Can Kombucha Make You Sick?
It’s difficult to walk through the aisles of your local food store and not see kombucha. This trendy tea is nothing new. Our ancestors used to drink kombucha in ancient times for gut health. The benefits of kombucha are widely known. The ingredients work together to create probiotics. However, if you have a gut infection, you might wonder, can kombucha make you sick?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink made from a combination of tea, sugar, bacteria, and yeast. In its initial stages, bacteria and yeast are grown together to form a culture. If you have a healthy gut or are not following a low-FODMAP diet, drinking kombucha likely won’t cause any problems. However, this famed tea could do more harm than good if you have small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), Candida overgrowth, a histamine intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome.
I will explain how kombucha can make you sick, why you should avoid kombuchas, and tell you about a safer alternative. Let’s talk about four reasons you’d want to avoid kombucha.
4 Reasons You Want to Avoid Kombucha
Many in the wellness community discuss kombucha’s many benefits, from boosting metabolism, providing your gut with probiotics, and its detoxification properties. Kombucha is often touted as the holy grail of gut health. I’m here to tell you why that’s not the case. Here are four reasons you want to avoid kombucha.
It Contains Alcohol
Kombucha is a fermented drink, which means it can contain low levels of alcohol as a by-product of the fermentation process. If you’re avoiding alcohol and have been drinking kombucha don’t panic. There is a really low alcohol content in kombucha. Most kombuchas contain 0.5% to 1% alcohol.1 Compared to beer (4.5% alcohol) or liquor (6%), it’s just a fraction. However, that doesn’t mean it can’t harm your gut.
The link between alcohol and gut health has direct and indirect effects on the gut microbiome. Alcohol can directly disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut microbiome. It can indirectly cause leaky gut which can lead to inflammation and put you further along the autoimmune spectrum if it persists. That means alcohol can disrupt your gut microbiome indirectly through leaky gut and directly by throwing off the balance of bacteria, even in small amounts.
It Contains Sugar
Depending on the brand, just one serving of kombucha contains as much as 28 grams—or 7 teaspoons– of sugar.2 For reference, the American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of sugar per day for men and 6 teaspoons daily for women.3
As a society, we consume far greater quantities of sugar than we are designed to handle. Sugar affects your entire body because it is an inflammatory food, and inflammation is at the root of nearly every chronic illness. Studies have shown that a high-sugar diet is linked to joint pain and increases your risk of developing autoimmune diseases.4
Sugar can also lead to Candida overgrowth, premature aging, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when cells in your muscles, fat, and liver don’t respond well to insulin. They can’t easily take glucose from your blood. Excess weight gain, too much belly fat, a lack of exercise, smoking, and too little sleep can all cause your receptors to begin to fail.5
Insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar are associated with increased blood clotting, inflammation, oxidative stress, problematic cholesterol particles, and endothelial dysfunction, all of which contribute to cardiovascular disease.
Fermented foods such as kombucha get prepared using the process of Lacto-fermentation. Bacteria, yeast, and other microorganisms break down the sugar and starch in food and convert it into lactic acid. The lactic acid acts as a natural preservative, inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria—the reason fermented foods “keep” for so long.6
The problem is that this is hardly a clean and neat process because kombucha uses a SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast). Not only are good bacteria or probiotics present, harmful bacteria and yeast are also present during fermentation.
All prebiotics produced during that process also feeds harmful bacteria and yeast, which means that fermented foods may be high in harmful bacteria and yeast.
In addition, the high concentration of prebiotics found in fermented foods also makes its way to your gut. There, it feeds good bacteria, harmful bacteria, and yeast alike. So if you are dealing with SIBO or Candida overgrowth, and already have an overpopulation of harmful bacteria or yeast, eating fermented foods exacerbates your underlying gut issues.
You have a histamine intolerance.
I’ll talk more in detail about histamine intolerance in just a second. If you have histamine intolerance, fermented foods such as kombucha should be avoided. Beverages with alcohol or teas (both found in kombucha) can interfere with your body’s natural balance of histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT) and diamine oxidase (DAO) enzymes. As you consume more and more of these foods, the less your DAO enzymes will be able to keep your histamine intolerance symptoms in check. So, let’s talk more about histamine intolerance.
What is Histamine Intolerance?
You might be familiar with histamine in relation to your immune system if you have seasonal or food allergies. Yet, histamine is also a chemical involved in your digestion and central nervous systems. As a neurotransmitter, histamine communicates important messages from your body to your brain. It is also a part of stomach acid, which helps you break down food.
Histamine’s role in the body is to cause an immediate inflammatory response. It is a red flag in your immune system, telling your body about potential attackers. On the other end of the spectrum, antihistamines prevent this inflammatory response.
Histamine causes your blood vessels to swell so that your white blood cells can quickly move in to resolve any problems. It’s part of the body’s natural immune response. Typically, enzymes break down the histamine, so it doesn’t build up. If you don’t break down histamine properly, it builds up, and you develop histamine intolerance.
How the Body Breaks Down Histamine
Once formed, histamine is either stored or broken down by an enzyme. In the central nervous system, histamine gets broken down by histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT). The digestive tract breaks down histamine by diamine oxidase (DAO).
Though both enzymes are essential in breaking down histamine, the American Society for Clinical Nutrition found that DAO is the primary enzyme responsible. If you’re deficient in DAO, you likely have histamine intolerance symptoms, such as nasal congestion, sneezing, difficulty breathing, anxiety, abdominal cramps, fatigue, and an accelerated heart rate.
The causes of low DAO enzymes include:
- Gluten intolerance
- Leaky gut
- DAO-blocking foods: alcohol, energy drinks, and tea
- Genetic mutations (common in people of Asian descent)
- Inflammation from Crohn’s, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, aspirin)
- Antidepressants (Cymbalta, Effexor, Prozac, Zoloft)
- Immune modulators (Humira, Enbrel, Plaquenil)
- Antiarrhythmics (propranolol, metoprolol, Cardizem, Norvasc)
- Antihistamines (Allegra, Zyrtec, Benadryl)
- Histamine (H2) blockers (Tagamet, Pepcid, Zantac)
Although histamine blockers, a class of acid-reducing drugs, seem like they would help prevent histamine intolerance, these medications can deplete DAO enzyme levels in your body.
If you are experiencing histamine intolerance, I recommend taking a DAO supplement such as Histazyme for immediate relief. One or two capsules before a meal support the breakdown of food-derived histamine in the digestive tract and support a healthy immune and inflammatory response to any ingested histamine.
Histamine intolerance is one instance where kombucha can make you sick. Another instance kombucha can make you sick is if you have Candida overgrowth. Let’s revisit kombucha’s sugar content and how it can harm your gut health.
Kombucha and Candida
Candida is a fungus that’s a normal part of your body’s microflora. It’s a form of yeast that lives on or in the mouth, intestines, throat, gut, skin, and, in women, the vagina. This yeast lives in a delicate balance between your gut’s microbiome and good and bad bacteria. This delicate balance of bacteria can grow out of control with a high-processed sugar diet.
Remember what I said about the sugar content in kombucha? A diet rich in high-sugar beverages such as kombucha is a breeding ground for bacterial imbalances such as Candida overgrowth. Candida overgrowth causes various health issues, including vaginal infections, seasonal allergies, digestive issues, skin problems, and nail fungus.
I believe anyone with Candida overgrowth should avoid fermented foods, including kombucha, until their yeast population is under control. The traditional Candida diet does allow for fermented foods. However, as I pointed out earlier, the prebiotics produced during the fermentation process also feed harmful bacteria and yeast.
Fermented foods may be high in harmful bacteria and yeast, so I recommend removing these foods as part of the anti-Candida diet and killing Candida first before using fermented foods to help restore the good bacteria.
How to Feed Good Gut Bacteria Without Kombucha
Kombucha’s benefits are widely known, yet the sugar and alcohol can cause more problems if you have a gut infection, such as Candida overgrowth or histamine intolerance. If you don’t have a gut infection, kombucha is fine in moderation. However, a more natural probiotic is a better route.
While fermented, probiotic, and prebiotic foods are good choices depending on your specific dietary needs, unfortunately, it can be nearly impossible to get all the probiotics you need just from your food for three reasons:
- There’s no way to tell which bacteria strains are in your foods.
- There’s no way to know whether they are strains that work well together.
- It’s hard to eat enough volume of the right foods. For example, you’d have to eat A LOT of yogurt to ensure you get enough colony-forming units to be truly beneficial, especially if you can’t eat some of the foods on the list because of the dietary restrictions I mentioned!
This is why probiotic supplements are so important. Taking a probiotic can keep your gut functioning properly. Knowing which probiotic supplement to take is just as important. There are a lot of probiotics on the market today, so it can be overwhelming to know which one is right for you. There are two p types of probiotics – regular probiotics and SBO probiotics.
Probiotic supplements have different strengths called CFUs (colony-forming units). The CFU tells you how many bacteria are within that particular probiotic. When searching for the best probiotic, consider the number of CFUs.
Probiotic Capsules 100 Billion is designed for maximum support. You won’t see very many products on your local store shelves that have this potency level AND don’t need to be refrigerated. These products are perfect if you have Candida, are repairing a leaky gut, or need extra support for your gut health.
Probiotic Capsules 30 Billion is available for those who can not tolerate a high level of probiotics and provides an excellent maintenance dose. These probiotics are perfect for those who just need daily maintenance.
The bacterial strains found in common probiotics are Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. A quality probiotic will also contain the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii, which helps fight off disease-causing gut organisms and supports a healthy bowel pattern.
If you can believe it, there are certain situations where standard lactic acid-based probiotics can cause more complications than they solve. SIBO is one of those situations. Because SIBO is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel often caused by chronic constipation or challenges with the nervous system, adding more lactic acid-based bacteria into the small intestine can often add more fuel to the fire.
This is why I recommend Primal Earth Probiotic to anyone with SIBO, who suspects SIBO may be at the root cause of their issues or simply doesn’t tolerate most probiotics.
SBO probiotics do not contain lactobacillus or bifidobacterium strains, yet they still provide all the benefits of a probiotic. SBO probiotics have a natural, seed-like structure that makes them stronger than lacto-based probiotics. Therefore, soil-based probiotics survive the journey through the stomach with the help of far fewer CFUs than lactobacillus-based supplements. This is due to the formation of endospores, which can withstand stomach acid, bile salts, and pancreatic enzymes that would typically destroy the bacteria.
The Final Word
Kombucha is a trendy drink that does have its benefits. However, kombucha can make you sick if you have Candida overgrowth, histamine intolerance, SIBO, or leaky gut. I recommend skipping the kombucha and using a probiotic supplement. I take Probiotic Capsules 30 Billion every day for gut maintenance.
- Is Kombucha Alcoholic?. No. 1 Living. 2022.
- 5 Side Effects of Too Much Kombucha. Jillian Kubala. Healthline. 2018.
- How much sugar is too much?. American Heart Association. 2020.
- The Link Between Sugar and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Hallie Levine. WedMD. 2020.
- What to Know About Insulin Resistance. Sari Harrar. Endocrine Web. 2022.
- What Is Lacto-Fermentation, and Does It Have Health Benefits?. Elise Mandl. Healthline. 2019.
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