Kefir benefits

Kefir benefits in a funnel.

Kefir benefits are many and are scientifically proven, but the one that attracts me most is its probiotic properties; that means a happy colon, vital for thousands of reasons, not least protection against the neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer's disease. This is where the twisted tau-proteins are initiated by nasty E. Coli bacteria.

Unlike probiotic capsules which have only perhaps half a dozen different bacteria, kefir has over 30 varying strains. A low diversity of the microbiota in the gut is strongly associated with many serious conditions.(1)

It is in essence a cultured-milk drink, like yoghurt, only with a much more diverse body of friendly bacteria. It finds its origins in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

This page was last updated by Dr Bernard Preston on 4th March, 2020.

Role of gut microbiota in health and disease.

It is a fermented drink, made usually with milk, though there is a non-dairy kind.

As a DC I like it for its rich source of calcium; and it is a lot easier to make than yoghurt or maas.

You need a small plastic colander.

Plastic kefir funnel.

By Bernard Preston

  1. Get some active kefir culture from a friend, or the frozen seed from your health food store, and place them in a roughly half-litre glass bottle. A fairly wide lid is helpful.
  2. Add about a cup of milk. Raw might be better, but regular pasteurised dairy from the store works perfectly well.
  3. Leave it on the kitchen-counter for a few hours until it thickens. Then put it in the fridge.
  4. Pour the contents into the plastic sieve over a deep dish of sorts; I use a glass measuring-bowl. Allow to drain, and use a spoon to help the liquid through.
  5. Stir a little, rinse with unchlorinated water and then return the kefir granules to a clean bottle; add fresh milk and start again.
  6. Drink the culture, or use it in a variety of ways; with fruit, for example.

We have made yoghurt for years as a probiotic, but I love these kefir benefits; it is much easier to ferment and has far more, and diverse, nourishing bacteria and yeast cultures for the colon. The longer you leave it out of the fridge the stronger and more sour it gets.

Well-being means having a rich microbiota in the large intestine, so when we are beset by nasty bugs like E. Coli or Candida they are simply overwhelmed by the huge numbers of friendly bacteria and yeasts in the gut.

In scientific jargon, there is competitive exclusion of pathogens.

Yoghurt tends to be limited to the Lactobacillus family, all of which are good, but kefir benefits include over 30 strains of bugs.

In particular, it is the inclusion of Bifidobacterium species that makes it special.

Top of the list, from which it gets its name, is Lactobacillus kefiri.

The literature speaks of three different types of microbes that have been added to the kefir granules[3].

  1. Lactic acid bacteria
  2. Yeasts
  3. Acetic acid bacteria

Kefir benefits

Kefir benefits can be obtained simply from a tablespoon of coconut granules infused with bugs and a cup of milk; you will need a few glass bottles and a plastic sieve; it is very basic and easy to do.

It is an ancient recipe from Bulgaria, meaning feeling good. It is great news for your immune and digestive systems.

1. A rich and diverse probiotic

The official definition of a probiotic is as follows; live microorganisms that, when administered in adequate amounts, confer a benefit on the host.1

You can either pay quite a lot of money for your probiotics in capsules, or you can consume them daily from kefir as part of your diet.

Simply put they create a more favourable environment in the gut; which I can confirm. Kefir cured my heartburn.

2. Lactose tolerance

There is an approved claim that certain Lactobacillus strains produce beta-galactosidase, an enzyme that aids the digestion of milk-sugar in the gut.

Meaning that one of the kefir benefits is improved digestion of dairy products through better tolerance of lactose.

Many of the Bantu people are lactose-intolerant; milk gives them diarrhoea, so instead they turn it into maas. These bacilli strains curdle it and digest the sugar. A simpler alternative is kefir, offering a much wider variety of beneficial bacteria and yeasts.

Whilst there remain doubts in the minds of some about the role of dairy products in the nutrition of human beings, talk of a land of milk and honey go back to the very beginnings of recorded history. It is true that it likely came from a goat rather than a cow and quite different to what you would today by at the supermarket; it is pasteurized and homogenised but it remains an integral part of our diet.

Likewise bread and cheese has been the basis of our food for thousands of years; but again the refined supermarket loaf today is quite different to that from ages past. Eschewing whole grain and unprocessed dairy products is certainly not for the majority.

Another proven kefir benefit is improvement and regulation of intestinal transit; less diarrhoea or constipation.

3. Treatment and prevention of gastrointestinal diseases

A meta-analysis of 74 studies and 84 trials on over 10,000 patients concludes that claims that probiotics can treat and prevent GI diseases is legitimate.2

Many of these effects are specific to one strain; enjoying, on a daily basis, a broad spectrum of bacteria and yeasts gives one a much greater kefir benefit.

4. Antibacterial

All of us are faced on a daily basis with a barrage of pathogens from the air we breathe to the food and drink we consume, hands we touch, and so on. Any simple potent antibacterial potion that gives us protection is worth a consideration.

5. Osteoporotic fracture

Osteoporotic fracture is a painful reminder to all in the medical professions to continually remind women, not only old but the young too, of the disabling nature of collapse of the bones in the spine and hip, in particular.

Reaching the required bone mass by the early twenties is vital, and that means the young must also be informed.

Further, calcium-supplementation has been associated with a higher rate of heart disease as the mineral is laid down in the coronary arteries in those who do not exercise, or are on an inflammatory diet, making the great vessels rigid and more likely to rupture. Could you be insulin-resistant? There is trouble coming.

A great kefir benefit is that it supplies calcium in a more natural form along with vitamin K without coronary artery deposition. Research shows that this decreases the usual age-related decline in bone mass density.[3]

6. Kefir helps relieve diarrhoea, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome

By normalising the microbiota in the colon, the probiotics in kefir helps relieve diarrhoea, as for example that produced by lactose intolerance.

In addition protection against Helicobacter pylori, a major cause of stomach ulcers and cancer5,6, has been scientifically shown. Interestingly, populations that enjoy kefir daily, despite having H. pylori present in the stomach, do not get peptic ulcers. 

Furthermore various studies have shown relief from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome4, and a leaky bowel.

In other research published in 2019, 45 patients with inflammatory bowel disease were divided into two groups; the treatment participants were given 400 mL/day of kefir, in several doses each day. There was a decrease in the inflammatory markers, haemoglobin increased with less bloating and feel good scores improved significantly[9].

There are concerns about the role of post chlorination of reticulated water on the microbiome.

7. Kefir promotes important gut-brain neural circuits

The short chain fatty acids produced by fermentation in the gut by the microbiota promote important gut-brain neural circuits.(7)

8. Increased bacterial diversity in the colon is associated with less diabetes

There is a strong association between a healthy microbiome and both type 1 and 2 diabetes. Those short chain fatty acids help glucose regulation via the liver with very beneficial increased insulin-sensitivity.


"Let thy food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food."

Hippocrates (460 - 370 BC)


9. Kefir may decrease sleep disturbances

In a small study researchers found that kefir decreased sleep disturbances in those being treated for colorectal tumours.8

10. Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory skin condition having a profound effect on an infant's well-being. Researchers are now coming around to the opinion that it is caused by excessive hygiene which reduces exposure of our immune systems to the education of beneficial microbes.

They believe that the gut microbiome influences other distant organs like the skin and brain, for example.

This has lead to the coining of phrases such as the gut-skin axis. And the colon is being called the second brain; it is wellness of your colon that has a profound influence on whether we get Alzheimer's disease or not.

A considerable body of literature has been published on the beneficial effects of probiotics like kefir on atopic dermatitis.[9]

11. Gut-lung connection

The microbes in the gut impact on our immune response to foreign pathogens and allergens including several lung diseases. Those with lung diseases like asthma almost always also have intestinal disturbances[10].

It is speculative at this stage but there is a strong possibility that one of the kefir benefits is greater resistance to the Coronavirus from the support the microbiome gives to the immune system.

Resistant starch

Starch and carbohydrate in general have received bad press in the last few decades as the cause of obesity and diabetes type 2. Absorbed in the very long small intestine in humans refined carbs produce a surge in blood glucose, and ultimately insulin resistance.

However, resistant starch has the capacity to pass through the SI undigested, reaching the colon where it fermented by the microbiota producing not glucose but beneficial short chain fatty acids. Obviously one of the great kefir benefits is promoting this natural breakdown of resistant starches in the large bowel.

These SCFAs are the source of energy that the epithelial cells of the colon require.

Read more about resistant starch at this link.

Here is a thought; find a diabetic friend with a glucometer and before and after a full glass of freshly squeezed orange juice prick your fingers and take your blood glucose at 0, 30, 60 and120 minutes, with no real exercise. I am prediabetic; could you be too? Some of that starch may not be as resistant to small intestine digestion as we think. That could raise sugar levels more than anticipated.

In my case, if I take a ten minute brisk walk after a starchy meal, I am fine; it has little effect on my blood glucose.

Autoimmune diseases

There has been an explosion of a wide spectrum of autoimmune diseases in the last fifty years in the Western civilization. Increasingly research is pointing to a condition known as leaky gut syndrome as being one of the major causes.

A single layer of cells, known as the mucosal barrier which lines the gut, protects the body from pathogens and toxins in the bowel from penetrating our tissues and causing disease. However it must allow the passage of nutrients.

This single layer of epithelial cells is bound together by what are known as tight-junction proteins; any weakness here allows pathogens and toxins to penetrate the body.

In a profound paper, reported in Frontiers in Immunology, this process is eloquently described, including how probiotics like kefir will help prevent the autoimmune diseases associated with a leaky bowel.7

Kefir sourdough bread

Take a little test; have a slice of your usual bread with only butter; is it tasteless and dull? Never use margarine, by the way; butter is back, and should never have been banished to Coventry in the first place. Heart attack has far more to do with refined carbohydrates that stress your pancreas repeatedly ending up in insulin resistance than saturated fat.

If your slice of bread and butter is so utterly boring that you simply must have a slice of ham or a tablespoon of jelly, then it is time to try kefir sourdough bread; you will be astonished just how wonderful it tastes.

Even more important than the taste is the low GI; it should not cause the dramatic rise in blood sugar that a slice of refined bread does. There is a disgraceful law in place that allows millers to describe their loaf as wholemeal provided they do not remove more than 40 percent of the goodies; that is the germ where the precious oils and vitamins are found, and the bran where the lignans are located. They are the gems that help prevent breast tumours. Is it any wonder we live in a sickly world?

You may think it is crazy but, by taking only five minutes, I think we should all get back to baking our own bread. The taste is to die for and it is far more nutritious.

Maintenance dose of kefir

The question arises as to how often should you be having kefir to maintain the diverse microbiome in your alimentary canal. Is a tablespoon okay, or should it be a whole glass?

I have not found a satisfactory answer in the literature, but really it all depends on your lifestyle, general well-being and diet.

For those regularly on medicines, especially antibiotics, or drinking diet sodas frequently which we know are bad for the colon, and the pancreas, then a daily dose of kefir benefits is probably mandatory, but that is just an opinion.

For the rest, one good shot a week, or better still a more dilute half-glass daily is probably fine. Let us be honest, it is sour stuff so, for a maintenance dose of kefir, I now keep it in the refrigerator once the milk has curdled; then it is a lot more palatable.

I am happy to report that one year down the road, my heartburn is still gone; it would seem that the kefir bugs have overcome the unfriendly heliobacter pylori in my stomach simply by their numbers, but that could only be confirmed by another gastroscopy which obviously I am not going to undergo since I no longer have daily pain.

Cost

The cost of maintaining a happy colon is that of one cup of milk a day (R2.50 in 2019), or about R75 per month. The maintenance dose would be half or less than that.

A commercial supplement containing only Lactobacillus rhamnosus costs R600 per month.

Over and above the bacteria you get calcium and protein as an additional kefir benefit which you would not obtain from the supplement.

Is about five minutes work worth the saving and extra benefits of kefir over the supplement? Does well-being come out of a bottle, or from enjoying nutritious food? In addition there is the matter of disposing of the single-use plastic bottle.

Take home

The take home from all this is that we can all enjoy protection from a host of nasty diseases from Lupus to Parkinson's, and perhaps the coronavirus by taking only five minutes every day to ferment milk and enjoy all these kefir benefits.

Or you can pay a lot of money to a probiotics company that will happily supply you with far fewer of these healthy bugs and help boost their bottom line. One child in the home could be given the responsibility to make sure there is a small jug of kefir on the table each morning at breakfast.

It is a soured-milk product and as such an acquired taste; add it to fruit, a sprinkle of cinnamon or half a teaspoon of raw honey. However you manage it, make sure your family has all these kefir benefits. Greater wellness is not rocket science; it is about sticking to the basics.

Remember that the best diet in the world will not help the calcium status of your bones if you are not active; that is what stimulates the bones to take up the mineral from your food.

Ineffective bacterial species

A meta-analysis of a large number of studies concludes that probiotics have a generally beneficial effect in gastrointestinal diseases; however the bacterial species L. acidophilus, L plantarum and B. infantis were not effective.

If you decide to choose the capsules route rather than kefir, then read the label. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the main bacterium in most strains of yoghurt, yet it is the least effective in ensuring better health of the gut[2].

Kefir has over 30 different strains.

From a reader

Thank you so very much for your gift of the kefir starter and plastic sieve.

The Kefir soon solved all my painful stomach bloating and gas and has made my bowel movements very regular. I have been using the small Black Cat Peanut butter jar with the seed in it, filling it with milk up to the start of the slope, leaving for about 24hrs, strainlng, then drinking the strained culture last thing at night, washing the bottle well and replacing the seed in another and repeating.

I would just like to ask whether you use full cream, or low-fat milk? Should it be raw, or pasteurised, and homogenised or powdered? When I first started, I had not bought dairy for years and was stunned by the array of choices.

The Kefir seed grows so fast that I have been freezing the excess and do not know what to do with it. I have found that I need to use more of the culture in cold weather and less when it is hot as I do not have temperature control.

  1. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and health @ BMJ
  2. A meta-analysis of probiotic efficacy for gastrointestinal diseases.
  3. Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products

9. Effect of administering kefir on the changes in fecal microbiota and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease: A randomized controlled trial

  1. Bernard Preston
  2. Meaning of starch
  3. Kefir benefits

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