Because kombucha is a unique beverage with a living culture of bacteria in it, people unfamiliar with or new to the drink may be worried about its safety, and whether or not it can make them sick. The truth is that...
Getting sick from kombucha is very rare. The most common ways someone will get sick from kombucha is if they’re in an at risk group such as pregnant women or people with immune disorders, if the kombucha is moldy or contaminated, or if they drink too much kombucha too quickly.
In this article I'll talk about what you need to know to be able to enjoy kombucha and all its health benefits safely while avoiding developing an annoying or even dangerous sickness.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a probiotic drink made from fermented tea that has become quite popular in recent years due to its great taste and many health benefits such as improved digestion and gut health, detoxification, and immune system strengthening.
Health Benefits of Kombucha
There are many reasons drinking kombucha is a good idea, but one of the biggest ones is that it is full of beneficial bacteria known as probiotics.Probiotics are found in a lot of other fermented foods such as kefir, sauerkraut, yogurt, kimchi, and some cheeses.
Your body, especially your gut, is filled with good and bad bacteria. And it’s believed that the modern diet, which is so full of sugar and processed foods, harms the good bacteria in our gut, leading to digestive problems, diarrhea, and even infections such as candida.
Fermented foods with probiotics like kombucha replace and replenish these beneficial bacteria in your gut and may:
Can Kombucha Make you Sick?
It’s important to note that getting sick from kombucha is very rare, but it is possible. If someone does get sick from kombucha, it's likely because:
1. They’re in an at risk group (pregnant women, young children, people with immune disorders)
2. The kombucha is spoiled or moldy
3. They drank too much kombucha too quickly
Let’s dive into each of these 3 situations to better understand how to avoid kombucha sickness.
1. At Risk Groups can Get Sick from Kombucha
Although kombucha is completely safe for most people, it can cause problems for those with certain health conditions.
People with diseases or sicknesses that cause weakened immune systems such as HIV, cancer, or kidney disease should probably avoid drinking kombucha since their bodies will have a harder time fighting infection if a brew is contaminated with bad bacteria.
And, because of the small amounts of caffeine and alcohol in kombucha, pregnant and breastfeeding women should probably avoid drinking kombucha as well. Although the extremely low caffeine and alcohol levels are generally safe for pregnant women, if by chance a bottle's alcohol levels are higher than they should be, the baby’s health would be at risk.
Higher than normal alcohol content is more common in home brewed kombucha due to its lack of regulation (home brewed booch can get up to 3% alcohol) but has been found before in store bought kombucha.
Children under the age of 12 should also avoid drinking kombucha, since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no caffeine consumption for children under that age.
2. Moldy or Spoiled Kombucha Can Make you Sick
Although it doesn’t happen often, if someone is going to get sick from kombucha, most of the time it’s because the booch they drank was moldy or contaminated with bad bacteria.
Mold is extremely rare in both store bought and home brewed kombucha, but much more likely to be found in home-brewed. This is because home brewed kombucha usually has less safety protocols, sterilized equipment, and sanitary conditions involved in its brewing process.
Even with this lack of regulation, as long as home brewed kombucha is made correctly, the acidity from the brew should prevent any mold from developing.
Since all kombucha smells kind of weird to begin with, the best way to identify mold is by sight. Heres a few things to look for:
Mold always grows on the surface of the kombucha
Mold has a dry and fuzzy texture
Mold develops in circles
Mold is usually white, green, blue, or black
If you're just drinking kombucha from the store, I wouldn’t worry too much about mold. However if you're home brewing your own kombucha, you should keep an eye out for it.
If you find mold in your home brewed kombucha, throw away the SCOBY and any liquid that the kombucha touched, and thoroughly clean any equipment used during brewing. Mold spores can be super small so if you see mold in one spot, it’s likely that everything is contaminated.
If you want to learn more about how to identify mold and how to prevent it from developing and ruining your kombucha, you can read the article I wrote on kombucha mold here.
3. Drinking too Much Kombucha can Make you Sick
As long as you're not in one of the at risk groups and your kombucha isn't moldy, the worst thing that can happen from drinking too much booch is a stomach ache or nausea. Even though these aren't life threatening conditions, no one wants to feel sick. So how do you know how much kombucha is too much?
There isn’t a concrete answer to this question, since everyone’s body is different. If someone has never had kombucha before, an entire bottle could make them sick, since kombucha is a really unique beverage that their body may not be used to. However, other people who drink kombucha a lot may be able to down 2 bottles a day with no adverse effects.
I’d recommend that if you're a new kombucha drinker you start with half a bottle or 8oz a day to allow your body to get used to it.
If you’re someone who’s drank kombucha before and knows your body can handle it, I still wouldn’t drink more than a bottle or 16oz a day to avoid stomach aches, nausea and any other adverse effects.
Probiotic Alternatives if Kombucha Makes you Sick
If kombucha makes you sick but you still want to get its probiotic benefits, there are some great alternatives available.
Probiotic supplements are the easiest way to get healthy bacteria into your body. They come either in pill or gummy form and are full of different probiotics and enzymes that may improve your digestive health.
Supplements are nice because of how quick and easy they are to use. Drinking an entire kombucha can take more than an hour for some people, but swallowing a probiotic supplement takes less than 5 seconds.
If you're interested in probiotic supplements, I recommend Wholesome Wellness' Raw Probiotic Supplement. Each pill has over 1 billion healthy bacteria from 34 different strains and is full of prebiotics and digestive enzymes that will help keep the good bacteria in your gut fed and functioning well. You can pick up a bottle of 30 pills on Amazon here.
Another great probiotic alternative to kombucha is probiotic tea, which is just regular tea bags that are full of beneficial bacteria
Probiotic tea is great for those who don't like the acidity of kombucha, but still want to drink something healthy with probiotics. It's also great for regular kombucha drinkers who want to save a little money or don't want to carry around heavy glass kombucha bottles that need to be refrigerated.
If you want to learn more about probiotic tea as an alternative to kombucha and the top 5 best probiotic tea brands, you can find the article that I wrote on it here.
My favorite probiotic tea is Bigelow's lemon ginger herbal tea with probiotics. Bigelow was actually the inventor of the special bacteria strain known as BC30 that is able to survive extreme heat and make probiotic tea possible. You can find Bigelow for only 13 cents a tea bag on Amazon here.
As long as you are not in an at risk group, check for mold, and don’t drink more than 16oz a day, you should be safe from any kombucha sickness.
As with any drink, everyone's body reacts differently. If you’re worried about getting sick from booch, drink small amounts at first and slowly work your way up to drinking more. But overall, I think the health benefits greatly outweigh the risks.
If you want to learn more about kombucha, how it relates to your health, and even how to brew it yourself, check out the rest of my website!