Are Those Health Drinks Really Healthy or is it Snake Oil?

They make promises of energy and better digestion, but do they really work?

“Enhanced beverages” as they are sometimes called, including flavored kombuchas, are all the rage globally, up 11% from last year to a $3 billion a year industry, offering promises of better sleep, improved energy, and everything else promised by snake oil salesmen.

Kombucha is fermented tea, usually sweet, laced with bacteria and yeast.  Is there a benefit?

Yes, according to Houston nutritionist and dietitian Natalie Forster.  “By consuming fermented foods that are rich in bacteria, you will absolutely benefit in cognition, sleep, energy, and mood.  These all have an influence.  But I will say there is no one-all, cure-all for anything,” she says, stressing that eating, or drinking, foods rich in nutrients and probiotics will help your body function at a better level than consuming junk food and crap.

Your body is filled with trillions of bacteria and types of viruses and fungi swimming invisibly throughout your digestive tract, which the medical world has come to see as the new frontier of understanding the mysteries of the human body and what causes disease.  That’s your microbiome. Your gut, we colloquially call it.  How this whole cutting-edge of modern medicine works remains quixotic though tantalizing. 

Kombucha may not cure all that ails you, but it won’t hurt you either. It’ll introduce healthy bacteria to your gut and has been around for a couple thousand years, which speaks to the benefit of natural probiotics.  Medical science is confirming that some digestive ailments, including C-Diff, are effectively treated by providing your gut’s microbiome with good bacteria.  Their benefit to otherwise healthy people is what remains in question.

Enhanced beverages are a trend waiting for science to prove their value, while devotees swear by their benefits, if not their price.  Forster just warns that you read the ingredients before purchasing.  “If buying a fermented beverage like Kombucha and you see that there are additives like artificial sweeteners that would be something to steer clear of, but there are fermented beverages on the market that are feeding the microbiome of the gut.”

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