Article: Kombucha, the Ancient Chinese Long Life Elixer

By: Adriane Laws

I've been drinking kombucha for close to twenty years. I actually remember hearing about it when I was a kid and my aunt got a SCOBY and started brewing it. But she didn't call it kombucha, and she didn't call it a SCOBY. She just called it mushroom tea. At that point, I just thought it was some gross grown up drink. It definitely looked gross to me anyway. But, when I learned about it as an adult, I quickly became a believer. When I first started drinking it, there was only one brand on the market, G.T.'s. And it was available in only one flavor, which is now called "original." Eventually, I was gifted a SCOBY from a friend and started brewing my own. It was a ritual I enjoyed for quite a few years. But, when my life got busy, I went back to buying the bottles. If you've looked at the kombucha section in a grocery store today, it's easy to see business is booming! There are almost too many to choose from. But my brand of choice is still G.T.'s. G.T. Dave was brewing kombucha before it was cool! I have tried some other brands and lots of flavors, but I always come back to G.T.'s, and my favorite flavor these days is strawberry.

What exactly is kombucha, you may ask? While the short answer could be something like mushroom tea, that is actually not correct. So, let's get down to the nitty gritty...

The organism that produces kombucha is a fungus, but not a mushroom. The word SCOBY is actually an acronym for that organism which stands for: Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast. Sounds delicious, huh? The "tea" part is actually more accurate, because kombucha is made with black or green tea that ends up being fermented by the SCOBY. The SCOBY is also responsible for converting a lot of the caffeine and sugar in the starter tea into healthier compounds. Incidentally, it's the SCOBY that grossed me out as a kid. It's quite slimy looking.

Kombucha has been around for many centuries. During the Qin Dynasty era in China (221-206 BCE), references to "Immortality Tea" and "Long Life Elixer" are thought to be references to kombucha. Later references to the healing tea have been found in Korean, Japanese, and Russian history books, as trade routes made it possible for those places to hear of it and get the materials to make it.

When an epidemic reportedly broke out in Germany in 1914, researchers who were looking for a remedy discovered a Russian village where kombucha was being consumed by the people, and no one was afflicted. It may have been the original impetus for the popularity of Chinese medicine in Germany.

As we know now, kombucha eventually made it to the U.S. Here, it has been reported to treat a wide range of issues, from indigestion, to arthritis, to cancer. Actually, G.T. Dave got into brewing kombucha because of his mother's belief that it helped cure her breast cancer.

So, what are the facts about the healing properties of kombucha? Let's dive in!

Following is a list of some of the constituents of kombucha and their health benefits:

  • Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria and yeast that colonize the large intestine and help keep bad bacteria out. They also facilitate optimal digestion of food, which makes nutrients more available for absorption, and helps keep the colon clean. These actions boost the immune system and reduce inflammation!
  • Organic acids: Kombucha contains a whole slew of organic acids. Let's take a look at a few of the most health enhancing ones:  
  1. Acetic acid has been found to lower trigycerides and cholesterol. It helps metabolize blood sugar, aids in the absorption of minerals, and is antimicrobial.
  2. Glucuronic acid is a key component of liver detoxification. This is so important these days because of all the toxins in our food, air, and water. The liver needs all the help it can get!
  3. Lactic Acid increases nutrient absorption, improves digestion, and is a deterrent to some types of cancer (probably because if its antioxidant properties). It also stimulates production of glucuronic acid (see above).
  • Antioxidant Properties are great for a variety of reasons. In a nutshell, they keep us younger longer by destroying free-radical toxins that are responsible for aging. That means kombucha helps us maintain healthy skin, reduces inflammation, promotes healthy joints, improves cardiovascular and brain functions, and protects against eye degeneration (promotes healthy vision).
  • In addition to the antioxidant properties of compounds present in all kombucha, when kombucha is brewed with green tea, it retains all the healing benefits of the polyphenols found in green tea as well, including EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate), one of the most potent antioxidants. 
  • While many of the health effects listed above could be helpful in preventing cancer, one study found that kombucha actually had a toxic effect on colorectal cancer cells. (KaewkodBovonsombutTragoolpua , 2019)

Wow! That's a lot of good stuff packed into one beverage!