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
Can Kefir Grains Be Frozen?
Kefir grains can be frozen for extended periods of time. Once thawed, they will continue to work. I have done this numerous times. Let's face it, living in Canada, the ability to ship viable grains would cease once winter began. Kefir grains shipped via Canada Post during winter months will almost definitely be frozen at some point on their trip.
Once I froze kefir grains and forgot they were in the freezer. I found them a full year later and put them in milk. The result was delicious kefir!
Can You Freeze Kefir Milk?
Sometimes you want to make a batch of kefir for storage. Or you just have too much on hand and do not want to throw it out. I often make smoothies and freeze the extra for those super busy days when I need to "grab and go".
So I wondered… if I freeze the kefir milk, will I lose the probiotic bacteria and yeast? Will they somehow diminish or die off, thereby negating the good benefits of the kefir?
I am happy to report that this has already been scientifically evaluated and the answer is… yes you can freeze kefir and it will retain the bacterial counts. In fact, in this study (which is a very good read by the way) the author stated "the traditionally produced kefir was shown to have significantly viii (P<0.05) higher counts of bacteria and yeast at each sampling". It was tested at days 0, 7, 14, and 30 of frozen storage.
That means that when you freeze kefir for storage, the probiotic benefits actually INCREASE over time!
Does Kefir Lose Value During Refrigeration?
So what about simple every day cold storage? I keep my ready made kefir in the refrigerator, sometimes for long periods of time. How do the probiotics do in cold storage? This study found that there was no significant loss of probiotic activity after refrigeration.
It is important to note however that these studies found that this was the case only for traditionally made kefir using heirloom kefir grains such as the kefir grains for sale on this site. Kefir manufactured for resale and kefir made with powdered culture lost probiotic benefits over time both in refrigerator and freezer storage!
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!
Is IBS caused by an imbalance of the intestinal bacteria?
In fact, as reported by Huffington Post UK in May of 2012, "The results of a new Cedars-Sinai study suggest that an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut has been 'definitively linked' to Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)." There are several other studies that link inflammatory bowel diseases with the gut microbiota (the term used to describe the intestinal bacteria as a whole).
Does that mean that kefir can cure Crohn's Disease or IBS?
No it does not mean that kefir will cure anything. There is compelling evidence that some of the probiotics that occur naturally in kefir can help resolve symptoms of IBS. Studies such as this one show that certain bacterial strains (in this case a type of Lactobacillus, which is found in fermented products such as kefir) did completely resolve the abdominal pain associated withIBS.
A study of a different strain of Lactobacilli used in children with antibiotic resistant enterococci infection showed that "LGG supplementation temporarily eliminates the VRE carrier state and increases gastrointestinal counts of Lactobacillus spp. in children versus placebo."
More study is needed, however, in the meantime it is my opinion that kefir falls under the umbrella of "Could Help, Can't Hurt". if you could make something for pennies a day that would give you a boost in nutritional status, improve immunity against disease, and COULD reduce or remove intestinal inflammation… why wouldn't you?
Is The Secret To Diabetes In The Gut?
Researchers have found that the microbiome, or the bacterial community that lives within your intestines, is altered in patients with diabetes. Diabetics have more "bad bacteria" in their gut, and less "good bacteria. In is unknown whether this is the result of metabolic changes or if it is the cause.
The media is free to use the video. The video can be embedded directly from the player (click on icon in lower right corner). Please credit: University of Copenhagen.
Should Diabetics Drink Kefir?
Milk kefir, water kefir and other fermented beverages and foods can help to restore a better balance of good bacteria in the gut. I am often asked whether kefir is safe for diabetics to consume. While I can not answer that question for individuals, I can say that my insulin dependent diabetic mother has consumed kefir in the past.
Milk kefir has much less sugar than regular milk, if you are making it yourself using milk kefir grains. That is because the process of fermentaion reduces the amount of lactose (milk sugar) as the bacteria multiply. Water kefir is made with sugar and water, it is true, but again, the bacteria consume the sugar as they grow, and after a 2 day ferment, you are left with only around 20% of the sugar you started with.
It is my personal opinion that diabetics could try adding kefir and monitor blood sugar. Improved blood sugar control and reduction of obesity was proven in mice being fed probiotics. reference and more human studies are proving that gut bacteria has a much broader role in sugar control than was previously known.
Food Poisoning, Cross Contamination and Kefir
When I first started looking in to kefir production at home, there were a few things that concerned me. Firstly, I will be getting my kefir grains from a stranger over the internet. I have no idea who this person is, what their cleanliness habits are, whether they sterilize their utensils, or if they have mold in their kitchen, or even if they wash their hands. How will I know that the kefir grains are safe to use and free of disease causing bacteria and fungii?
Well the truth is, you have no way of knowing unless you have a lab accessible to test the grains when they arrive. Thousands of people worldwide share kefir grains so there must be some way to determine the risk.
Let's hit the internet and see what we can find on the safety of kefir. Following are excerpts with links to full documents.
National Center for Home Food Preservation–
Kefir is generally considered to be safe due to the lack of evidence of food borne illness events related to it. Properly fermented kefir (pH less than 4.5) inhibits many pathogens
The article goes on to say that E Coli., Salmonella and Listeria are not suppressed by the kefir. However, researchers Garotte et al (published in The Journal of Dairy Research in year 2001) found that E Coli was inhibited for 25 hours when exposed to certain milk kefir grains.
Chemical and microbiological characterisation of kefir grains–
All grains produced acid products with pH between 3·5 and 4·0…. All fermented milks had inhibitory power towards Escherichia coli but AGK1 and AGK2 supernatants were able to halt the bacterial growth for at least 25 h.
Also in 2001, The Dairy Products Research Center (Ireland) studied a number of different fermented milk products including kefir and assorted cheeses, and found that kefir does inhibit listeria, E. Coli and other pathogens.
Assessment and Control of Food Borne Pathogens in Ireland–
A number of potential inhibitors to both Listeria and E. coli were identified (Fig. 5), in addition to Lactic Acid Bacteria capable of inhibiting B. cereus. The inhibition of Listeria by Kefir fermentates could be attributed to bacteriocin activity in a number of cases….
Russian researchers confirmed the ability of kefir to halt the life of listeria bacteria
The study revealed the intensive multiplication of Listeria cells in milk, also during storage in a household refrigerator. The presence of bifidobacteria mixed with kefir-producing culture in dairy products was shown to essentially inhibit the growth of Listeria cells which were not detected by bacteriological techniques on day 7.
The list goes on and on… kefir has been widely studied. To be fair, there was one study that I found that showed Listeria, Salmonella and E Coli did actually survive kefir fermentation.
I believe that all of the research points to kefir's ability to inhibit pathogens. Meaning that it is unlikely that you will get sick from food poisoning by consuming kefir. If you combine the research with the absolute lack of reported illness then the result speaks for itself. After all, fermentation was the only way to keep foods in storage before the advent of refrigeration.
Having said that, it is still important to follow some simple steps when evaluating the safety of your kefir.
- Wash– hands and utensils. Sterilize equipment with boiling water.
- Cover fermenting kefir to keep bacteria out.
- Follow the recipe!!!– For water kefir especially, the ratio of sugar to water, the addition of a citrus piece… these things maintain favorable conditions for inhibiting bad bacteria and fungus.
- Trust your nose– If it smells bad, it is bad.
- Trust your eyes– Discoloration, mold on top, or anything that looks unusual should not be trusted.
Kefir andYeast Infections, Anti-Candida Diets…
It seems counter-intuitive… kefir that can help control candida. Kefir is a culture that contains bacteria and yeast after all. Isn't it true that you should avoid yeast when on an anti-candida diet?
First off, there are many many different kinds of yeasts strains, just as there are many types of bacteria. While we understand that we need bacteria in our intestines for health (probiotics) we do not really understand our relationship with yeast. Probiotics, though, are not only made up of friendly bacteria, but also friendly yeast!
In fact, in one study of kefir grains, a collection of 2 milk kefir cultures and 3 water kefir cultures, a total of 34 yeast strains were isolated and identified. Many people assume that if they have a candida overgrowth, that means they have to avoid "yeast".
Here is an excerpt from that study…
Antimicrobial activity was chosen as a comparison index for native and artiﬁcial grains.
The assays were carried out introducing 0.1 mL (3 x 108 cells) of S. aureus, S. tiphymurium,
E. coli, and C. albicans in 1.5 mL of keﬁr suspensions, following incubation for 24 h at
35 °C. After this period 0.1 mL of each tube was swabbed in Petri dishes containing the
proper culture media and incubated for 24 and 48 h. By counting the colony unit formers
(CUF) for native and artiﬁcial grains, the antimicrobial activity of keﬁr exhibited a similar
pattern, with total inhibiton for all strains for both keﬁr types
and another one…
Antibiotic activity of both keﬁr and puriﬁed AK (50 mg·mL−1) has been
evaluated  using both the disk diffusion method and susceptibility tests against some well
known pathogenic bacteria (S. pyogenes, S. salivarius, S. aureus, P. aeruginosa, S. tiphymurium, E.
coli, L. monocytogenes, and C. albicans). The results of the disc diffusion promoted by keﬁran are
present at Figure 9. A rapid decrease in surviving pathogens with 0.45 mg·mL−1 of keﬁran in
the susceptibility tests was also observed, whereas the prebiotic was able to produce inhibition
haloes about 26±2 mm, greater than those found for oxacilin, ampicillin, ceftriaxone, and
azithromycin, at their usual concentrations.
In other words the milk kefir completely inhibited certain microbes that can cause infection in humans including Staphylococcus aureus and Candida albicans. Not only that, but it worked better than antibiotics! source: Kefir D’Aqua and Its Probiotic Properties