What is Kefir?
Kefir is a fermented drink which is made by adding kefir grains to liquids such as milk, water or juice. The origin of this drink dates back to 1880-1885, in the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet Union. Kefir was used to treat numerous health issues ranging from digestive disorders to infectious illness.
There are two different types of grains used for the fermentation process, water kefir grains and milk kefir grains. Milk kefir grains are used with cow milk, goat milk, soy milk or coconut milk. Water kefir grains are used with water, fruit juice and coconut water.
Kefir is made by adding a complex of yeast and bacteria to milk, sugar water or juice. As the liquid ferments it in turn creates more “grains”. It is this replicating process that creates the flavor that is so unique to kefir. Kefir grains can be purchased online and are usually a onetime purchase as they multiply quickly during the fermentation process; you may find yourself “gifting” family and friends with extra grains.
Kefir is sold in grocery and health food stores usually in the dairy/yogurt aisle. It is also incredibly easy and inexpensive to make at home. Both milk and water kefirs contain beneficial bacteria which promote general health and well being.
Dr. Gabriel Cousens, a leading expert in the raw food community, writes in his book Rainbow Green Live Food Cuisine “Kefir grains produce right-rotating L(+) lactic acid, which is an important constituent of the human body. It is particularly important in the prevention of cancer and has been used experimentally with success in the treatment of cancer. In addition, right-rotating lactic acid may help maintaining healthy functioning of the heart. According to some researchers, the cells of the heart muscle obtain their energy primarily from right-rotating lactic acid.”
The Health Benefits of Kefir
Boost Your Immune System
A healthy adult carries about five pounds of bacteria in their gut. We need the bacteria in our guts to be balanced in order to remain healthy. The bacteria is the bodies first defense against germs. Bacteria produces antimicrobials that can kill invading pathogens. Consuming fermented foods and drinking kefir helps to replenish the bacteria that is unbalanced.
A study published in the June 2008 edition of the “BMC Immunology Journal” researched the effects of feeding probiotic fermented milk to mice. Kefir is classified as a probiotic fermented milk product. Their conclusion was that the milk had a beneficial effect on the immune systems of the mice, as well as on their offspring. (1)
Inhibits Progression of Breast Cancer
A study published in the 2007 issue of the “Journal of Medicinal Food” found that kefir is beneficial in suppressing the growth of breast cancer cells in animals. In this study, kefir proved more beneficial than yogurt and pasteurized cow’s milk. Studies have not been performed on humans yet, but scientists feel that this discovery is promising in the future treatment and prevention of breast cancer. (2)
Improves Digestive Function
Individuals who are lactose intolerant can be limited in their probiotic options. According to Dr. Kristie Long, MD, on HealthMad.com, the bacteria contained in kefir beverages help to break down lactose in milk kefir, allowing easy digestion even in those considered lactose intolerant. (3). Other options include cultured foods and water kefir.
Reduce Respiratory Infections and Severity in Young Children
Eighteen day care centers in Helsinki Finland participated in a study to determine the effect of long term consumption of probiotic milk on infections in children who attend day care. The children who received probiotic milk saw a decrease in missed days due to illness, as well as a decrease in the number of children suffering from respiratory infections with complications and lower respiratory tract infections. (4)
According to the University of Michigan Integrative Medicine (6), probiotics will help to restore healthy bacterial balance in the digestive tract that may have been disrupted by poor diet, illness, or medications. Research has shown that the live cultures in yogurt or kefir may provide many benefits, such as:
Offering a safe and effective means of treating acute infectious diarrhea in children
Preventing antibiotic-associated diarrhea
Protecting against tumor formation in the colon
Improving the digestion of lactose in persons with lactose intolerance, when eaten in small doses over time
Enhancing gut and systemic immune function by increasing IgA antibody production
Preventing allergic reactions by reducing hypersensitivity reactions
Helping to reduce symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) such as Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis
Converting dietary fiber into healthy fats
Increasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol and decreasing the ratio of LDL (“bad”) to HDL cholesterol with long-term, daily intake of yogurt; this may be due to the fatty acid distribution and the type of fats in the milk rather than the probiotics.
(1) BMC Immunology: Study http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2172/9/27
(2) Journal of Medicinal Food: Kefir Extracts Suppress In Vitro Proliferation of Estrogen-Dependent Human Breast Cancer Cells http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jmf.2006.236
(3). HealthMad: The Extraordinary Health Benefits of Kefir http://healthmad.com/nutrition/the-extraordinary-health-benefits-of-kefir/