If you're looking to a way to prevent hangovers this holiday season, kombucha could be your answer.
Dedicated drinkers say it can fortify the digestive tract, cure arthritis, make your skin look much younger, beat impotence and prevent constipation. Soviet studies from the 1950s and 1960s showed that it made wounds heal faster, cured gastric distress and made chickens grow 15 per cent larger.
Kombucha is a carbonated, fermented tea, made from a Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast (or SCOBY). It's low in alcohol, low in sugar, and high in compelling back story. I've been carting the stuff with me to festive social events to lower my alcohol intake over the holidays, and it's working. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse estimates that alcohol companies make more than a quarter of their yearly profits at this time of year. When coupled with the stresses of the season, a jump in opportunities to drink can encourage unhealthy behaviour, including relapse for those with a history of drinking problems.
Kombucha is a great alternative to beer, coolers, juice and pop. The Canadian Men's Health Foundation recommends a maximum of three beers per night or 10 beers per week, while the World Health Organization recommends that free sugars make up less than 10 per cent of your daily intake.
Although sugars are added to the kombucha brew, the yeast and bacterial cultures will eat them up, leaving a tangy, bubbly drink reminiscent of champagne. But unlike champagne, you can drink it while operating heavy machinery or assembling your kids' holiday gifts (properly). Your pancreas will also thank you for lowering your glycemic load.
Replacing beer with kombucha will reduce your alcohol intake, but as far as I can tell, there's no clinical proof of positive health effects on humans. There have been a number of studies on in-vitro cultures and on rats:
- The Journal of Food Protection published that the drink appeared to kill several types of harmful bacteria in test tubes, and in rodents, it increased immune cell activity.
- A 2000 study in the Journal Nutrition reported that mice drinking kombucha for three years lived 26 days longer on average than mice not drinking it.
- Another 2000 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that kombucha-swilling rats experienced less pain and could stay awake longer.
- A 2001 study in Biomedical and Environmental Sciences showed that drinking kombucha for 15 days protected rats' livers from some of the toxic effects of a common painkiller, acetaminophen.
- And, a 2014 study in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture identified specific cultures that could protect human livers.
The downside appears quite manageable, as long as your kombucha is not brewed in lead-laced pottery. Two Australians came down with lead poisoning after drinking kombucha fermented in a ceramic pot for six months. If the kombucha becomes infected with the wrong bacteria it can cause gastrointestinal problems or even a skin rash. Because of this, physicians do not recommend kombucha tea to anyone with a suppressed immune system. So, make sure that you are picking up your kombucha from an educated fermenter who follows food-safe cleanliness protocols, and does not brew the tea in lead-glazed ceramics.
Besides replacing alcohol binges at your next Christmas party, is there any real draw? Kombucha has a high acid content mainly due to acetic acid, which has a slew of proven health benefits including weight loss and regulation of blood sugars.
Kombucha's other selling point is its dense concentration of probiotic bacterial cultures. Scientists now agree that there are far more bacterial cells in your body than human cells, giving us all motivation to encourage the growth of beneficial bacterial colonies in our gut. Think of kombucha as a cousin to yogurt or kimchi.
I'm already looking forward to sipping kombucha while watching World Cup skiing, luge and figure skating this holiday season. Like beer, I still get that satisfying "pssssttt" when I open a bottle. But unlike beer, kombucha won't lead to ill-fated toe loops and face-plants on my hardwood floor.