The Kombucha Conundrum: Why Fermented Beverages Can Aid Digestion But Cause Gas

Posted on February 7, 2017
Woman holds SCOBY over pitcher of fermented beverage, kombucha tea

It’s frustrating: you hear about the benefits of the latest dietary trend, but it either doesn’t help or  – worse yet – causes more problems. Many people try fermented beverages (such as kombucha) in the hope that they’ll be able to resolve their digestive health issues.  Here’s the good and bad news about how fermented beverages can affect those challenged by chronic intestinal gas.

What’s in this stuff?

Ingredients of the most popular fermented beverages

Kombucha: blend of black tea, sweetener (anything from sugar to fruit or honey). Be aware that fermentation leads to carbonation.

Buttermilk: this is the watery substance that’  remains after butter is made. If you have a stand mixer (or want a seriously challenging upper body, core, and aerobic workout!) you can even DIY. Either pour a pint of heavy cream in your (lidded) mixer bowl and whip it on high until the whipped cream begins to break down into butter; or into a jar and vigorously shake for a looong time.

Kefir: “Kefir tastes slightly on the tart side and has the consistency of liquid yogurt. To manufacture kefir, producers add clusters of starchy carbohydrate – kefir grains – that contain healthy bacteria and are left to ferment in milk. The grains are filtered out while the live cultures remain.” (Research News)

Kefir Water “is a fruit-and-water mix brewed with a probiotic cocktail of bacteria and yeast called water kefir grain (nothing to do with actual grain).” (Eating Well)

Advantages of drinking kombucha and other fermented beverages

Digestive health

As Dr. Steven Hertzler, co-author of a study [on the dietary benefits of kefir] “and an assistant professor of medical dietetics at Ohio State University” says, the study showed that kefir improves the body’s ability to digest lactose.

Why this is important

“Flatulence was the most-reported symptom” by the lactose-intolerant study participants.

Hertzler’s team measured the volunteers’ breath hydrogen levels before and after they drank kefir. (Breath hydrogen is an indicator of gas in the digestive tract.) The levels dropped after drinking kefir.

Disclosure: the study was funded by Lifeway Foods, a company that makes kefir. Dr. Hertzler “has no financial connections to Lifeway Foods, Inc.”The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, in which the study was published, is peer-reviewed.

Behavioral Health

Dr. Mercola reports that recent animal studies have noted a relationship between the lack of healthy gut bacteria and undesirable behavioral traits; such as anxiety, depression and risk-taking behavior. Germ-free mice spent more time in open sections of a maze – quite risky and unconventional behavior for these notoriously reclusive creatures.

Also according to Mercola, scientists have learned that there are higher levels of the hormone serotonin, which controls mood and regulates sleep, in the gut in than in the brain!

Important nutrients

Dr. Hertzler points out that kefir and yogurt are good sources of “calcium, potassium and protein. But kefir also contains a wider array of microorganisms than yogurt does.”

Immune support

“Kefir has additional microorganisms that may be able to colonize the intestines and benefit health further by protecting the intestine against disease-causing bacteria.”

You may not realize it, but the gut is actually the ‘power center’ of your body’s immune system. “Probiotics play a crucial role in the development and operation of the mucosal immune system in your digestive tract, and aid in the production of antibodies to pathogens.”

For further information, follow the links to the article in Ohio State University’s Research News publication and our blog post “Could a Healthy Gut Be the Key to Weight Loss?”

How the anti-inflammatory properties uniquely benefit gas sufferers

Promotion of weight loss

Inflammatory hormones “activate your body’s FAT triggers. These inflammatory hormones cause the cells of your body to become resistant to ‘leptin’ and ‘insulin’, the two most important fat regulating hormones. Anything that can reduce chronic inflammation helps address one of main causes of obesity.”

Disadvantages of drinking kombucha and other fermented beverages
As with anything you consume, it’s important to have sanitary prep conditions and knowledgeable prep staff. Mic also reports that DIY kombucha has resulted in poisonings and death because of improper storage in ceramic jars that contain lead. There have also been cases of  digestive upset of poisoning due to bacteria growing in improperly sterilized containers (also a hazard of home canning).

SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast)

Mic Networks says: “SCOBYs combine during fermentation into blobby discs … that [form] a jelly-like layer of protection from any unwelcome bacteria in the air, while converting sugar into carbon dioxide and ethanol … [or] alcohol.”

Fungus

That SOBY is actually a “tea fungus,” or a floating network of [aspergillus] bacteria and yeast.

Alcohol content

Body Ecology tells us that kombucha contains strains of yeast that include Zygosaccharomyces bailii or Z. bailii and acetaldehyde. “If you’ve ever had a hangover, you have felt the effects of too much acetaldehyde.”

“When brewing kombucha, the alcohol content increases with time (around the sixth day) and then slowly decreases. … One study found that kombucha contains as much as 5.5 g/L of alcohol — or 2.8% alcohol. (8) Kombucha that is allowed to brew for a longer period of time contains less alcohol (but possibly more acetaldehyde).”

Sugar

You may be trying to eliminate sugar and other simple carbs from your diet. Sugar is produced during the fermentation process.

Commercially prepared kombucha (and other fermented drinks) can be quite expensive, so many consumers opt for DIY alternatives. As we’ve explained, your health can be adversely affected by variables such as preparation, refrigeration, and storage. If you choose to brew your own, look for recipes that provide detailed instructions about sterilizing the containers and monitoring the liquid for signs of contamination.

Ask your doctor

We frequently advise our readers to consult a doctor before making any dietary changes. Your healthcare provider should have the opportunity to rule out “intestinal inflammation or obstruction, such as Crohn’s disease or colon cancer, [that may] cause abdominal bloating.”

Your doctor may also want to set guidelines about how often you should include fermented products in your diet.  It’s important to be clear about how consuming these drinks will change the balance of good and bad bacteria in your digestive tract.

Once you’ve gotten the green light, you may sometimes experience excessive gas as your body adjusts to the change in diet. If you want to enjoy your favorite foods without worry, you can try CharcoCaps® dietary supplement.

CharcoCaps® dietary supplement relieves gas and bloating FAST!*  Enjoy your favorite foods without worry! *These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Additional sources:

https://draxe.com/7-reasons-drink-kombucha-everyday/

http://www.webmd.com/diet/features/truth-about-kombucha#1

http://digestive.templehealth.org/content/Gas.htm