The microbiome is the community of bacteria and other microbiota that live on you and in you and they contribute more to your health than most of us realize. Dr Robynne explains in this short talk why maintaining the health of your bacterial community is so vital, and ways that you can keep it flourishing.
Benefits of Kefir
Bacteria- We Need Them To Live- Probiotic Benefits
There is a term that scientists use to describe the microscopic community that lives on our skin and hair, in our mouth, nose, intestines, and anywhere else that we naturally have bacteria. The term is "Human Microbiome" or "Human Microbiota". They include bacteria, yeast and fungi that exist in harmony with all living beings. Without this community that lives with us, and within us, we would not exist.
If you have ever had a vaginal yeast infection following a dose of antibiotics, or a fungal infection such as athlete's foot, or thrush in your mouth, then you already have a sense of the benefits of balance in our microbiota. Would you be surprised to know that bacteria, fungi and yeast that live in and on you actually contribute to your good health?
An average human has 200 times the amount of microbiotic cells as compared to body cells. On the skin, your "good" bacteria help to fend off more harmful strains keeping infections at bay. Inside your body, microflora have a variety of important functions which include digesting food, providing a barrier that prevents unwelcome invaders into your body from the intestine, preventing tooth decay, strengthening your immune system and more! The benefits of probiotics are becoming more clear.
Our Bacteria-phobic Society
From the time that it was discovered that simple hand washing could reduce the spread of disease and infection in hospitals, we have been attempting to eradicate bacteria. The problem is that we have affected the helpful colonies as well. Antibiotics are a good example. They do help rid the body of infection causing harmful bacteria, but they affect the balance of our helpful communities as well. The over-use of antibiotics is a well known and much discussed topic. Hand washing and other forms of personal hygeine are important, but is it necessary to use antibacterial soaps in the home?
The consequences to our health of attempting to eradicate bacteria from our lives could be manifesting in many ways that we may not be aware of. For example, whenever there is a breakout of food poisoning, such as salmonella from eating tainted hamburger, we often hear of sicknesses and deaths arising from the exposures. Would you stop and consider that for everyone that has reported being sick, there are many more who have eaten the tainted food and not fallen ill at all. A healthy microbiota can maintain a balance, and keep harmful bacteria from establishing a foothold. Even in circumstances where the exposure is too great, symptoms can be limited.
What Causes a Bacterial Imbalance?
Some of the most common causes of imbalanced bacteria in the gut are:
- Stress (stress hormones may encourage bad bacteria growth)
- Dietary causes such as sugar, preservatives, alcohol, processed foods, over-eating, inadequate fibre
- Radiation or Chemotherapy or other aggressive medical treatments
- Eating too much animal-based protein, especially highly processed (e.g. luncheon meats)
- Stagnant bowel function (which could be caused by the some of the above)
What Do Gut Bacteria Do?
In our gut, good bacteria can crowd out bad bacteria and affect our overall health, metabolism, digestion, and body composition (fat vs. muscle). Gut bacteria are involved in the immune response and help to ensure our immune system doesn’t over react (such as in food sensitivities or food allergies). There are numerous benefits associated with a healthy gut bacterial community.
Gut bacteria also:
- help synthesize B and K vitamins
- enhance gastrointestinal motility and function
- enhance digestion and nutrient absorption
- obstruct the growth of “bad bacteria” and other pathogens
- help metabolize other plant compounds/drugs
- produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) and polyamines
- produce coagulation and growth factors
- produce cytokines (cell signaling molecules)
- help regulate intestinal mucus secretion and ultilization
- help regulate blood flow to the viscera
Healthy bacteria (also called PROBIOTICS) have been shown to help us achieve better health in many ways. Here are a few.
Note on Kefir Scientific Research– At the end of the day, I don't get too hung up on kefir science studies. It is not like taking a drug developed artificially. Fermented beverages have been around for a long time, and I am quite happy to drink them because they taste great and "could" be good for me. However, it is nice to know that science backs up what i want to believe. References with links to individual studies are all listed at the end of this article.
Autism– In a recent study in mice, autism behaviors, abnormal intestinal bacteria and leaky gut have been linked suggesting that probiotic treatments could help. There is also a ton of anecdotal evidence that a diet low in sugar and high in fermented foods makes a positive difference in the behaviour and the intestinal symptoms of children who fall on the autism spectrum.
Anti-oxidant Effect– Kefir has been shown to have potent anti-oxidant effect in scavenging free radicals. Since free radicals are linked to aging and disease, it can be hypothesized that the probiotics in kefir could be a powerful anti-aging product.
Bladder Infections– Use of probiotics has been shown to reduce the number of urinary tract infections in women, and to effectively treat some urinary tract infections.
Cancer– Probiotic effects are being studied both in the prevention, and treatment of certain cancers. The most obvious one is colon cancer, where beneficial bacteria have been shown in some studies to prevent DNA mutations necessary for bowel cancers to form, and grow. An extract from kefir has also been shown to suppress proliferation (spread and growth) of human breast cancer cells, but not normal breast cells.
Cholesterol Reduction– Kefir was shown to significantly reduce LDL cholesterol in a danish study where middle aged men with high cholesterol were given Kefir to drink. Men given a placebo had no reduction pf cholesterol at all.
Depression and Depressive Illnesses– Studies suggest that depression is also associated with an alteration in the microbiota. Psychobiotics are good bacteria that have the potential to increase microbial diversity and treat the symptoms of depression. Scientists are starting to draw a stronger connection between the gut and the brain. Our bacteria produce many chemicals that our body then uses in routine bodily functions, so it is not a stretch to think that many of those chemicals could affect brain function. After all, our entire body functions on chemical reactions. Brain function is but a single example.
Detoxification– Probiotic bacteria help digest and eliminate harmful substances that sneak into your gut… substances such as pesticides found on foods. A study done in 2009 proved that bacteria from the Korean fermented food called Kimchee degraded an organophosphorous insecticide by day 3 and by day 9 it was completely gone. Organophosphates (such as RoundUp) are some of the most common pesticides used on food. The bacteria identified to be responsible for the detoxification are the same ones found in kefir. Probiotics have also been proven to neutralize nitrites (commonly used to preserve deli meats ("cold cuts"), bacon, ham etc. In another study, probiotics were found to effectively detoxify the intestines of heavy metals such as mercury.
Diarrhea, Crohn's Disease and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS)– Most people are aware of the fact that bacteria live in the bowel. Controlled trials have shown that Lactobacillus GG can shorten the course of infectious diarrhea in infants and children. Clinical trial results vary, but there have been a number small studies done that suggest certain probiotics may help maintain remission of ulcerative colitis, and prevent relapse of Crohn’s disease and the recurrence of pouchitis (a complication of surgery to treat ulcerative colitis).
Flatulence– Probiotics and probiotic foods and beverages, including water kefir and yogurt, have been shown in many research studies to reduce flatulence. (intestinal gas)
"Several studies have demonstrated significant therapeutic gains with probiotics in comparison with placebo. A reduction in abdominal bloating and flatulence as a result of probiotic treatments is a consistent finding in published studies;" source: World Gastroenterology Organisation Practice Guideline – Probiotics and prebiotics
Food Poisoning– Kefir has been shown to prevent and/or treat E. Choli infection in mice.
Immune System Stimulation– Ingestion of kefir has been shown to increase the immune response, and control the inflammatory response, thereby increasing resistance to disease, and limiting inflammation in allergy.
Inflammation– Good bacteria help reduce inflammation throughout the entire body, not just in the intestine. This includes blood vessel inflammation, arthritis and other areas of inflamation that show up with chronic disease. The mechanism of action is not known, although there are many theories. This is good news since most chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, cancers and more) have an inflammation component taking a probiotic supplement or drinking a probiotic beverage such as kefir could help.
Insulin Resistance– Some studies have found that people with insulin resistance also have an alteration in their gut bacteria.
Muscle Recovery After Exercise– Delayed onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) has an inflammatory component that has been shown in studies to be reduced when athletes took probiotics.
Obesity– Recent studies have discovered a link between obesity and gut bacteria.
Sugar Cravings Reduced- The cravings you experience, it has been determined by science, have a lot to do with what is inside of you. There have been many studies that show people who crave chocolate, or sugary treats have a different bacterial composition in their gut than people who do not. It has been shown that people who consume probiotic foods and supplements see a significant reduction in carbohydrate cravings.
Vaginal Yeast Infections and Other Candida Albicans Issues– Some women have reported either ingesting probiotics orally or inserting vaginally to repress an over abundance of yeast growth. see article: Can Kefir Help Candida Albicans Growth?
Conclusion– Probiotic foods and drinks have been a part of human culture since the beginning of recorded history and beyond. Since there are no harmful side effects, and a myriad of benefits, does it not make sense to add probiotics to your daily diet? Especially since it costs a mere pennies to get started making water kefir, or other probiotic beverages and foods. Order Water Kefir Grains (buy grains one time and they will last a lifetime!)
- Antioxidative Activities of Kefir
- Probiotic supplementation affects markers of intestinal barrier, oxidation, and inflammation in trained men; a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial
- Probiotics a Potential Treatment for Mental Illness
- Protective role of probiotics and prebiotics in colon cancer
- Kefir extracts suppress in vitro proliferation of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells but not normal mammary epithelial cells.
- Microbiota Modulate Behavioral and Physiological Abnormalities Associated with Neurodevelopmental Disorders
- Hypocholesterolaemic effect of a new fermented milk product in healthy middle-aged men.
- Effects of Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens M1 isolated from kefir grains on enterohemorrhagic Escherichia coli infection using mouse and intestinal cell models.
- Gut Microbiota and Its Possible Relationship With Obesity
- The effect of kefir consumption on human immune system: a cytokine study
- Biodegradation of chlorpyrifos by lactic acid bacteria during kimchi fermentation
- Probiotics as an adjuvant to detoxification protocols
Milk kefir starters are a little more prevalent, but the kefir starters can only be used for a short time before they lose their potency, whereas kefir milk grains can be saved and used for many lifetimes, being passed down for generations. Kefir grains are meant to be shared.
Like many cultural dietary inclusions and medicines, kefir is a functional beverage that is only just becoming more widely known in North America. North America is a new 'culture' that seems to have (in many instances) lost touch with ancestral roots. Many things; folk lore, knowledge of natural cures, recipes, and healthy foods to name a few, are no longer shared. Before the internet, the knowledge of such things was lost in the new world.
I find that the farther west you go in North America, the more likely you are to find alternative medicine and food practices. I think there are many reasons for this, but mainly Western Canada and U.S. is both more densely populated and much more culturally diverse. Also the western shore is closer to Asia where alternative health is part of their culture!
Thanks to the internet, a local economy is becoming more global. Knowledge of different cultures is available in most homes now, and people who wish to learn about the healthy traditions of long lost ancestors can easily find that information.
Once I had the knowledge of the health benefits of milk kefir, and the experience of making milk kefir from grains, I felt it my duty to make available the milk kefir grains. Canada is not so entrenched in their own culture that there is no room for something so delicious and beneficial to health. Milk Kefir IS a part of our everybody's ancestral heritage if we go back far enough.
Scientists Confirm Yogurt, Kefir Intake Reduces Incidences of Type 2 Diabetes
A study published this month in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for Diabetes, confirms that regular servings of fermented dairy products reduces the risk of developing diabetes later in life. It is not a trifling reduction in risk either. In fact, the risk is reduced by nearly a third!
The reasons behind the reduction in risk are as yet undefined, but it is thought to be linked to an increased intake of probiotic bacteria, as well as perhaps a form of vitamin K that is produced during the fermentation process.
Dr Nita Forouhi, the head of the scientific team, from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at Cambridge University, said:
“This research highlights that specific foods may have an important role in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and are relevant for public health messages.
“At a time when we have a lot of other evidence that consuming high amounts of certain foods, such as added sugars and sugary drinks, is bad for our health, it is very reassuring to have messages about other foods like yoghurt and low-fat fermented dairy products, that could be good for our health.”
Just the other day I posted an article about researchers who have discovered that diabetics have different bacterial communities in their gut as compared to people who do not have diabetes. See Type 2 Diabetes May Be Caused By Probiotic Imbalance
As the evidence mounts, the message I am hearing is loud and clear… Drink Up Me Hardies Yo Ho! Fill up my cup with kefir!