Are there any actual health benefits to drinking kombucha?
March 17, 2013 10:31 AM   Subscribe

I have been brewing and drinking my own kombucha for years. I like the taste, I like the bubbles, and it's a fun and relatively low-maintenance hobby in the realm of brewing things (way less involved than beer, for instance). What I'm wondering is if there is any actual known proven non-woo benefit of drinking the stuff. There's so much crap online it's difficult to sort through.

Not interested in: people telling me that it's dangerous to do at home and I should stick to store-bought. It's very easy to tell if it's molded or gone off, in which case I start a new scoby. I sterilize all containers and equipment and err on the side of caution.
posted by fiercecupcake to Health & Fitness (7 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I wouldn't brew it at home. But the stuff I bought had loads of B Vitamins in it.
posted by discopolo at 10:38 AM on March 17, 2013

There have been 47 articles in the medical literature with the term kombucha, including two relevant reviews. "Kombucha: a systematic review of the clinical evidence" says:
RESULTS: No clinical studies were found relating to the efficacy of this remedy. Several case reports and case series raise doubts about the safety of kombucha. They include suspected liver damage, metabolic acidosis and cutaneous anthrax infections. One fatality is on record.

CONCLUSIONS: On the basis of these data it was concluded that the largely undetermined benefits do not outweigh the documented risks of kombucha. It can therefore not be recommended for therapeutic use.
The other review, "Kombucha, the fermented tea: microbiology, composition, and claimed health effects," says:
[O]nly a few research studies have shown that Kombucha has in vitro antimicrobial activity and enhances sleep and pain thresholds in rats. Furthermore, Kombucha consumption has proven to be harmful in several documented instances.
So, no, there is not any clinical evidence for human benefit. I did not find anything in the reports published after these reviews either. Most of the reports of kombucha in relation to human health detail cases of harms rather than benefits.
posted by grouse at 11:03 AM on March 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Maybe look for studies that are more general than just kombucha? Kombucha does seem to have a lot of hippie health woo attached to it, but I ferment a lot of things at home that are more generally accepted as actually being good for you.

If you like the low maintenance brewing of kombucha you should try some other things from this book.
posted by bradbane at 11:39 AM on March 17, 2013

I would say that personally, it fulfills my desire for something fizzy without delivering 28 liquid grams of high fructose corn syrup.
posted by sibboleth at 11:40 AM on March 17, 2013 [6 favorites]

Yes, it contains lots of B vitamins. Here's a review of the scientific literature with links to abstracts. It should probably only be drunk in moderation, and not at all by people on retrovirals or anyone with a compromised immune system. Most of the literature seems to point to the same cases of toxicity over and over, so that while it is contraindicated in certain situations and under certain conditions, it doesn't appear to be dangerous in moderation.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:37 PM on March 17, 2013

Excellent links and information. Thanks, y'all.

I only ever drink 4 to 8 ounces in a day, usually 4, and only a few times a week. The B vitamin thing is encouraging. As far as possible toxicity -- it sounds like the trade-off of it not being chock full of corn syrup is enough for me. After all, I drink beer, and that doesn't necessarily have health benefits, either, but it tastes good and it's OK in moderation.

Follow-up question: is there any benefit to drinking acidic liquids in general (like people who swear by apple cider vinegar), or is that all just woo too? Urinary tract health or the like?
posted by fiercecupcake at 2:14 PM on March 17, 2013

is there any benefit to drinking acidic liquids in general

On the contrary: all acidic liquids will erode your tooth enamel - just like good ol' Coca Cola.
There is conflicting evidence that cranberry juice may or may not help prevent urinary tract infections but it is the compounds from the cranberries not the acidity that would do it.

This seems to be a good overview of the apple cider vinegar issue. No involvement in urinary tract health. Most of the studies that show an effect are in non-human animals or cells. I wouldn't bother.
posted by bobobox at 3:40 PM on March 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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