Can Kombucha Help Control Blood Sugar in Type 2 Diabetes?

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Kombucha is a bubbly beverage originating from China, which is made from tea that is fermented with bacteria and yeasts. In recent years kombucha has become increasingly popular, as it has been touted for its supposed health benefits, specifically improving gut health. In a recent pilot study at Georgetown Medical Center, kombucha was tested as an anti-hyperglycemic therapeutic agent in human adult participants with type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is a condition in which the body struggles to overcome insulin resistance by producing high levels of the hormone. Rates of diabetes have increased by over 400% in the past 30 years, the great majority of these diagnoses being T2D. As prevalence rates in the U.S. reach nearly 15%, and diabetes diagnoses continue to increase in middle- and low-income countries globally, the search for potential dietary treatments to reduce the burden of this disease has accelerated. Fermented foods in particular have been reported to be associated with reduced T2D risk, as well as several other health benefits such as helping to prevent and manage metabolic disorders, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive improvement and immune enhancement.

“…they found that the average baseline glucose level for the participants was 164 mg/dL, and after 4 weeks of drinking kombucha, the average dropped to 116 mg/dL. This is a decrease of nearly 30% for the kombucha group.”

The researchers recruited participants from MedStar Georgetown University Hospital’s General Internal Medicine Clinic, a facility with specific interests in diabetes care. They recruited 12 participants with T2D who agreed to drink one beverage (either kombucha or a placebo) daily, and test their fasting glucose levels at home at different periods. The researchers instructed the participants to follow their typical diets as they did not want dietary changes to cause potential blood sugar decreases. Participants were split up into two groups where half of them drank either kombucha or a similar tasting placebo beverage with dinner for the first 4-week period and then swapped drinks for the second 4-week period (with an 8-week washout period in between). After researchers looked at the fasting glucose levels provided, they found that the average baseline glucose level for the participants was 164 mg/dL, and after 4 weeks of drinking kombucha, the average dropped to 116 mg/dL. This is a decrease of nearly 30% for the kombucha group, whereas researchers found no statistically significant change in average fasting glucose levels with the placebo group. Lead study author Dr. Chagai Mendelson said, “We hope that a much larger trial, using the lessons we learned in this trial, could be undertaken to give a more definitive answer to the effectiveness of kombucha in reducing blood glucose levels, and hence prevent or help treat type 2 diabetes.”

“The microbiome appears to be heavily involved in metabolism, inflammation, and immune response.”

Although these results are only preliminary, they support further research on microbiota-targeted diets to increase gut microbial diversity which in turn may affect the immune system, metabolism and overall health. Dr. Florence Comite, an endocrinologist, and founder of the Comite Center for Precision Medicine and Health in New York City noted, “The microbiome appears to be heavily involved in metabolism, inflammation, and immune response. Improving the ratio of helpful bacteria to harmful bacteria in the gut will have a bearing on managing glucose control.”

“…kombucha consumption by subjects with elevated blood glucose levels at baseline was associated with a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose…”

Overall, the authors observed that kombucha consumption by subjects with elevated blood glucose levels at baseline was associated with a significant reduction in fasting blood glucose that was not observed during consumption of a placebo beverage. To their knowledge, this study is the first randomized controlled human trial in which the anti-diabetic effects of kombucha were assessed among diabetic participants. Although this is an exciting potential treatment, a larger scale follow up study is needed before recommendations can be based on these findings. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to include kombucha in your diet as a delicious, gut-healthy probiotic beverage!

Juliette Frank Juliette Frank is a recent UCLA graduate with a degree in Public Affairs and Food Studies. Her interests include the interrelation between food systems, digestive health, and the environmental impacts of food production.

This article was reviewed and approved by Emeran Mayer, MD