Breaking Down Killer Kombucha Rumours

The world of the internet, where everything is analyzed, argued and obscured. Ahhhh, stress. Ahhh, arguing....the life of being in a constant state of fight-or-flight.

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Well for some - the "researcher" type folk - this is a very exciting world, of which camp I can choose to be part of on most days, but I generally choose not to, I like to read, I research when the moment dictates it and always deeply when my clients need it, but I try not to hunt for things to stress me out in other cases.

Kombucha Articles.

Do I have an interest in the reputation of fermented foods? Yes.

Do Holistic Nutritionists' support fermented foods as part of a traditional whole foods diet? Yes.

But, do I also fully and whole-heartedly believe that everything in existence can be argued? Absolutely. Plus, I'm damn good at it too.

So why am I going to talk about this? I think its fun.

Drama can be good. All this talk back and forth about fermented foods is entertaining and amusing. Plus, it's good for fermented foods. Gets them in the spotlight. Stir the pot. ...maybe you'll find this interesting too.

The issue

I was recently sent an article by someone who found it on the Body Ecology Diet website - "4 Surprising Reasons to Ditch Kombucha" which, in itself, is a good way to get peoples tail feathers ruffled.

And again I repeat, there are articles to argue everything in existence online these days. Although in fact, I have to admit this is actually only one of a few articles I've seen to really come down specifically on the 'buch.

Most articles about kombucha are either a little bit too audacious or they are dripping with the "cure-all" vibe, which I strongly advise avoiding.

However, one abstract that I did obtain confirmed the amounts of certain bacterias and yeasts which before was only ever suggested by touting the benefits of kombucha from articles with no references, so I was happy to see newer research confirming this information. We always used to only get to guess at the amounts of bacteria and yeasts in the brew. Now we know some numbers, such as acetobacter, this study confirms that 'trace amounts' of less than 2% of this bacteria are in the brew, and up to 30% lactobacillus population (circulation benefits, and creates lactic acid - keeps harmful organisms out) in the brews. So this was refreshing and exciting.

So this website states reasons why they don't want people to invest in kombucha (however, their D.I.Y. fermented foods course is readily available for purchase!) Now I am a pretty sarcastic person myself, but one can often only handle so much irony in one day.

Fermented foods are fermented foods. Kombucha is just one of many options of getting living food into your body.

A few of things they stated that were concerning, from a Registered Holistic Nutritionists' point of view.

  1. There may be candida in it.

It "may contain" candida strains. May contain.

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Our body itself contains candida yeast too. Candida is the the gut imbalance that every nutrition student has contracted, might I add. It's like a rite of passage to 'get candida' just the same as how medical students are hypochondriac for the duration of their time of study. I find it highly interesting to highlight this as one of your main points against kombucha, having found "candida in kombucha in one study."  Is one study enough? I mean, Candida is just one of a number of species of different little guys living in our intestines. 100 trillion (no joke) yeast and bacteria that are 'down there' in our gut. These bacteria are only truly "bad" if they are taking over in numbers in the gut, and candida does that if it is not outweighed by the good guys. Candida is simply an imbalance in gut bacteria.

It's like saying "I can't eat lettuce because I am avoiding carbs to lose weight." Yes, lettuce contains carbohydrates. Are they the kind of carbs that will make you fat? No. There is so much more to look at, like the other properties in lettuce and the fact its a whole foods that will help you lose weight. (5 Ways to Lose Weight.)

The overall message here is that our body already contains different yeasts. We want a variety of healthy yeasts and bacterias in our gut and kombucha is ONE way to start adding those. If your naturopath has asked you to avoid kombucha during a specific treatment, of course listen to them. If you are caffeine or alcohol sensitive and kombucha doens't feel good for you, then of course listen to your body.

      2. Kombucha contains alcohol.

So what? Moving on.......

Just kidding, but .... yes. If its not brewed properly, or if its quite old it will contain some alcohol.

All fermented foods contain alcohol. Great point! The fermented foods that we make at home contain it too. Kombucha brewers' and providers' are not trying to get the nations' health-obsessed youth wasted - there's something called "healthy low-alcohol." Keep it low, keep it moderate. That's one reason you wouldn't drink 2L of kombucha daily. Even if you did, it likely wouldn't be enough to 'feel it' as the alcohol is a side effect of the beneficial acids produced.

Ed, from the Happy Herbalist, had this to say - "In all ferments sugars are converted to alcohol and then to beneficial acids. In that transition acetaldehyde is created and what becomes the "side-effects" which are both ferment and individual specific. (does not effect each person in the same manner) This, again, depends upon the individuals' constitution, and age, amount consumed and what stage and/or pathways the ferment is at." So, its Holistic in how it acts in the body.... many-angled.

Most Kombuchas contain less than 0.5% alcohol in it. I don't believe that is anything to worry about unless you are alcohol sensitive or in active recovery for alcoholism, in which case, kombucha may not be right for you. And that's fine. Not all good things are good for everyone. Some people that I know who are alcohol sensitive don't notice it but some do. Again, case by case basis, like everything. Not all foods work for every person.

     3. Kombucha may contain heavy metals and fluoride

Some municipalities put fluoride in the water. It's in our toothpaste too. But is it coming from the SCOBY, or is it coming from the tea plant, or is it coming from the water used to brew the kombucha? There are too many variables here.

When I read the study (yes I read the whole study!) on the heavy metals, it was unclear what the point was that the study was trying to achieve. They kept calling the culture 'tea fungus biomass - kombucha waste product." So if its the waste product, and its taking up these heavy metals to itself so that we aren't consuming them, I'm not understanding how that translates to kombucha containing heavy metals. Several other studies have found that a kombucha tea fungus effectively removes heavy metals like copper, chromium, and arsenic from wastewater. Perhaps the culture, yes, according (again) to this one study, but the drink itself? We don't know.

Gimme more studies.

Negative References

The lead poisoning references came from an incident years ago when someone decided to brew it in a ceramic pot. Acids in the tea ate away at the glaze on the pot, leaching lead into the drink. An understandable mistake, however, all kombucha folk know to brew in glass (or stainless steel) and this is very common knowledge. Why and how there is a study on this person's choice - I'm just not sure. To be completely realistic here, the lead poisoning is not from the kombucha tea - its simply from the incorrect method of fermentation.

Why it doesn't work for everyone

When I first received the article, near the end they had listed off a bunch of symptoms that some people feel when they drink kombucha. Who would keep drinking kombucha if they were experiencing cramping, dizziness, itching or skin eruptions?? Surely this would signify a deeper imbalance that would not be "fixed" by kombucha.

If ANY FOOD or drink caused those symptoms, would you continue to eat or drink it? Likely not, knowing it doesn't work for your body, and move on with life. (If you are the small % however that does feel adverse affects, check this out.)

It already is common knowledge that those with compromised immune systems should probably not make their own kombucha, and pregnant moms are cautioned. However, in those with general healthy bodies, the 'wild hodgepodge of bacteria and yeast' is what we are actually missing from our diet. We are putting our environment into ourselves when we take in a home brew or ferment veggie. We are getting closer to nature, if only the invisible nature within our kitchen.

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"It's so hot right now"

Kombucha is 'hot' right now and because of that, its taking a lot of slack. But if folks could see this traditional food the way it is, which is simply one option out of many for a way to get something fermented into your body every day, then there would be a lot less confusion. I will say that fermented foods, since they are natural and traditional, if done properly are extremely safe and beneficial. However, in ANY food (or choice for that matter) you must always trust your body. Balance, right?

One Eye Open

When reading studies, or articles like this one, one must always read with a cautious eye. What is underneath these words, who is funding this study, is this information even relevant to me? We can save ourselves time and stress by addressing these questions before we even settle into reading a long, arduous, argumentative, aggressive stance by a health blogger, researcher or (dare I say) big brother.

Their website closes the article stating: "The only reason to drink kombucha is because it makes you feel healthier. After all, no diet or study contains more wisdom than your body..."

I think the whole article should be titled this - the intro, body and conclusion consisting of only those 2 sentences. There, I just saved you $80 on purchasing full studies and 4 hours of your time, now go fill your head and do something other than this.

I love to simplify nutrition so my clients' don't have to do all the research work themselves. Curious to work with me? Write me! Or, get your feet wet in the magical world of fermentation and join the Fermenting the Okanagan Facebook group for more education & fun!