics.
What you do need to look out for, Derocha says, is the amount of added sugars in store-bought kombuchas, because certain brands tend to unnecessarily overdo it for the sake of taste.
"Essentially kombucha is Tea 2.0 — you get the benefits of tea, plus more thanks to the fermentation process," co-founder of Bear’s Fruit Kombucha, Amy Driscoll, tells Elite Daily. However, much like vitamins, Driscoll points out, your body can only absorb a certain amount of kombucha in one serving. Bear’s Fruit Kombucha comes in a smaller, 10 ounce bottle to ensure you're getting just enough of the stuff to reap the benefits and feel satisfied.
How much is too much kombucha, you ask? One serving a day is recommended, Driscoll says, and according to Derocha, that's more than enough. “Various findings have suggested that you should not consume more than 12 ounces of kombucha in a day due to adverse effects,” the dietitian explains, such as diarrhea, stomach pain, gas, and bloating — which, if you think about how your body feels after drinking too much soda, the potential side effects of this fizzy probiotic beverage aren’t totally shocking.
Bottom line: Unless you've noticed any negative side effects in your own body, or you've looked into the brands you've been buying and realized what they're offering doesn't add up to what the product's actually doing for you, it's more than OK to continue drinking your favorite kombucha. Just remember, everything in moderation, and even if the beverage claims to have certain health benefits, if it's not fairing well with your body, don't force it.