kombucha: endo friend, foe or phoney?

Trigger warning: you are about to read a very millennial post about a very millennial gal who drinks a very millennial beverage. I’m aware. Sorry bout it.

Kombucha, whilst working wonders for me, can be a hot point of contention in the endo community. I see posts in equal measures about how it saves and ruins peoples’ days. So, I thought I’d do a little investigating into the premise.

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a sweet tea drink fermented with a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). During the process of fermentation, the sugar is converted to ethanol and acetic acid. Yup, ethanol… as in alcohol… as in you may get IDed at Sainsbos during your lunch break whilst trying to buy one (true story). But, friend-to-friend, if you’re thinking of rocking up to pre-drinks with a few chilled bottles of kombucha, you may want to reconsider. Kombucha rarely has an ABV of over 0.5%.

‘Fun’ fact (at least for people like me): kombucha is often wrongfully assumed to originate in Japan. While the Japanese do like to kick their feet up with some kombucha, this is not the drink we know and (sometimes) love. In Japan, kombucha is a tea made with kelp – close, but not close enough. Somewhere along the way, the Japanese word was likely loaned and ultimately redefined.

The exact origin of kombucha isn’t known. It is thought that the beverage may have originated in Manchuria (Northeast Asia) but, as far as dating the drink goes, guesses are in the region of 200 and 2,000 years ago. What a mysterious brew indeed.

The theory

People swear by kombucha as remedies for a whole host of things including arthritis pain, a poor immune system, obesity, and fatigue. But, shockingly, I’m going to focus on the role of kombucha in an endometriosis diet and lifestyle plan. Advocates for kombucha rely primarily on the benefits of the drink’s probiotics on the gut.

Dr Susan P Willman, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Reproductive Science Center Bay Area, ‘recommend[s] eating at least one serving of a probiotic-rich food a day’ and lists kombucha as one such option. She suggests that the probiotics in kombucha can ‘reduce the presence of inflammatory bacteria in the gut and restore good bacteria that may have been destroyed’ [1].

Dr Lisa Watson, a neuropathic doctor from Canada, lists kombucha (amongst other fermented foods) as a ‘food to enjoy’ within an endometriosis-friendly diet. She believes that ‘fermented foods support estrogen balance by providing a food source of friendly bacteria’ [2]. The theory here is that when our gut is out of whack (gut dysbiosis, if we’re being fancy), so are our hormones. Out-of-whack hormones = out-of-whack estrogen = possibility for endometrial lesions to ‘stimulate’ and ‘grow’. This ties in with other popular endo ‘treatments’ such as B6 (which balances estrogen dominance through progesterone enhancement) and diindolylmethane (DIM) (which supports the metabolization and expulsion of excess estrogen from the body).

There you have it: a few starter-for-10 theories to support the introduction of kombucha into an endo treatment plan.

The reality

The bottom line is that there really is little to no scientific evidence to support a claim either for or against kombucha as a treatment for/relief to endometriosis.

For example, quite contrary to the above (glowing) reviews, the American Cancer Society suggests that ‘serious side effects and occasional deaths have been associated with drinking kombucha tea’. I’m hoping for some degree of melodrama with that report otherwise, boy, am I screwed. Luckily, from what I’ve been reading, most of the concerns stem from poor brewing practices and over-indulgence above anything else. But the point stands: the position varies from the sublime to (what I sincerely hope is) the ridiculous.

Duelling experiences

I drink kombucha around 2-3 times a week on an ad hoc basis. It settles my stomach and can help to quell the periods of nausea I experience on a daily basis. My tummy is a not a happy place, but this drink has been known to help. Having said that – I do need to caveat something. I try my hardest to only drink kombucha with lower sugar levels. When I drink an excessively sugary kombucha I absolutely do not reap any of the benefits and, indeed, can often feel a great deal worse off for it.

I will say here that many of my gals in the endo community have posted (not infrequently) about how incompatible kombucha is with their symptoms. Without opting for a full-blown investigation, I imagine this is largely due to the yeast in the drink. Many endo warriors follow a gluten-free diet and so, clearly, kombucha would not be at all suitable. But I’ll write about gluten-free endo another time, for fear of being here all day.

So there we have it: jury is out on whether this popular beverage is an endo friend, foe or phoney. I’d love to hear your thoughts so get commenting. As always, thanks for reading. Endo and out.

[1] Dr SP Willman, https://rscbayarea.com/blog/probiotic-foods-endometriosis.

[2] Dr L Watson, http://drlisawatson.com/endometriosis-diet.

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