Kefir benefits

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[13].

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.

Kefir benefits in a funnel.

Before kefir benefits, for fifteen odd years, I rarely had a good first half of the night. After my introduction to this probiotic I rarely had a bad sleep; goodbye heartburn.

- Dr Bernard Preston


This page was last updated by Dr Bernard Preston on 27th January, 2021.

Role of gut microbiota in health and disease.

Kefir benefits is a fermented drink, made usually with milk, though there is a non-dairy kind. I have not tried it because you need a lot of sugar, my nemesis.

As a DC I like kefir benefits for its rich source of calcium; and it is a lot easier to make than yoghurt or maas; it has a much wider spectrum of friendly bugs.

You need a small plastic colander.

Plastic kefir funnel.

Get some active culture from a friend, or the frozen-seed from your wellness store and learn how to make kefir.

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.

Once you cook with it though, as in making sourdough bread, the bacteria of course are killed; so some must be drunk unheated.

We love making smoothies.

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. It is pronounced 'kefeer' with an emphasis on the ee sound and a roll of the last letter.


"Far from being parasites, the microbes that call our intestines home appear to be integral to our survival. They are involved in maintaining the integrity of the intestinal lining; they help protect against disease-causing organisms, and they may play roles in immune system function, energy metabolism, and even how our brains work."

Tufts University school of nutrition science.


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[16].

You can either pay quite a lot of money for your probiotics in capsules, or you can consume them daily as part of your food; we regularly enjoy this rich kefir smoothie.

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 is quite different to what you would today buy at the supermarket; it is pasteurized and homogenised but it remains an integral part of our food.

Likewise bread and cheese have 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 ought certainly only to be for those who are highly allergic.

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 diverse effects are specific to one or other 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 the elderly, but the young too when prevention should begin, 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 enjoying inflammatory foods, 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].

Of great concern is research published in Neurology that calcium supplementation not only raises the risks of cardiovascular disease, but also dementia. This is particularly true if an elderly woman has had a stroke or signs of cerebrovascular disease; in fact a massive seven times greater likelihood[11]. However the authors stress that this is not the case when getting increased amounts of the mineral from our food; in fact they conclude that it gives protection. 

My conclusion is that especially if you are taking pills for high blood pressure you should not be consuming calcium supplements. Let your food be your medicine, said Hippocrates; how right he was.

Beer also is a good source of calcium with half a litre containing about 5 -10% of our daily need of roughly 1000 mg/day, depending on the origin of your tipple. An ale from Germany for example contains six times as much of the mineral as one from Portugal[10]


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

By normalising the normal flora 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 tumours[5,6], 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 syndrome[4], and a leaky gut.

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 broad spectrum 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.

12. Constipation

The normal stool is mostly water. One of the main bugs in the colon is Bifidobacterium; it traps and holds moisture. In the absence of these probiotics, our fecal material tends to be dry and rock-hard making it very difficult to pass.

Owing to refined carbohydrates in our food, chemicals such as artificial sweeteners and antibiotics the levels of Bifidobacterium species in our alimentary canals drop dramatically as we get older making the passage of the stool increasingly difficult.

One still needs adequate amounts of prebiotics, the undigested fibre in our food that reaches the colon; this is what the natural flora must have to flourish. Recolonising the microbiome can be done from tablets, but research done by independent Consumer Lab found that one third of probiotic products had virtually no live bacteria.

Kefir contains over thirty different friendly living bacteria and yeasts, including the all-important bifidobacterium species that help to control constipation.

13. Blindness

Scientists at Tuft's University found that friendly bacteria in the microbiome produce certain metabolites, especially serotonin, that have a vital function in protecting the retina from loss of pigmentation and toxic lipofuscin accumulation, and degeneration of the colour receptors that is typical of adult-onset macular degeneration, the chief cause of blindness in persons over 50.

Conversely, those on eating food high in refined grains, lacking the fibre that acts as the prebiotic for the bugs, encourages growth of pathogenic Clostridiales bacteria that are associated with a much higher incidence of macular degeneration[12].

Kefir benefits would help prevent this, but would not undo the damage done by refined grains in our food.

14. Childhood temperament

Researchers reporting in Brain Behav Immun state that there is a significant correlation between the composition of the gut microbiota and early temperament in 301 small children, already known to be associated with mental well-being problems later in life.

Bifidobacterium and others, and the diversity of the bugs, are associated with what they call 'positive emotionality.' Neurotransmitters released by what is what is being called the second brain are carried via the vagus nerve and blood stream to the limbic system which processes emotion and stress.

Our children too will benefit from kefir benefits.

When the infant is born it is exposed to the mother's vaginal and rectal bacteria that immediately take up residence in the newborn's gut, interacting with the immature immune system and preparing it for greater well-being later in life.

Those born via C-section have significant lower levels, and different bugs, meaning the immune system may not be properly primed and explain why they are more prone to many allergies later in life, various inflammatory diseases and even obesity.

In another study reseachers found that the bacteria in the gut of babies who were allergic to milk were quite different to those who had no such negative reaction to dairy products.

The correct fibre from our food also appears to have an influence on which bugs thrive in the gut.

15. Prevention of 'long covid'

A C-19 infection is characterised by an overaggressive response by the body with the release of many inflammatory markers like cytokines.

Researchers reporting in the British Medical Journal after comparing stool samples and blood inflammatory markers of those with and without the infection, found profound differences in the gut microbiota.

Those without a highly diversified spectrum of friendly bacteria in the gut were far more likely to suffer from a cytokine storm causing the multiorgan dysfunction seen in many Covid patients.

Moreover they found that this depletion of certain species of bacteria continued after the infection was over and correlated with the symptoms of long Covid such as fatigue, joint and muscle pains and difficulty breathing[14]. Brain fog is another term being used repeatedly by those suffering from Long Covid. One in ten are still feeling the after-effects of the disease three months later, and for some it continues much longer.

We posit that a micriobiome that is rich in numbers and diversity is one of the kefir benefits, helping to modulate the aggressive cytokine storm of the disease, and perhaps even explain why some have no or minimal symptoms after infection.

16. Kefir helps negate the effect of glyphosate on the microbiome

Glyphosate, also known as Roundup, is the most commonly used herbicide in farming; it inhibits an important enzyme in weeds called EPSP-synthase.

Unfortunately it blocks the same enzyme in many beneficial bacteria in the gut, but does not do so to two nasty pathogens from the Clostridium and Salmonella species, allowing them to proliferate whilst the good guys are inhibited; an overgrowth or dysbiosis occurs.

These two pathogens generate toxins that are found in very high levels in the brain causing emotional and neurological dysfunction, and neurodegenerative diseases[15].

One of the important kefir benefits is to balance the toxic effect this weedicide is having on our well-being.

The microbiome is also vitally important for the synthesis and transport of folate, or vitamin B9, in the gut

17. Skeletal muscle size

Skeletal muscle is the largest organ in our bodies, and it is central in walking, loss of independence and reduced quality of life in the elderly. It should come as no surprise, but it does, that the gut microbiota has a profound influence on this aspect of our well-being too[17].

18. Bloating

Studies show that kefir reduces gas in the stomach by up to 70pc, thus reducing bloating.

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.

18. 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 these kefir benefits will help prevent the autoimmune diseases associated with a leaky bowel.7

Likewise in Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis there is a marked drop of inflammatory markers, an increase in blood haemoglobin and feel-good scores, and significantly less bloating[9].

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.

You are using kefir benefits as the starter to predigest the starches and gluten.

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 benefits 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 the food you eat.

For those regularly on medicines, especially antibiotics, or drinking sodas  artificially sweetened 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 four years 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 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; less than 10 dollars. The maintenance dose of kefir benefits would be half of 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. Both we and the planet pay a hefty price for our insistence on getting our nutrition from a pill; which might have virtually no live culture whatsoever.

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 friendly 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 food in the world, and litres of kefir benefits 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 nosh.

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 natural kefir, benefits then read the label. Lactobacillus acidophilus is the main bacterium in most strains of yoghurt, yet it is the least effective in ensuring greater well-being of the gut[2].

Kefir benefits 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 benefits 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, straining, then drinking the liquid 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.

If using Firefox, right click on these links and select 'open link in new tab'.

  1. Role of the gut microbiota in nutrition and well-being @ BMJ
  2. A meta-analysis of probiotic efficacy for gastrointestinal diseases.
  3. Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products
  4. Probiotics in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome
  5. What Roles Do Probiotics Play in the Eradication of Helicobacter pylori?
  6. Fermented Foods: Are They Tasty Medicines for Helicobacter pylori Associated Peptic Ulcer and Gastric tumours?
  7. Leaky Gut As a Danger Signal for Autoimmune Diseases. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5440529/
  8. Effect of kefir on the quality of life of patients being treated for colorectal cancer. Web: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19887347/
  9. Effect of administering kefir on the changes in fecal microbiota and symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease: A randomized controlled trial. Web:https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6428516/
  10. Beer as a potential source of macroelements in our food: the analysis of calcium, chlorine, potassium, and phosphorus content in a popular low-alcoholic drink
  11. Calcium Supplements Linked to Dementia Risk in Women - temporarily offline.
  12. Involvement of a gut–retina axis in protection against refined carb glycemia-induced age-related macular degeneration


13. Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement

14. Gut microbiota composition reflects disease severity and dysfunctional immune responses in patients with COVID-19

15. Gut microbiota and neurological effects of glyphosate

16. The International Scientific Association for Probiotics and Prebiotics consensus statement on the scope and appropriate use of the term probiotic

17. Gut Microbiota Contribute to Age-Related Changes in Skeletal Muscle Size, Composition, and Function. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5858871/

18. Microbial Metabolic Capacity for Intestinal Folate Production and Modulation of Host Folate Receptors. Web: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmicb.2019.02305/full

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