Is Kombucha Safe? The great Alcohol Debate

If you're a listener to the most amazing Balanced Bites Podcast, you may have heard Liz Wolfe teasing a new fertility program/site, Baby Making and Beyond, that we are hard at work on. I'm SOOO excited to share this comprehensive information source for everything from fertility, pregnancy, trimester by trimester real food nutrition and popular postpartum topics. We want to have answers to all your questions so if you have something you'd like us to include, please send me a message! This program hopes to launch mid-2015 and will be kicked off with a fantastic 28 day Baby Makin' Bootcamp. Stay tuned for more info on that. 

One of the topics covered on the podcast last week was a question regarding the safety of Kombucha during pregnancy. I wrote about this topic a while back. Here's the link to the Kombucha Saved My Life Post.  Our Baby Makin' and Beyond program will answer questions just like this but until it's launched here's a brief rundown on the safety of Kombucha consumption in pregnancy.

Let's start by breaking down just what's in commercially made Kombucha. As I wrote about in my previous post, I ONLY recommend commercially made Kombucha during pregnancy. 

Kombucha Composition in a Nutshell

Tea (green, black, white): contains caffeine ~ 8-14mg/ 8oz

Sugar:~ 2-6g/8oz

  • This isn't much sugar at all. Kombucha's low sugar content is considered safe for women with blood sugar regulation issues and one serving of Kombucha is even considered acceptable on many Paleo 30 day challenges or while on the 21-day Sugar Detox Program.

Scoby: good bacteria to feed your gut flora

  • Optimizing gut flora is a great idea for both fertility and during your pregnancy. Kombucha was originally used as a digestive aid because the bacteria helps you optimize your gut flora and thus digest your food more efficiently. This can help to maximize the nutrient absorption from your diet. Adding a new probiotic into your regime can sometimes cause a "cleansing effect". If you are newly pregnant and aren't already a long time Kombucha drinker, I would recommend starting with very small doses (2-3oz/day) or just avoid it entirely just to be on the safe side. Once your system has gotten used to the bacteria, it is theoretically safe to continue during pregnancy and many of my pregnant friends happily enjoy 8-16oz/day with no side effects. In fact, a number of friends use GT's Gingerade as a pretty effective remedy for first trimester nausea. 

Alcohol: ~0.5%

  • This is the big concern for most women. While we don't know if there is ANY safe amount of alcohol consumption in pregnancy, we do know that 0.5% is a very small amount. In Canada and the US, non- alcoholic beer and wine are defined as anything 0.5% or less. I know many physicians who have told friends that it's okay to enjoy a non-alcoholic beer (0.5% alcohol content) a day with no evidence of harmful effects. One study even indicated that upwards of 40% of physicians tell their patients that even the occasional glass of wine (11-14%) is safe after the first trimester.  If drinking the occasional glass of 13% wine a week is considered by some to be safe and a bottle of 0.5% O'Dooles beer a day is safe can we say the same for Kombucha?

Some of GT's Classic Synergy products in the United States are labeled a must be "21 or over" with contents at or above 0.5%, while the Enlightened and Classic Kombucha versions have lower amounts of alcohol and do not require special labels. In Canada, there are no such label regulations or warnings on any GT products.

But is it really safe? Well, we don't totally know. Obviously it is unethical to run randomized clinical trials on pregnant women, but, there have been some studies that analyze long term data from pregnant women that we can use to make our assumptions. Once study of over 7600 women measured levels of behavioural problems among 2-year olds. The results were similar between women who reported zero drinking (11%) vs < 1 drink/wk (13.7%) vs light drinking 2-3 drinks/ wk (9%). Multiple studies seem to conclude that very light alcohol consumption may be safe during pregnancy. 

Studies indcate that it isn't the occasional small amounts of alcohol that put our babies at risk for Fetal Alcohol Disorder but it is the BINGE type drinking that is most dangerous. This makes perfect sense when we consider the science behind alcohol metabolism. 

Alcohol is metabolized in the body by a variety of enzymes including alcohol dehydrogenase (ADH), cytochrome P450 (CYP2E1) and catalase. ADH is the powerhouse of the metabolizers and is found in our liver. It's a supply and demand system. The more you drink, the more dehydrogenase you produce. This is why midwives, who live a life on call, are classically cheap dates :) This enzyme is also present in variable amounts depending on your ethnicity. Aboriginal and people of East Asian decent tend to have less and metabolize alcohol at a much slower rate. When you overwhelm this system with LARGE amounts of alcohol in one sitting, like when you binge drink, your body can't keep up with the demand for the ADH enzyme and your blood alcohol content goes up dramatically, crossing the placenta and potentially causing great harm to your developing baby. Bottom line...NEVER binge drink during pregnancy.

So what happens when we consume small amounts of alcohol like what's found in Kombucha or even baking extracts (like vanilla)? While we have no proof that this level of consumption is 100% safe, I feel like it's pretty fair to say that it's likely fine. While I'm not advocating going out and drinking a glass of wine every night, I am suggesting that perhaps the 0.5% we find in our daily 8oz of GT's may be totally safe. What do you think? Send me you're thoughts. 

Kombucha has saved my life

 Do you ever feel like a fish out of water? Like you just don't fit in? This has pretty much been my experience since leaving my mountain home about 18 months ago. I traded fresh air, trail runs and mountain vistas for big city lights,  treadmills and smog alerts. I moved with the intention to be closer to my family during a difficult time, but now that things have settled, this cavegirl is packing up and moving home to the mountains! 

I'm headed back to  Canmore Alberta to re-establish my small midwifery practice. I hope to bring some more birth choices back to the women of my community.  I'm so excited and feel like this is the best decision I've ever made. You know when something just feels SO right? Sometimes you have to leave to find out just where your "home" really is.  

All that being said, it's been a long and busy few months and I thank you all for the kind emails of support I've been receiving. There is a lot of work to be done and my blog and site has fallen a bit by the wayside as I re-establsh myself and move across the country.

All this stress has got me do you keep yourself healthy during times of turmoil and STRESS? For me, Kombucha is a key part of staying healthy, plus it tastes great. GT's Gingerberry is amongst my favourites. I'm yet to try making my own. My friend Laurie is making some experimental brews and I'm hoping to learn from her mistakes and start my own batch this summer when I have a bit more time on my hands! 


This lovely naturally fermented tea is chock full of everything that is good for you and it tastes soooo good.

Kombucha is made from tea which is fermented by a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast (a SCOBY, a.k.a. “mother” because of its ability to reproduce, or “mushroom” because of its appearance). Most commercial Kombucha is blended with a fruit juice of sorts. A lot of people I've spoken to worry about the  sugar content, however the sugar is an essential part of the fermentation process and the end result isn't very high in sugar. In fact, up to 8oz is permited on the popular 21-day sugar detox and it is whole 30 approved.  

Kombucha is well known to be full of probiotics. Probiotics are not only important for good gut health, but they are also a key componet in a healthy immune system. Kombucha has anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties. In rats, it's been shown to improve liver function and protect against oxidative stress.

Kombucha is also full of organic acids including glucuronic acid, lactic acid and oxalic acid, all of which aid the body in detoxification and protection from viruses, fungus and bacteria. 

Kombucha also is amazing at regulating bowel function in times of stress. I don't know about you, but when I travel or get stressed out, I just DONT go (I bet you always wanted to know that). However, when I drink a bottle (2 servings) of kombucha a day during these times, my guts thank me and I'm able to eliminate with much more ease. 

My Best-y Laurie's fine looking brew

Even pregnant women can enjoy this tasty beverage. If you make your own however, I caution you to master your skill before you get knocked up. Great recipes are found in Jill's book Fermented, I also like Wellness Mama's Kombucha Soda recipe. I often mix half a bottle of GT with lemon juice and carbonated water from my sodastream to make a yummy "pop".  I digress...Back to the safety piece....The tea must ferment properly and under sanitary conditions to prevent contamination by airborne pathogens. You should also ensure your Kombucha pots and containers are free of lead-tainted ceramic glaze as the acidic compounds in kombucha may cause this to leach into the mixture, contaminating it with the heavy metal. This is the one time where I kinda trend towards purchasing your drinks from a company such as GT's over making your own but hey...this could possibly be because I am a Kombucha virgin. 

Worried about alchol content? When I was recently in Florida visiting my folks I noticed the packaging was WAY different there than it is in Canada. You have to be over 21 to buy Kombucha? After some investigation, the alcohol content in Classic Kombucha is less than 0.5%...totally safe for pregnant cavemama's so please enjoy! 

What's your favourite flavour or recipe?