We don’t really know what causes or cures Crohn’s disease, says Diane R. Javelli, a dietitian with the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle.
But we do know this: If you have Crohn’s, it’s harder to maintain the balance of “bad” and “good” bacteria in your gut. You have fewer of the type that can reduce inflammation. And this imbalance can lead to diarrhea and other digestive problems.
Could kombucha help?
Kombucha is a sour, fizzy, fermented drink most often made with green or black tea, Javelli says. Some types of kombucha are high in probiotics. These are live microbes added to food or supplements with the intent to benefit your body. “They are the type that live in harmony with us and help keep us healthy,” Javelli says.
Why People With Crohn’s Try Kombucha
Some people with Crohn’s try kombucha because they hope the probiotics will help restore their gut’s balance.
“A lot of my patients have tried or continue to take probiotics,” Javelli says. “Many say they think it helps in some way. It may make them less gassy or bloated. Or it may help regulate bowel movements, causing less diarrhea or constipation. Others say they feel they get more bloated when they take the probiotics.”
It’s hard to tell whether the probiotics or some other factor makes their symptoms better or worse, she adds.
One challenge is that no one regulates probiotics. “So it’s difficult to know what you’re getting,” Javelli says. There are many, many different types and strains of these good bacteria.
“We also don’t know what each person already has in their digestive system or what they need,” she says. What kind of bacteria do people with Crohn’s need? And is it different for each person with Crohn’s? “We really don’t know.”
“There also isn’t a lot of research proving the benefits of probiotics,” she says. “The American Gastroenterology Association recently released new guidelines saying that there isn’t enough data to warrant their use with most conditions.”
Even fewer studies have found benefits of probiotics for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s. They haven’t clearly shown the ability to prevent or lessen symptoms of Crohn’s disease.
Other Possible Benefits of Kombucha
Safe, with few side effects, however, kombucha contains other substances that may help people with Crohn’s.
Kombucha contains polyphenols, present in kombucha’s green or black tea. They may help to:
Some types of kombucha also contain glucosamine. This may help with joint pain, which is common in people with Crohn’s. But, Javelli says, we need more research to know if any of these are clear benefits of kombucha.
If You Try Kombucha
If her patients want to try probiotics, Javelli encourages them to get it from food sources, rather than supplements. This might include yogurt, sauerkraut, miso, or tempeh. She doesn’t advise drinking kombucha for Crohn’s. But if you have Crohn’s and want to try it, she suggests you:
- Discuss it first with your doctor.
- Make sure you’re not on medications that suppress your immune system.
- Not use a homemade kombucha. “If you don’t handle it the right way, home-brewed kombucha can grow mold, fungus, or other toxins,” she says. This can make you sick. Kombucha that’s fermented too long can also develop too much acetic acid. This can also make you sick.
- Use a commercial kombucha. The products are more likely to be standardized and safe.
- Check the ingredients. Not all kombucha is the same. Choose a product that contains no or little alcohol. “Three percent or higher is too much,” Javelli says. High levels of caffeine may also worsen loose stools. And high levels of lactic or acetic acid may be harmful if you have acid reflux.
- Start slow and drink a small amount. See how your body does before drinking more. If you overdo it, you may get more gas, bloating, or loose stools. Do you already have a poor appetite, weight loss, diarrhea, or trouble absorbing nutrients? “If so, the last thing you want is to take something that makes your symptoms worse,” Javelli says.
- Include prebiotic foods, which help feed the probiotics. These are mostly complex carbs. Examples include onion, garlic, bananas, artichokes, and asparagus.
- Whatever you do, don’t rely on just one thing, such as kombucha. For example, don’t forget to: