Did you know we are all walking around with a kilo and a half or more of bacteria numbering trillions in our digestive system, the gut? The major concentration is in the last chamber, the colon. There’s a whole society of bacteria living and thriving inside you alongside, yeast, fungi, and even some parasites which should live in harmony together for your good health.
Scientists have recently established that this bacteria and friends, known colloquially as “the microbiome”, is a control centre of our health. It needs to be full of thriving, happy different types of bacteria to help make us healthy. Our digestive and mental health and immune system are all connected to this microbiome, and may operate well, or below par, depending on the landscape of the microbiome. The good news is that the choices of diet and lifestyle we make can help influence the landscape of the microbiome and fermented foods may be part of it. Many of us nowadays take antibiotics which an leave the microbiome in poor shape, or eat a mono diet with fast processed foods which could leave the microbiome starved of the type of foods it needs to be healthy.
There are two types of foods which may help: 1) by parachuting fermented foods/drinks containing probiotic bacteria into the gut. 2) Vegetables, fruit and teas which contain plant chemicals in their colour pigments, called “polyphenols” which are a type food that bacteria in the gut love to consume to thrive . The term for these foods which feed bacteria are “prebiotics”. Kombucha, which is a fermented tea contains both pro and prebiotics – so may be a potential gift for the gut.
When tea is fermented the polyphenol content is accelerated so you get even more than when you drink regular tea . This also increases its anti-oxidant power. You can see why kombucha has been used for centuries in China for gut health. It is impossible to list which bacteria are contained in any one kombucha as the content is different from batch to batch depending on the weather, the season, the history and exposure of the starter culture and where the tea is grown. This potential diversity is good news for the gut, which needs variety and not the same foods every day, to stay healthy. Common friendly bacteria found in kombucha include different types of lactobacillus, acetobacter, gluconacetobacter and friendly yeasts such as zygosaccharomyces.
Why kombucha may be great for the brain
Foods or drinks like kombucha which contain probiotics and prebiotics are known as “synbiotics”. There is early research into using prebiotics and probiotics to support mental health and brain ageing.
The gut and brain are connected by a long nerve called the vagus and research indicates that the bacteria in your gut could be sending signals to your brain along the vagus and influencing mood responses in your head. This has sparked lots of interest in research into kombucha which may theoretically help balance the bacteria in the gut for brain health.
Kombucha usually contains B vitamins such as B1, B2, B6, and B12 which are known to support brain health. Some bacteria in kombucha can produce a short chain fatty acid called butyrate which is needed to keep your gut lining healthy and help reduce inflammation in the body. Some forms of depression are now understood to have an inflammatory nature.
Why kombucha may be great for the liver
The fermentation process of kombucha can produce organic acids (eg gluconic, glucuronic, acetic, lactic, citric acids to name a few) and amino acids. Organic and amino acids are needed to support the liver – the recycling and packaging for disposal area of the body.
Glucuronic acid is particularly useful – it attaches itself to toxins in the liver to transport them out of the body – like a dustbin lorry to take the rubbish away. Its detoxification ability and high polyphenol antioxidant count may be why kombucha has been linked with cancer prevention.
Kombucha also contains vitamin C which is needed to keep the liver functioning well. The Vitamin C content of kombucha increases with fermentation. Vitamin C can also support the immune system and skin health.