Snake oil

Kombucha has been touted as a cure-all for over 200 years throughout Eastern Europe and Asia.

Kombucha has been touted as a cure-all for over 200 years throughout Eastern Europe and Asia. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, it began sprouting up in hippie youth and alternative medicine subcultures in the United States and globally.

This generation has since supplied us with many a trendy miracle food, potion, pill or tonic, aimed at selling a bottle of promises and filling the idealist-turned-capitalist shelves of their bourgeoisie health stores.

Proponents and distributors of kombucha link its nutrition content with the ability to heal ailments from digestion, to chronic fatigue, to joint pain and even as a cancer or AIDS recovery treatment.

It would seem that most people with the ability to think critically realize that many of these health claims are bunk and, at best, a placebo effect. But as kombucha seems to be flying off the shelves at approximately $100 billion in sales in the United States and $150 million in the U.K., one has to wonder that it can’t be the urine-like taste of kombucha that has people so quick to spot the $3 to $5 price tag.

On the surface, everything about kombucha looks great. The acid content does provide an antibacterial, and in essence an antibiotic property, as does its probiotic content. Being low in calories and relatively low in sugar, it sure beats soda as a carbonated beverage. Also being high in enzymes and potentially having antioxidants found in tea explains why some associate it with the reduction in cancer cells.

One has to question though: Is kombucha’s targeted market the one that drinks a Big Gulp every day? For those who make eating healthy a priority, there are aspects of the wonder drink need to be taken into consideration before chugging down the vinegary tonic.

At 14 grams of sugar for the average bottle, containing a suggested two servings, it is still an awful lot of the white stuff. At 30 mg of acetic acid, it has high acidic content. This is of concern, not only to those on a low-acid diet, but also for those who value their stomach lining.

There have been very few peer-reviewed studies done to support the claims that the kombucha industry makes. Of the ones that have been done, some indicate that kombucha may be more harmful than healthy. Bottles of GT Synergy-brand kombucha claim that the beverage contains glucuronic acid, which detoxifies the liver, but scientific studies proved it does not. Some studies have actually linked the beverage with liver damage and metabolic acidosis.

Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, is also not so keen on kombucha’s reemerged popularity. On his website Weil, who is no stranger to making a buck on the health food craze, advises against the consumption of kombucha for a plethora of reasons, including fear of antibiotic resistance and allergic reactions. Weil would especially advise pregnant women, children and the elderly against consuming it.

When it comes down to it, kombucha will not likely harm you if you don’t drink it every day and you don’t have a compromised health situation. However, it isn’t going to perform the magic tricks it claims. Wouldn’t it just be better to eat fruits and vegetables? They’re cheaper, more sustaining and have all the same health benefits that Kombucha claims without the possibility of side effects. Ounce for ounce and pound for pound, the health claims of a fresh fruit smoothie outweigh the sour grapes of a bottle of fermented tea any day.

People should drink what they want to drink, but they should do so knowing all the information about the bottle in their hand. ?