You don’t reach for kombucha in the supermarket if you’re anything like us. It seems like a hip, trendy drink for young people. It seemed like a lifestyle drink that would be a flash in the pan and gone by the next year. When the social media team polled their friends on whether they drank it, they got lots of “No”s and one “Isn’t just vinegar?” It’s a drink for people trendier than us! We see it in the supermarket and just keep going.
It’s an ancient drink from China made of tea, sugar or honey, bacteria and yeast that ferments. It’s lightly carbonated and slightly tangy. Because of fermentation, there is some alcohol, but it’s less than 0.5 percent, so it’s technically nonalcoholic. While many claim it has incredible health benefits, little research has been done about it.
But a new study has us rethinking it. Drinking kombucha can lower fasting blood glucose levels. That’s the conclusion of a study that used a group of participants who all had blood sugar concerns.
Participants in the study were split into two groups for eight weeks. One group was given eight ounces of kombucha to drink before a carb-heavy dinner every night for four weeks. The other was given a similar-tasting placebo drink.
After four weeks, the study took a two-month break to “wash out” the biological impact of the drinks. Then two groups switched and were never told which drink was kombucha and which was the placebo.
People drinking kombucha saw a 50-point drop in their blood sugar numbers — from 164 to 115. The drop was even larger when people ate what they wanted. That suggests that pairing kombucha with a low-carb diet may be hugely beneficial.
The researchers looked at the kombucha and found the most active bacteria in it were lactic acid bacteria and acetic acid bacteria. However, they aren’t sure why kombucha helped so much. In animal studies, kombucha has been linked to the growth of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. That hasn’t been proven in humans, and this study didn’t look at the participants’ biology. Another theory is that compounds like polyphenols, caffeine, helpful acids, alkaloids and ethanol prevent oxidative stress in the body, balance blood sugar and boost overall health and gut health.
“Different studies of different brands of kombucha by different manufacturers reveal slightly different microbial mixtures and abundances,” said Dr. Robert Hutkins, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln professor and the study’s senior author. “However, the major bacteria and yeasts are highly reproducible and likely to be functionally similar between brands and batches, which was reassuring for our trial.”
Years ago, we wrote about how we were enthusiastic about the trend of drinking apple cider vinegar. It turns out this research came from the same thinking!
“Apple cider vinegar was really taking off and people were talking about it all the time and kombucha,” said study author Dr. Daniel Merenstein, director of family medicine research at Georgetown Univ. “And they have a farmers market at Georgetown where they sell kombucha, so we just thought, this kombucha is more tasty, easier to drink than apple cider vinegar… so that’s really what got us to do this study.”
You should always speak to your doctor before changing your diet or routine. And monitor any changes in your health or blood sugar after making those changes. Adding kombucha may be an easy way to help your blood sugar.