Does Kombucha Cure GERD?

Kombucha benefits your health — this fermented beverage contains healthy probiotic bacteria. These probiotics are well-known for being beneficial for your gastrointestinal health. However, as an acidic, fizzy beverage, kombucha is more likely to aggravate your GERD than to resolve it.

Kombucha's benefits are fairly limited compared to other fermented foods. Credit: blanaru/iStock/GettyImages

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Kombucha's benefits are fairly limited compared to other fermented foods. There's no reason to believe kombucha can cure GERD. However, other probiotics may be able to help.

Read more: 13 Surprising and Beneficial Probiotic Foods

Kombucha's Benefits and Nutrition

Kombucha is a fermented tea-based beverage. This drink is usually made with black tea, but you can use virtually any tea if you're making it at home. This drink also requires a sweetener, like sugar, agave nectar or honey. The final essential ingredient is known as the kombucha mother or SCOBY: a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

According to the Cleveland Clinic and a March 2018 study in the Journal of Food Science, kombucha contains a range of beneficial nutrients. These include essential nutrients like copper, iron, manganese, zinc, vitamin B1 (thiamin), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B6, vitamin B12 and vitamin C. It's also rich in beneficial antioxidants known as polyphenols.

Kombucha's benefits do not come only from its nutrition, either. The bacteria and yeast in kombucha are considered to be probiotics, which are healthy bacteria that benefit your gut and overall health. Many probiotics occur naturally, inside your gastrointestinal tract. You can also consume probiotics through food and drinks.

The nutrition and probiotics kombucha contains give it a variety of benefits for your health. Kombucha's benefits include:

  • Reducing cholesterol levels
  • Lowering blood sugar levels
  • Antimicrobial properties
  • Reducing the risk of cancer
  • Improving liver function
  • Improving gastrointestinal health

Read more: Are Shrubs the New Kombucha?

Kombucha and GERD

Although kombucha has been shown to have benefits for gastrointestinal health, there's no reason to believe that it will cure your GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). In fact, you may want to avoid kombucha altogether if you have this condition.

GERD, which leads to irritation of the esophagus through acid reflux, is usually caused by a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter. However, Harvard Health Publishing and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy also say that this disease is related to other factors, like:

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Overeating
  • Hiatus hernia
  • Pregnancy
  • Medications
  • Certain food products

Although there are medications that can help treat GERD, people are usually asked to make dietary and lifestyle changes that can greatly minimize symptoms. Foods known to trigger GERD include garlic, onions, tomato products, citrus fruits, acidic foods, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, fried foods, fatty foods, spicy foods, chocolate, alcohol, coffee and carbonated beverages.

If you've had kombucha before, you'll know that it fits several criteria that you should avoid if you have GERD. Kombucha is both acidic and carbonated due to the fermentation process it undergoes. This means that kombucha and GERD are not compatible. Kombucha is likely to aggravate your GERD and may even increase the severity of its symptoms.

Acid Reflux Diet and Probiotics

You probably want to consume kombucha for the positive effect you think its probiotics will have on your gastrointestinal system. Fortunately, there are other probiotic-rich beverages, like lassi (an Indian yogurt-based milkshake), that might be more suitable than kombucha for GERD.

This milk-based beverage is fairly mild in flavor and is never carbonated. However, it sometimes contains added fruits to sweeten the final product, so be careful you're not consuming any acidic or citric fruits by accident.

Unfortunately, most foods that are rich in probiotics are also acidic. You should probably stay away from fermented fruits and vegetables, like kimchi, that tend to be sour and spicy. But based on the Cleveland Clinic acid reflux diet guidelines, you may be able to consume products like:

  • Fermented soy products, like miso, natto, tofu and tempeh
  • Fermented rice products
  • Low-fat fermented milk products, like buttermilk, kefir, cheese and Greek yogurt
  • Fermented vegan alternatives to lactose products, like coconut yogurt
  • Fermented seafood products

These products are milder in flavor and acid content — but be careful that they don't contain any added ingredients that aren't suitable for an acid reflux diet. For example, yogurt-based dishes like raita (a savory yogurt-based Indian side dish) and kishk (a Lebanese food made of fermented bulgur and yogurt) could technically be fine to consume on their own. However, both of these products often contain additional ingredients.You're may find garlic, onions, tomatoes and lemons added to them.

Read more: The Benefits of Fermented Foods and 5 DIY Recipes

Beneficial Acid Reflux Diet Probiotics

Although kombucha and GERD are not compatible, you're right to think that probiotics can help resolve your symptoms. According to the chapter "Probiotics, Prebiotics and Biogenics for the Stomach" from the book Human Nutrition and Health, published in March 2016, there are two specific types of Lactobacillus bacteria that are suitable for an acid reflux diet. These are Lactobacillus johnsonii No. 1088 and Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2716.

Both of these probiotics work in different ways. Lactobacillus johnsonii No. 1088 works to reduce the number of Heliobacter pylori in the stomach. Heliobacter pylori is a disease-causing bacteria that can cause a range of gastrointestinal issues like GERD and stomach ulcers. This bacteria is also thought to be one of the primary causes of gastric cancers.

Lactobacillus johnsonii No. 1088 also works to reduce the amount of gastric acid your body produces, which can help minimize GERD-related symptoms. Lactobacillus gasseri OLL2716 also reduces gastric acid, but by reducing the amount of gastrin-producing cells in your body (they are the ones that produce your stomach acid).

Another highly specific type of Lactobacillus bacteria can support an acid reflux diet and GERD treatments. According to a January 2018 study in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, a bacteria known as Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 helped reduce GERD-related symptoms in children.

In this case, this bacteria was administered in conjunction with a common medication used to treat GERD: a proton pump inhibitor. Unlike the other types of Lactobacilli, this bacteria worked by restoring a healthy ratio of positive-to-negative bacteria found in these children's microbiomes.

Unfortunately, not all Lactobacilli are created equal. Bacteria from the same family can have different effects on your gastrointestinal system and health. Given how specific these species are, this means that you'd likely have to take a probiotic supplement or make your own fermented foods at home to obtain the benefits of these beneficial probiotic bacteria.

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