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Kombucha vs Probiotics: What You Need to Know

Gut health is a hot topic, and it’s no surprise why. A happy gut translates to better overall health, improved digestion, and a stronger immune system. If you have been seeking ways to support your gut health, you may be debating kombucha vs probiotics.

If you’re curious about kombucha, probiotic supplements, and other fermented foods and their potential health benefits, you’re in the right place.

As a dietitian, I’m here to help you understand your options and make the best choice. Let’s find the perfect fit for your path to a healthier you.

So to start, are kombucha and probiotics the same or different?

Homemade kombucha

What is Kombucha? 

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that has become popular in recent years for its potential health benefits. The fermentation process starts with a mixture of 

  • Tea (usually black tea or green tea)
  • Sugar
  • Bacteria 
  • Yeast

The symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast (or SCOBY for short) breaks down the sugar and converts it to alcohol, carbon dioxide, and organic acids (1). (This process also produces B vitamins – an added health bonus!).

This mixture sits to ferment for about a week to create the final product which contains the beneficial live bacteria that are known as probiotics.

The variety of beneficial bacteria in kombucha (and the health perks you might get from it) depends on several factors, including the ingredients used, the amount of time it’s fermented, and if it is pasteurized (which can kill the probiotics).

Picture the various strains of bacteria and yeasts in kombucha as superheroes with unique powers. What’s their mission? They work wonders in your gut, from transforming your microbiome to boosting your immunity and beyond (2).

Kombucha is ever more popular. A few brands you might recognize are:

  • Synergy
  • Health-Ade
  • Trader Joe’s Organic Kombucha

Now that you know some of the basics about kombucha, let’s review probiotics.

Woman eating yogurt with blueberries

What are Probiotics?

Probiotics are live microorganisms, or “good” bacteria. Probiotics provide numerous health benefits depending on the strain or strains of bacteria in the probiotic and how much you consume. 

Product labels typically list the type and amount of live bacteria, known as the number of colony-forming units (CFUs), in a serving on the nutrition label.

These microorganisms are often the same as or similar to the beneficial bacteria naturally present in your gut. They play an important role in supporting the balance and overall health of your gut microbiome. When the good bacteria rule, you’re feeling great; when the bad bacteria rule, trouble’s brewing!

Probiotics are found in certain foods, dietary supplements, and even some skincare products.

Some probiotic foods include: 

  • yogurt 
  • kefir 
  • sauerkraut 
  • kimchi
  • kombucha

To say it another way: kombucha is one source of probiotics, but there are other dietary sources of probiotics. 

One really important thing to explain is that there are MANY different strains of probiotics, kind of like there are different animals in the zoo. Your gut is happiest and healthiest when you have the right mixture of different bacteria in there. 

Research on probiotics is often investigating the impact of a specific strain of probiotics at a certain dose. If you are hoping to achieve a specific benefit of probiotics make sure that you’re taking the right strain at the right dose. 

So now that you understand the differences between kombucha and probiotics, let’s talk about their health benefits!

Health Benefits of Kombucha

Kombucha has been making waves for its reported beneficial effects on health. While the scientific evidence is still evolving, here’s a friendly rundown of what you might expect from these probiotic drinks:

Woman with an image of a happy gut

A Happy Gut 

As I began explaining earlier, kombucha is a fermented drink with a unique culture of bacteria and yeast, affectionately known as SCOBY (Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast). 

This magical mixture introduces live bacteria (the good type) into the drink, which may help keep your digestive tract in good spirits. Expect better digestion and an all-around healthier gut.

Interested in other ways to boost gut health? See our article on the 10 Best Herbs for Gut Health.

Antioxidant Boost

Because it is made from tea, kombucha is packed with antioxidants. One example of these antioxidants is polyphenols, which are like little warriors against oxidative stress. 

These antioxidants can reduce the risk of chronic diseases, keep your skin radiant, and even slow aging.

Want to know more about the great health benefits of polyphenols? See our article Green Tea vs. Herbal Tea: Which is Best For You?

A Helping Hand for Your Immune System

Your immune system gets a boost from a healthy gut, and that’s where kombucha steps in. Like other fermented foods, kombucha may indirectly strengthen your immune system by supporting your gut health (3). 

A Touch of Detox

In animal studies, kombucha appears to protect from liver damage by improving fat metabolism and reducing tissue damage and inflammation (4).

While it’s not a detox miracle (nothing is), kombucha also provides polyphenols, which may protect the liver against free radical formation and liver damage (5).

Cheers to a Brighter Mood

Believe it or not, there’s a connection between your gut and your mood. Depression and other mental health issues often involve ongoing, mild inflammation and stress. 

On the flip side, sticking to a diet full of foods that fight against these issues, like antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods, might offer some defense against depression.

Need help on where to start? Grab our FREE Printable Food List for an Anti-Inflammatory Diet.

While there is no research on kombucha specifically, fermented foods do appear to have a positive impact on mental health, possibly due to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and their ability to promote the growth of good bacteria in the gut (6).

woman's feet on scale with tape measure around ankles

Slim Sipping

While more research is needed, kombucha has been explored for its potential role in weight management. If you are replacing sugary drinks with kombucha and watching the calories (some types will be higher in calories than others) this may be a win for you. 

Also, there is some caffeine in kombucha, and caffeine intake is associated with weight loss (7).

Happy Skin 

With its antioxidants and potential detoxification effects, kombucha can contribute to healthier skin. Some people drink it or use it topically for a better complexion. In cell culture, kombucha appears to have a positive effect on skin hydration and pH (8).

Blood Sugar Balance

A recent small study in people with diabetes found that kombucha was associated with reduced blood glucose levels (9).

Now you know all the benefits, but you may be wondering, are there any disadvantages to drinking kombucha?

Downsides of Kombucha

Kombucha tea may be the darling of the health and wellness world, but like anything, it comes with some limitations. Kombucha is not recommended for anyone who (10):

  • is pregnant 
  • has significant renal disease 
  • has pulmonary disease 
  • has liver disease

For anyone else, before you dive headfirst into a sea of probiotics and antioxidants, let’s take a moment to explore some of the potential downsides:

Alcohol Alert 

Kombucha is fermented, which means it contains a smidge of alcohol—usually less than 0.5%. 

While the level is low enough to be considered non-alcoholic in most places, it’s something to keep in mind if you’re sensitive to alcohol or need to avoid it for personal, health, or religious reasons.

spoonful of sugar with a raspberry on top

Sugar Story 

Kombucha fermentation starts with tea and sugar. Some brands even add fruit juice or extra sugar for a flavor boost. If you’re watching your sugar intake, pay attention to the label.

Look for brands that have <10g sugar per 8 ounces. Since the American Heart Association recommends no more than 24g of sugar per day for women and 36g for men, you probably don’t want to have more than 8 ounces per day to keep your sugar intake in check. 

Tread Lightly 

Drinking too much kombucha in one go can lead to some stomach rumblings, like bloating and gas. It’s a good idea to start small – perhaps 4 ounces at a time – and see how your tummy feels about it.

Homebrew Hazards 

If you’re into DIY, know that making kombucha at home requires excellent hygiene. Mishandling can lead to unpleasant surprises like harmful bacteria or mold growth. Keep it clean!

Woman with big smile

Tooth Trouble 

Kombucha contains both acid and sugar, which can be a bit tough on your pearly whites. Drinking it in moderation and rinsing your mouth with water afterward can help protect your enamel.

Med Interaction Check 

If you’re taking any medications, particularly for diabetes, chat with your healthcare provider before going kombucha-crazy, as it might interfere with some meds.

Kombucha Research is Still New

While there’s a lot of buzz around kombucha’s potential benefits, it’s important to remember that the science is still playing catch-up

Most of the reported advantages are based on personal experiences, or research in a test tube or in animals. More research, particularly with humans, is needed for a clearer picture.

In a nutshell, kombucha is great in moderation, but it’s essential to be mindful of its potential downsides, especially if you have specific dietary needs or health concerns. 

As with any dietary change, a chat with a healthcare pro can bring peace of mind if you’re unsure about adding kombucha to your routine.

Next: Let’s switch gears and explore the world of probiotics. 

Health Benefits of Probiotics

You may have heard about probiotics and their role in gut health, but what exactly can they do for you? Let’s dive into the exciting world of these friendly bacteria and the ways they could benefit your well-being:

Happy Tummies with Better Digestion

Probiotics are your digestive system’s best friends. By maintaining a balanced gut microbiome, they can help ease common digestive issues like diarrhea, constipation, and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (11).

A Boost for Your Immune System

Did you know that a considerable part of your immune system resides in your gut? Just like we saw with drinking kombucha, taking probiotics can help create a harmonious gut environment, empowering your immune system to fight off infections and illnesses more effectively (12).

A Radiant Smile

Probiotics aren’t just about your gut; they support your oral health too. While research is still in the early stages, probiotics may decrease the risk of cavities, gum issues, and even bad breath (13)! 

Woman's smiling mouth

A Smile on Your Face and in Your Mind

Emerging research shows that your gut health may have a say in your mood and mental well-being. Although they can’t replace medications and therapy, by keeping your gut healthy, probiotics could play a part in decreasing anxiety and depression and promoting mental health (14).

Slimming Sidekick

While it’s still an evolving field, studies hint that probiotics might assist in weight management. It appears that overweight and obese people have lower diversity in their gut microbiome, and probiotics might correct this as well as affect hormone signaling and inflammation (15). 

Skin’s Best Friend

Your gut balance is also reflected in your skin. A healthy gut can lead to clearer, healthier skin (16). In addition, probiotics may help with more serious skin conditions like atopic dermatitis (17).

Allergy Warriors

Probiotics could reduce the risk of allergies and allergic reactions by helping your immune system stay in harmony (18).

If you are interested in other ways to tame allergy symptoms, read our post Natural Treatment: Does Vitamin C Help With Allergies?

Beat Antibiotic-Related Tummy Troubles

Taking probiotics alongside antibiotics can prevent the common side effect of antibiotic-associated diarrhea (19).

Remember, the effectiveness of probiotics can vary depending on the specific strains and your particular situation. While generally safe, those with weakened immune systems or specific health concerns should consult a healthcare professional before taking probiotics.

Embrace probiotic-rich fare as part of a healthy diet by savoring foods like yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi. And if you’re considering probiotics for a particular health goal, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare pro for guidance on the right strains and dosage for you. 

Nothing is without possible risk, even something with as many benefits as probiotics. Let’s discuss some of the potential risks of probiotics.

blocks spelling probiotics on wood table

Potential Risks of Probiotics

As a dietitian, I strive to clearly explain all sides of an issue. Probiotics are well-regarded for their potential health benefits, but like anything you consume, there are important considerations and potential risks. Your well-being is paramount, so let’s explore some factors to keep in mind:

Tummy Troubles 

Starting probiotics might initially cause some gas, bloating, or mild tummy discomfort. Don’t be discouraged; these effects are usually temporary as your gut gets used to the new “guests.” You can ease into probiotics by starting with a lower dose and gradually increasing it.

Special Caution for Weakened Immune Systems 

For individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with certain medical conditions or who’ve undergone organ transplants, there’s a small risk that probiotics might lead to infections. 

Always consult with your healthcare team before incorporating probiotics into your routine.

Allergic Reactions 

Though uncommon, some people might be allergic to specific probiotic strains or ingredients. If you experience signs of an allergic reaction (like hives or difficulty breathing), discontinue using the probiotic immediately and seek medical attention.

Gastrointestinal Concerns 

Rarely, probiotics can lead to severe gastrointestinal issues, especially in individuals with underlying health problems or compromised immune systems.

Medication Interactions 

Be aware that probiotics could potentially interact with certain medications, particularly antifungals and antibiotics (20). Research into potential interactions with other medications is ongoing. 

Always talk to your healthcare provider if you’re on any medications before starting a new supplement to minimize your risk of having an unexpected interaction.

Quality Control Matters 

Probiotics that are sold as dietary supplements don’t need approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being marketed. The quality and safety of probiotic supplements can vary between brands. 

Opt for reputable brands that undergo rigorous quality control and testing to ensure safety and effectiveness. You can also look for the NSF certification mark. NSF is an independent, third-party product verification organization that tests supplements for contaminants.

Weight Watch 

Some studies have hinted at potential weight gain associated with certain strains of probiotics. However, the reasons behind this effect are not fully understood, and more research is needed for confirmation.

In summary, while probiotics can be highly beneficial, being informed about potential risks is crucial, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions. 

Always reach out to your healthcare provider before diving into a probiotic regimen, as they can guide you in selecting the right strains and dosages to match your unique needs.

Person grabbing kombucha from the refrigerator

Kombucha vs Probiotics: Costs

Both kombucha and probiotics can be a costly addition to your routine. Typically, 16 oz bottles of kombucha can cost from $3 to $5. This can add up quickly if you are drinking them every day.

Probiotics range from $0.30 to $0.40 to more than $1 per day depending on the brand and what strains of bacteria are included in the product.

Kombucha vs Probiotics: Which is the Winner for You?

While neither replaces a healthy diet, both can be beneficial, so there’s no need to choose one over the other! I love kombucha for its general health benefits and bubbly taste.

Kombucha is a tasty and convenient way to introduce probiotics and antioxidants into your diet. It’s particularly suitable for anyone who enjoys the flavor and wants to maintain general digestive health. 

But, as mentioned, the amount and type of probiotics can vary greatly so you may need to try several varieties to find one that gives you the results you are looking for.

Probiotics are more versatile and can be specifically tailored to address certain health concerns. If you have a particular health goal or medical condition that could benefit from probiotics, you might prefer supplements or probiotic-rich foods with known strains and concentrations.

For the best results, you can include both in your diet if they align with your health and wellness objectives. However, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional for personalized guidance, especially if you have specific health concerns or conditions.

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