7 Benefits of Kefir for Gut Health
Similar to yogurt, kefir is a fermented dairy drink that is slightly tart and full of probiotics. Kefir has been consumed for thousands of years, originally in the Caucasus Mountains near the border of Asia and Europe.
Kefir was first invented when indigenous tribes to the region found that milk stored in the skins of animals fermented into a delicious drink. Despite kefir’s mention by Marco Polo during his travels, this probiotic beverage was largely unknown by people outside of this region for hundreds of years.
In recent years, however, kefir has become increasingly popular, and many people throughout the world enjoy kefir for the variety of different health benefits associated with this beverage.
How is Kefir Produced?
Kefir is produced with milk kefir grains, which are actually a mass of starter probiotics that can be used repeatedly in fresh milk, as frequently as every twenty-four hours.
Kefir can also be made with kefir powder, but cannot be reused repeatedly. Kefir grains do need to be periodically refreshed in pasteurized dairy milk when their texture begins to change.
Kefir grains can be used in cow or goat milk, as well as plant based milks such as soy, almond, and coconut milks. (1) Kefir can be bought at many health food stores, but for those who consume this tart beverage regularly, a homemade option is much more cost effective and customizable.
Health Benefits of Kefir
1. Kefir helps to promote a healthy digestive system
Every year, millions of Americans suffer from various digestive related ailments, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, and acid reflux, and thousands of productive hours are lost due to these ailments. Dairy products, such as milk and cheese, can exacerbate digestive concerns, but chronic ailments can actually find relief with kefir consumptions.
Kefir is high in probiotics, particularly lactobacillus and bifidobacterium, which helps to reduce inflammation of the digestive system, which in turns helps to ease the symptoms of chronic digestive system ailments. (2)
2. Kefir helps to promote a strong immune system
Kefir is not only important for the gut for a healthy digestive tract, but for a healthy immune system as well. Over seventy percent of the immune system is actually housed in the digestive system, so supporting healthy bacteria growth helps to keep the rest of the body healthy as well. Additionally, a probiotic found in kefir, known as Lactobacillus kefiri, has the ability to fight off potentially serious bacteria such as salmonella and e. Coli. (3)
3. Kefir can promote healthy bones
Every year, millions of men and women over the age of fifty suffer from osteoporosis related bone fractures. While losing bone density is a natural part of aging, excessive loss is not normal and should be avoided by consuming enough Vitamin D and calcium. Kefir is a fantastic source of calcium, and also contains Vitamin K2, which helps the body to metabolize calcium. (4)
4. Kefir may help prevent cancer
Every year, more than one million Americans are diagnosed with cancer, the aggressive disease that can affect almost any area of the body. There are no clear causes of cancer, and treatment for cancer such as radiation and chemotherapy can be almost as detrimental on the body as the cancer itself.
Kefir’s high levels of probiotics can help to fight cancer by preventing cancer cells from growing and spreading, as well as promoting a healthy immune system. Recent studies have shown that regular consumption of kefir means the body produces more interferon-beta, which may help to fight cancer, particularly colon and breast cancers. (5)
5. Kefir may be a good dairy alternative for those who are lactose intolerant
At birth, most infants possess enzymes in their digestive system that allow them to digest their mother’s milk. After weaning, an estimated seventy-five of the world’s population and at least twenty-five percent of the population of the United States lose these enzymes and are unable to process some or all dairy products without suffering from bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
Kefir, similar to yogurt, is very low in lactose, which means that the symptoms are lessened. The fermentation process removes much of the lactose from the product. Different brands of kefir can vary in lactose amounts, so investigate each brand prior to consumption if your are lactose intolerant or sensitive. (6) It is also important to note that lactose intolerance is different than dairy allergies and those who are allergic should steer clear of kefir and other dairy products.
6. Kefir may help those suffering from allergies and asthma
Whether seasonal or year round, many people can attest to the discomfort of allergies. Kefir, full of probiotics that help to lower inflammation and are essential in moderating the immune system’s response to allergens, can help ease some of the symptoms, such as watery eyes, runny nose, congestion, and hives. (7)
While the exact cause of asthma is not fully understood, chronic asthma is thought to be closely connected with allergies. More specific asthma, such as sickness induced or exercise induced, can be relieved by the anti-inflammatory properties of kefir’s probiotics.
7. Kefir is incredibly high in a variety of different important nutrients
Beyond all of the fantastic benefits listed above, kefir contains many different essential vitamins and minerals. Fairly low in calories and fat, particularly if low fat dairy or plant based milks are used. Kefir is also an excellent source of phosphorus and riboflavin, and also contains zinc and potassium. All of these nutrients are important for a balanced diet and healthy body.
Is Kefir for Everyone?
Kefir, much like yogurt, can be used in a variety of different dishes, added into smoothies, or consumed plain or sweetened with fruit or honey. While kefir can safely consumed by most people, those who are sensitive to excessive yeast should be mindful of their kefir intake, as it can exacerbate underlying candida infections throughout the entire body.
Whether you consume kefir regularly or as an occasional treat, whether you are using it for a specific benefit or for the overall health and wellness benefits, kefir is an excellent addition to a balanced diet.
(Read this next: Kefir (Superfood?)