Kombucha appears to be increasing in popularity as a health drink, whether people use the traditional method of giving friends the “mother” to ferment in black tea or buy it in bottles as a replacement for iced tea. Fans of the natural remedy believe it builds immunity and reduces wrinkles and other signs of aging and skin damage. The Mayo Clinic warn that claims about kombucha are not scientifically proven and that kombucha may actually carry some health risks.
New York University’s Langone Medical Center describes kombucha as a “gelatinous mass” made of fungi and beneficial bacteria, which is added to brewed black tea and sugar and left to ferment for a week. The NYU website compares the kombucha to sourdough starter, because, like the yeasty bread ingredient, the kombucha “mother” renews itself during the fermentation process, and the “baby” can be used again for future steeping in sweetened black tea.
Promoters of kombucha consider it an extremely potent antioxidant, much like the compounds found in fruits and vegetables, according to the American Cancer Society. Antioxidants not only fight the environmental toxins known as free radicals, which contribute to illness and disease, but help slow the aging process. Theoretically, powerful antioxidant nutrients can prevent and lessen wrinkles by promoting skin elasticity.
The NYU Langone Medical Center notes that advocates of kombucha tea believe so strongly in its beauty-enhancing properties that they believe it to be useful for turning gray hair to its original color, promoting weight loss, clearing up acne and removing wrinkles. In her book “Skin Saver Remedies,” Juta Stepanovs promotes kombucha as both an internal and a topical treatment for minimizing wrinkles. She recommends making a kombucha face cream in a blender, and leaving it on your face for about 20 minutes, similar to a clay or honey mask.
The vitamins in fruits and vegetables are well-established antioxidants, which may indirectly slow the ravages of time that show up on your face and body. But the benefits of kombucha are not as well studied, according to the Mayo Clinic. While the tea boasts plenty of anecdotal support, research on its actual effectiveness as a health and beauty aid is still in its infancy. Most studies center on laboratory and animal research, rather than on human clinical trials.
All herbal and pharmaceutical remedies carry some risk of allergic reaction or indigestion, and kombucha is no exception, warns the Mayo Clinic. But the real concern lies in possibly toxic reactions from the bacteria in kombucha. The clinic cites the Food and Drug Administration’s warning about severe health risks associated with contaminated tea brewed in non-sterile home environments. Also of concern is the traditional method of brewing the tea in ceramic pots, which has resulted in lead poisoning in some cases. If you wish to use kombucha to fight wrinkles or to boost your immune system, ask your doctor about the risks and possible benefits.