The Microbiome and Kombucha

I’m hopping on the hipster bandwagon and talking about Kombucha today. This is my favourite beverage that is low in calories, great for the gut and an all-around awesome tasting drink.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Kombucha starts as a green or black tea which is fermented by adding a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) in the tea to grow for 7-14 days. The culture of bacteria grows while any added sugar is temporarily turned to alcohol as fermentation proceeds. The alcohol then removed as it is dissolved into organic acids. The SCOBY metabolizes most of the sugar and caffeine, leaving a low calorie carbonated beverage.

Kombucha can be made from home if you can find some SCOBY but it is much more convenient to buy it at your local health food or grocery store.

One of the reasons Kombucha has become so popular recently is the long list of health benefits associated with the fermented tea. Benefits include improved digestion, energy production, joint care and immune function. The list goes on but most importantly Kombucha contain probiotics.

Probiotics or “good bacteria” is bacteria that is part of the microbiome which is an entire system of microorganisms, bacteria and viruses living within your body. Research is coming out constantly on the importance of the microbiome as it can affect immune function, brain function, mood, energy levels, inflammation and many other bodily functions. Relationships between the microbiome and human body is poorly understood as the genes in the microbiome outnumber the genes in our genome by approximately 100:1 and the microbiome contains more cells than the rest of the body combined (Ferguson, 2015). This incredibly complex system within our body requires further research to fully understand the role the microbiome plays on bodily functions as well as disease. What we do know is that probiotics change the microbiome by adding good bacteria which is fed by prebiotics.

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Although some can argue that there is no correlation between health benefits and Kombucha due to several previous outdated scientific studies that could not relate any benefits to Kombucha. More recent studies have been published also finding both evidence for and against health benefits but there has not been any clinical human trials published on the biological activities in Kombucha, all studies were performed on animals, specifically mice.

Studies did conclude that the profile of bacteria within Kombucha contains Gluconacetobacter (>85 percent in most samples), Acetobacter (<2 percent), Lactobacillus (up to 30 percent in some samples) and Zygosaccharomyces (>95 percent) varying in amounts depending on the batch (Marsh et al. 2014). Some of these bacterial strains are also found in other fermented foods and yogurts which do have conclusive scientific proof for various health benefits associated with the probiotic content (Hill et al. 2014)

In my opinion, future studies will be focusing more on the importance of the microbiome and proving the importance of eating food or drinks enriched in probiotics such as Kombucha as an effective way of obtaining overall health and wellness.

On-going research at The Western Canadian Microbiome Centre located at my university, The University of Calgary is currently looking into the relationship between mental disorders such as depression and anxiety and the role the microbiome plays on these disorders as well as how the microbiome is connected to inflammatory diseases. This is a great step towards finding a cure for autoimmune diseases.

I am extremely interested in “gut health” by altering the body’s microbiome. If a cure for Crohn’s or other related autoimmune diseases is coming, I believe it will come from a better understanding of the body’s microbiome. I predict in the next few years major advances will come from a better understanding of how the microbiome can affect inflammatory bowel disease and other related autoimmune diseases. The current research in this area is promising and exciting and I cannot wait for what the future brings for autoimmune diseases!

References

Dufresne C, Farnworth E. 2000. Tea, Kombucha, and health: a review. Food Research International 33:409–421.

Ferguson D. World-class research centre launched with $9.9-million federal grant. University of Calgary. [accessed 2016 May 24]. https://www.ucalgary.ca/utoday/issue/2015-07-31/world-class-research-centre-launched-99-million-federal-grant

Hill C, Guarner F, Reid G, Gibson GR, Merenstein DJ, Pot B, Morelli L, Canani RB, Flint HJ, Salminen S, et al. 2014. Expert consensus document: The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic. Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology Nat Rev Gastroenterol Hepatol 11:506–514.

Jayabalan R, Malbaša RV, Lončar ES, Vitas JS, Sathishkumar M. 2014. A Review on Kombucha Tea-Microbiology, Composition, Fermentation, Beneficial Effects, Toxicity, and Tea Fungus. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 13:538–550.

Marsh AJ, O’sullivan O, Hill C, Ross RP, Cotter PD. 2014. Sequence-based analysis of the bacterial and fungal compositions of multiple kombucha (tea fungus) samples. Food Microbiology 38:171–178.

 

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