Kombucha a new magical elixir or risky probiotic?

By Stacy

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) -- As Stephanie Burg fills up her teapot, she's not preparing the morning beverage you'd expect. Instead, she's getting ready to brew kombucha, a fermented tea beverage gaining popularity as a probiotic.

"Being a germ-fearing culture, being so anti-bacteria everything. I think, if nothing else, kombucha is a great way to reintroduce that good bacteria," said Burg, a certified holistic health coach.

Burg has taught clients like Lisa Abernathy to drink and brew their own kombucha. They use green tea, sugar, water and either previously-made kombucha or cider vinegar. And then they add a final squishy, mushroom-like ingredient called the "scoby."

"[They use] what they call a scoby, which is the symbiotic culture of bacteria in yeast," Dr. Craig Koniver said.

Dr. Koniver looked for natural ways to help patients, he said. He has advised many of them to start drinking kombucha.

"There's been blossoming research on the advantages and safety of using probiotics for variety of classical conditions- diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome," said Koniver, who runs a practice called Primary Plus Organic Medicine.

Most people don't get enough probiotics, he said. Kombucha is a safe way to add them to your diet, he said.

"When you drink kombucha, your gut gets short-chain fatty acids which helps the gut wake up and allows them to digest and absorb more efficiently," Koniver said.

But, the elixir does have some drawbacks, experts said.

For one, the taste reeks of vinegar; that might be pleasing for some, but startling for others.

Also, if you choose to make it at home, beware of the risk of mold growing. Experts advised keeping it in an airtight container. Any mold that could grow would look like the mold you see on bread or cheese; do not drink the kombucha if you see it.

The American Cancer Society stated skepticism on its website regarding the benefits of kombucha: "No human studies have been published in the available scientific literature that support any of the health claims made for Kombucha tea. There have, however, been reports of serious complications and death linked to the tea."

Specialty stores like Whole Foods also sell it.

"We have a lot of different brands people can choose from. Some have bold flavors, some are spicier," said Sabrina Burrell, an employee at Whole Foods Mount Pleasant.

Buying from the store offers variety. It also ensures the kombucha was brewed safely, without mold.

Whole Foods employees said it was flying off the shelves.

"We go through this case every day," Burrell said as she referenced the shelf section displaying the five to six brands of kombucha available.

But at Whole Foods, customers pay for the benefits; a 16-ounce bottle sold for around $4.

Home brewers said they made a gallon batch for just under $5. Of course, they do more work. but that was not a problem for Lisa Abernathy.

"When people make something with love, from heart, good intention. I feel like you can taste that in food. I feel like the same goes with kombucha," Abernathy said.

Whether you make it yourself, or buy it at the store, the probiotic is filling people up, and it's doctor recommended. That could be a prescription worth celebrating.

For more information on kombucha from Stephanie Burg's website, click here.