Kombucha has become an increasingly popular fermented tea drink in recent years, prized for its tangy flavor and potential health benefits. However, its growing popularity has led many pregnant women to wonder — is it safe to drink kombucha during pregnancy?
This article will provide a thorough, evidence-based answer to this question. We’ll start by explaining what kombucha is, how it’s made, and its proposed benefits. Then, we’ll analyze the potential risks of drinking kombucha while pregnant and offer guidance on whether it can be safely consumed.
What is Kombucha?
Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has been consumed for thousands of years, originating in China before spreading to Russia, Europe, and the rest of the world. It’s made by fermenting sweetened tea with a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, known as a SCOBY.
The SCOBY looks like a thick, rubbery pancake and contains the bacteria and yeast needed to ferment the tea. It’s placed in sweetened black or green tea and left to ferment for 1-3 weeks. During this time, the yeast and bacteria produce beneficial organic acids, vitamins, enzymes, and carbon dioxide bubbles, creating the tart, fizzy drink known as kombucha.
The finished kombucha contains vinegar, B vitamins, enzymes, probiotics, and antioxidants. It usually has an acidic, vinegar-like taste and subtle sweetness due to the original sweetened tea. Kombucha can be flavored with fruits, herbs, spices or left plain.
While traditional kombucha has trace amounts of alcohol from the fermentation process, most modern commercial versions are limited to less than 0.5% alcohol.
Potential Benefits of Kombucha
Kombucha has gained popularity in recent years due to its many purported health benefits, though research is still emerging in this area. Here are some of the ways kombucha may positively impact health:
- Probiotics: The fermentation process produces probiotics, including Lactobacillus, Gluconacetobacter, Acetobacter, and other beneficial bacteria. Probiotics support gut and immune health.
- Antioxidants: Kombucha, particularly green tea kombucha, contains polyphenol antioxidants that may help fight inflammation and cell damage.
- Vitamins: Kombucha contains B vitamins, particularly B1, B6, and B12, which support energy levels and metabolic function.
- Detoxification: Kombucha is rich in glucaric acid, which may aid liver detoxification. The probiotics may also help remove toxins.
- Digestion: The enzymes and probiotics in kombucha promote better digestion and healthy gut function.
- Immunity: The probiotics may boost immune function and fight infections. The antioxidants also support immunity.
- Heart Health: Animal studies show kombucha may improve cholesterol levels and lower heart disease risk.
- Cancer Prevention: Test tube studies show kombucha may have anti-cancer effects, likely due to its antioxidants, probiotics, and ability to prevent DNA damage.
However, human studies are limited and larger, more robust studies are needed to confirm kombucha’s benefits, especially during pregnancy. The amount of probiotics and antioxidants also varies widely between brands.
Is Kombucha Safe During Pregnancy?
While kombucha offers potential benefits, is it safe for pregnant women? Due to kombucha’s unique fermentation process, there are some specific concerns regarding consumption during pregnancy.
One of the main concerns with kombucha is its alcohol content. While commercial kombucha is required to have less than 0.5% alcohol, homemade kombucha or improperly fermented batches may contain higher amounts.
Consuming alcohol during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage and fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Therefore, pregnant women are advised to completely avoid alcohol.
To avoid excess alcohol, pregnant women should only consume commercial kombucha that adheres to the 0.5% alcohol threshold. Homemade kombucha or brands without proper fermentation controls should be avoided.
Bacteria and Food Poisoning
The fermentation process involves live cultures of yeast and bacteria. While most of these are beneficial probiotics, contamination could occur, especially with homemade kombucha. Harmful bacteria like salmonella, listeria, or E. coli could lead to food poisoning, which can be extremely dangerous during pregnancy.
To avoid contamination, pregnant women should only consume pasteurized, commercially prepared kombucha under proper food safety conditions. Homemade kombucha has a higher risk of bacterial contamination.
The acetic acid and gluconic acid produced during fermentation give kombucha its acidic tang. While these organic acids have potential benefits, consuming highly acidic drinks daily could negatively impact tooth enamel or irritate sensitive stomachs. Heartburn and reflux are common issues during pregnancy that can be aggravated by high acidity.
To prevent problems, kombucha should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. Diluting kombucha with water or milk can also help reduce acidity.
Kombucha is made from black or green tea, which contains caffeine. While small amounts of caffeine are considered safe during pregnancy, excessive intake can be harmful. Consuming over 200mg of caffeine per day has been associated with increased pregnancy risks.
To limit caffeine, pregnant women should opt for a decaffeinated kombucha variety. Otherwise, intake should be moderate and paired with plenty of water.
Herbal Flavors and Additives
Flavored kombucha may contain herbs, fruits, spices or other ingredients that could be problematic during pregnancy. For example, hibiscus, ginseng, gingko biloba or aloe vera can stimulate uterine contractions. Large amounts of licorice may increase blood pressure.
To be safe, pregnant women should check labels and avoid kombucha containing herbs or ingredients that aren’t recognized as safe during pregnancy. Stick to basic flavors like fruit or ginger.
There have been some past reports of lead contamination in certain kombucha brands. Lead exposure can cause pregnancy complications and neurodevelopmental issues.
To be safe, pregnant women should only consume brands that adhere to proper manufacturing and testing protocols with strict limits on heavy metal content.
Guidance for Pregnant Women
Based on the potential risks, here are some guidelines pregnant women can follow regarding kombucha:
- Limit intake to 4-8 oz per day. Consuming kombucha in moderation is key to minimizing potential risks. Limit intake to one small glass per day.
- Avoid homemade varieties. The fermentation process is difficult to fully control at home, leading to higher risks.
- Check the label. Look for brands clearly labeled “non-alcoholic” and containing less than 0.5% alcohol. Also check for caffeine content, added herbs, and proper manufacturing details.
- Talk to your doctor. Discuss kombucha with your obstetrician and follow their recommendations based on your specific pregnancy situation.
Common Concerns and Questions
Despite the potential risks, some pregnant women are still interested in enjoying kombucha. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions.
Is pasteurized kombucha okay during pregnancy?
Pasteurized kombucha goes through a heat treatment process to destroy harmful bacteria. This makes it safer than unpasteurized varieties in terms of contamination risk. However, pasteurization does not remove the alcohol content, so intake should still be limited.
What about homemade kombucha – can I drink it if I make it myself?
It’s best to avoid homemade kombucha during pregnancy. Home fermentation increases the risks of contamination, excess alcohol production, and improper acidity balance. Unless you have extensive training in fermentation and lab testing facilities, homemade kombucha cannot be considered safe.
Is flavored kombucha safer than plain? What about add-ins like chia seeds?
Flavored kombucha is not necessarily safer than plain. The additional ingredients could pose their own risks, especially herbs, spices, and botanical add-ins. Chia and other seeds would be safe, but could increase acidity. For maximum safety, stick to plain or lightly flavored kombucha.
Can I drink kombucha if I’m breastfeeding?
Due to the alcohol content, it’s recommended to avoid kombucha while breastfeeding as well. Alcohol passes into breast milk, so nursing mothers should limit intake to avoid exposure for the infant. Caffeine also passes into breast milk and should be moderated.
Is GT’s Kombucha safe during pregnancy? What about Health-Ade or Brew Dr.?
Major commercial brands like GT’s, Health-Ade, and Brew Dr. adhere to the 0.5% alcohol threshold and pasteurize their kombucha. This makes them safer options compared to homemade varieties. However, it’s still ideal to limit intake to 4-8 oz per day out of an abundance of caution.
What happens if I drink kombucha and then find out I’m pregnant?
If you consumed kombucha before knowing you were pregnant, don’t panic. The risks mainly apply to frequent, excess intake rather than occasional consumption. Simply stop drinking kombucha once you find out you’re expecting, and monitor your pregnancy closely. Be sure to limit other caffeine sources and discuss concerns with your doctor.
Can I drink kombucha after giving birth while nursing?
Breastfeeding women are advised to abstain from kombucha as well. Alcohol passes into breast milk, so nursing mothers should avoid alcohol-containing beverages. The safest approach is to wait until you are no longer breastfeeding to resume drinking kombucha.
Healthy Alternatives to Kombucha
If giving up kombucha seems difficult, there are plenty of other healthy drink options to hydrate, nourish, and satisfy you during pregnancy and breastfeeding:
- Coconut water – Contains electrolytes like potassium and magnesium with less acidity than kombucha. Look for unsweetened varieties.
- Sparkling water – Plain or flavored bubbly water is a safe way to get your fizzy fix. Opt for mineral water for a nutrient boost.
- Decaf iced tea – Brew decaffeinated black or green tea and chill over ice for an antioxidant-rich beverage without caffeine.
- Smoothies – Blend yogurt, milk, fruits, and veggies for a nourishing, customizable drink. Use pasteurized dairy and washed produce.
- Vegetable juice – Opt for low-sodium varieties and dilute with water. Limit to 4-6 oz per day to moderate natural sugars.
- Milk – Dairy milk provides protein, calcium, vitamin D, and hydration. Choose pasteurized, lowfat, or nondairy varieties.
- Fruit-infused water – Slice citrus fruits, berries, cucumbers or melons into water for refreshing flavor without added sugars or calories.
The Bottom Line
While kombucha provides some benefits from antioxidants, probiotics, and vitamins, there are legitimate safety concerns with drinking it during pregnancy or breastfeeding. The risks of alcohol, contamination, caffeine, and acidity cannot be fully avoided even with commercial varieties.
The safest approach is to avoid kombucha completely during pregnancy and breastfeeding. However, if you choose to drink it, limit intake to 4-8 oz of pasteurized brands per day and discuss concerns with your healthcare provider. Be sure to check labels for alcohol content, caffeine levels, and ingredients.
Instead of kombucha, hydrate and nourish yourself and your baby with healthier drink alternatives like coconut water, fruit-infused water, smoothies, and decaf iced tea. This allows you to avoid the risks of kombucha while still getting nutrients and delicious flavors from other beverages.
- Kombucha is a fermented tea drink containing live cultures of bacteria and yeast. It provides probiotics, antioxidants, and B vitamins but also contains alcohol and acidity.
- The alcohol content, even in commercial kombucha, may pose pregnancy risks. Bacterial contamination and excess caffeine are also concerns.
- While pasteurized kombucha is safer, limiting intake to 4-8 oz per day is recommended during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
- Avoid homemade kombucha and brands without proper alcohol limits and fermentation controls. Check labels and consult your doctor.
- Healthy drink alternatives like coconut water, decaf tea, vegetable juices and smoothies provide hydration and nutrition without the risks.
- While moderated kombucha intake is likely safe for most women, avoiding it completely during pregnancy and breastfeeding is the most cautious approach.