What Are the Health Benefits and Risks of Kombucha?

The fermented tea has probiotics and antioxidants, but it can cause health issues when brewed incorrectly.

Kombucha is a fermented black or green tea and sugar mixture, so it has a light, effervescent—bubbly—profile. Active yeast changes the sugar during bacterial fermentation, so there are trace amounts of alcohol in the beverage. There are also hard kombucha products on the market that have higher levels of alcohol.

Many kombucha products promote the beverage as having health benefits. But is there any truth to those claims? Here's everything you need to know about kombucha and why you may not want to tout it as a health beverage.

What Is Kombucha?

Kombucha is a fermented tea made by combining brewed tea with a SCOBY—a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, sometimes called a "mother"—and some sugar. Over the course of a week or two, the sugar feeds the bacteria and yeast, and the drink ferments into tangy, slightly fizzy kombucha.

Kombucha Contains Probiotics

Probiotics are live microorganisms that are found naturally in fermented foods like kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha and are also sold as supplements.

What Are the Benefits of Probiotics?

There are different types of probiotics and they may provide different benefits. One review found that probiotic supplements increase the number of healthy bacteria in the gut, although it's unclear whether this amount of healthy bacteria remains after a person stops taking the supplements.

Other benefits may include:

  • Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea
  • Preventing sepsis in premature infants
  • Assisting with remission of ulcerative colitis

Although there is a lot of research regarding probiotics, the overall health effects and benefits aren't fully understood. But research shows that there are many potential benefits for different health conditions.

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

Do Probiotics in Kombucha Have Health Benefits?

Even though there are some known benefits of probiotics, it is more difficult to determine the benefits of probiotics in kombucha. One reason for this is that there's no telling how many live probiotics are in a single bottle of kombucha.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that brands must accurately display the total number of organisms in a drink, but there's no way to know how many of those organisms are alive and how many are dead. Plus, even probiotics that are alive at the time of bottling might be dead by the time you drink the kombucha.

So, consumers can't know how many probiotics are in any bottle unless they were to lab test every drink before consuming it.

Kombucha Contains Antioxidants

Kombucha also contains antioxidants which are substances like vitamin C, selenium, and carotenoids, that can help to prevent or delay cell damage. One study found that kombucha contained strong antioxidant properties and that antioxidant activity can vary with different kinds of kombucha.

Researchers found that levels of polyphenols and flavonoids—two types of antioxidants—varied significantly depending on what kind of tea the kombucha was made from and how long the kombucha fermented. However, all types did have significant levels of these antioxidants.

The Risks of Drinking Kombucha

While there may be some health benefits associated with kombucha, there are also risks.

Risk of Home-Brewed Kombucha

Brewing kombucha at home comes with a risk of contamination if it's brewed incorrectly. The National Capital Poison Center reported these adverse health events:

  • One case of cardiac arrest
  • Several cases of hepatitis
  • One case of severe muscle weakness and inflammation of the heart music
  • One case of death

So if you aren't confident in your abilities to brew kombucha at home, it may be safer to avoid trying it.

Risks of Store-Bought Kombucha

Kombucha might contain more alcohol than you think. Although small amounts of alcohol are created as part of the fermentation process, kombucha isn't classified as alcohol because it typically has less than 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV)—which is the cutoff point.

But, some batches of kombucha have been recalled because the alcohol level was higher than it should be—some of which had an ABV of 3%.

Who Shouldn't Drink Kombucha?

Because of the alcohol, the live bacteria, and the risks associated with kombucha, it's recommended that the following people avoid drinking it:

A Quick Review

The idea that kombucha is a superfood is a result of marketing and wellness hype. While kombucha does contain antioxidants and probiotics, there are also a few risks associated with the beverage; but these are mostly associated with incorrectly brewing kombucha at home.

If you want to improve your gut health, a nutritious overall diet will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to health.

As for the kombucha lovers out there, the antioxidants and probiotics may provide some benefits but be sure to opt for store-bought kombucha.

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7 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Khalesi S, Bellissimo N, Vandelanotte C, Williams S, Stanley D, Irwin C. A review of probiotic supplementation in healthy adults: helpful or hype? Eur J Clin Nutr. 2019;73(1):24-37. doi:10.1038/s41430-018-0135-9

  3. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Probiotics: what you need to know.

  4. US Food and Drug Administration. Policy regarding quantitative labeling of dietary supplements containing live microbials: guidance for industry.

  5. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Antioxidants: in depth.

  6. Jakubczyk K, Kałduńska J, Kochman J, Janda K. Chemical profile and antioxidant activity of the kombucha beverage derived from white, green, black and red tea. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(5):447. doi:10.3390/antiox9050447

  7. National Capital Poison Center. Kombucha tea: health tonic or dangerous.

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