Jan. 25, 2016 -- Many of us opt for a jolt of java to wake our brains up in the morning or midday, but some say a mug of "mushroom tea" might be a better choice.
Kombucha tea is being touted as good for your health. But is it really, and is it safe?
The trendy product is creating quite a stir these days as headlines and the U.S. government warn it may give you a buzz instead of a mental boost.
Last fall, the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) told several kombucha makers their fermented tea products contained too much alcohol and they might have to pay up if they didn't label or reformulate the goods. The action continues to spark much debate over the safety of the popular tea.
Kombucha is a centuries-old concoction that's made by mixing (or fermenting) black, green, or oolong tea and refined sugar with bacteria and yeast. The slightly sweet, slightly sour, bubbly beverage contains B vitamins and probiotics (aka helpful bacteria) -- all of which can be good for our bodies and brains.
And consumers are gobbling it up. A 2015 Markets and Markets analysis calls kombucha "the fastest-growing market in the functional beverages category." It projects sales of the drink to soar to $1.8 billion by 2020.
A Brain Booster or Bust?
The scientific evidence to support the health benefits of kombucha itself is limited. But studies continue to show its nutrients are likely a healthy choice.
"Probiotics, or the good gut bacteria, are being linked to multiple health benefits, including improved digestion, immune health, fighting depression, and even improved dental health in children," says dietitian Heather Mangieri, spokeswoman for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
One recent study says fermented foods like kombucha may be particularly good for brain development and behavior. Its beneficial bacteria and B vitamin content help place it on the smart "brain food" list.
Michelle Crowder, ND, senior naturopath at Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, MI, calls the connection between fermented foods and mental health “a very active and exciting area of research.”