Kombucha tea is made from tea, sugar, and a bacterial/yeast culture that promotes fermentation. The end product contains healthy probiotics and acids that support digestion, provide antioxidant protection, and may also help maintain healthy cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
But despite these glowing attributes, kombucha has a dark side. If you drink too much of it at once or consume the wrong kind, you could end up suffering from some uncomfortable side effects.
Can Kombucha Make You Sick?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there have been reports of adverse effects in kombucha drinkers. These may include an upset stomach, infections, or allergic reactions. These are usually attributed to a “bad batch” of kombucha.
As many people make their own at home, there is a risk that the tea could be contaminated with unhealthy microorganisms. If you forget to properly sterilize all of your containers and tools before making a batch, unwanted bacteria could get into your tea and make you sick.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported on two cases of unexplained severe illness and one death that occurred in 1995 in women in Iowa who had been drinking kombucha every day for about two months. After an extensive investigation, no link was established between the illnesses and the women’s kombucha consumption.
The CDC did note that while there may be health benefits associated with the tea, because it is produced under varying conditions in individual homes, “contamination with pathogenic organisms” is possible.
Because kombucha is acidic, the CDC also warned that it should not be prepared or stored in containers made from materials like ceramic or lead crystal, both of which contain toxic elements that can leach into the tea.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states that when properly prepared, kombucha can be safe for human consumption.
What are the Potential Side Effects of Kombucha?
Some of the potential side effects of drinking kombucha include the following:
Some people experience digestive upset when drinking kombucha—particularly when drinking too much. Symptoms may include gas, bloating, nausea, or vomiting.
These symptoms may occur because the drink is acidic and can aggravate the stomach lining, or because of its sugar or probiotic content. If your body isn’t used to consuming probiotics, consuming too many too soon may trigger digestive problems. Carbonated kombucha has bubbles too, and that can also lead to bloating and excess gas.
Some people report experiencing headaches when they drink too much kombucha. The cause of these headaches is unclear and may be attributed to several different factors. Kombucha does contain small amounts of caffeine and alcohol, which alone or together may trigger headaches in sensitive people.
Since kombucha is an acidic drink, drinking too much may damage the protective enamel on the outside of each tooth. The fermentation process creates an acid that is similar to that found in vinegar. This gives the tea its tangy flavor but also makes it potentially damaging to enamel. Rinsing after drinking can help protect teeth.
This is more likely with home-brewed kombucha that may contain some stray bacteria. The risk is greatest for those with sensitive immune systems or who are immune-compromised.
For those who are sensitive to caffeine, drinking too much kombucha may cause anxiety, irritability, headaches, or trouble sleeping. Though kombucha is lower in caffeine than most caffeinated beverages, it does have some (amounts vary). Some people are unaware of the caffeine content and may drink more than they can tolerate.
Though very rare, this is a potential side effect of drinking too much kombucha. Lactic acid is that organic acid produced in the muscles when you work out that can later cause muscle aches and pain. Kombucha also contains lactic acid.
If you drink too much, it may create an accumulation of this acid in your bloodstream. That can lead to both liver and kidney dysfunction. Symptoms include muscle aches, disorientation, nausea, headaches, fatigue, rapid heart rate, and jaundice.
Though kombucha is a tea, and tea usually is very low in calories, kombucha has more calories than plain tea because sugar is added to the mix. The calorie level varies depending on whether you make the kombucha at home or buy it from the store. An 8-ounce serving ranges from about 30 to 70 calories.
Be sure to read the label. Some kombucha drinks have extra sugar from fruit juice or cane sugar, which will increase the overall calorie level.
This is another rare side effect, but some people may be allergic to kombucha tea. Symptoms may include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, and throat tightness after drinking it.
Is It Safe to Drink Kombucha Every Day?
The simplest answer to this question is: it depends, mostly on how much kombucha you’re consuming. As with most beverages (and many foods), it’s best to enjoy kombucha in moderation. Though it can provide many health benefits, it is not a panacea and should be consumed as part of an overall healthy diet.