Health Benefits of Kefir

Yes, Kefir is Good for You! (PLUS recipe!)

Have you heard of kefir before? Kefir is a probiotic-rich, cultured dairy drink that can improve your gut health, immune health, mood, bone health, digestion and elimination, skin, mental conditions, and allergies. As if all that wasn’t enough, science proves that it is an anti-cancer food and can assist with weight loss!  

I didn’t start drinking it until we moved overseas where the local health food store stocked grass-fed kefir and I could purchase it easily. My Russian sister-in-law grew up drinking it straight from the farm, but I certainly hadn’t grown up with it. I’m guessing most of you didn’t either! It tastes sourer than yogurt. It took my family awhile to get used to the taste. 

Kefir is a cultured dairy food similar to yogurt

Kefir is truly a superfood and if you aren’t on the kefir bandwagon already, I hope this article will convince you!  

The History of Kefir

Kefir is a traditional food that originated in the Caucasus mountains between Russia and Turkey and is thought to be a gift from the prophet Muhammad (Shavit, 2008). Russian Nobel Prize winner, Dr. Metchnikoff, discovered the health benefits of microbes in the gut and specifically kefir. He was impressed with the longevity of the Caucasus mountain tribesman and theorized that lactic acid in the fermented milk was responsible (Shavit, 2008).

Soon after, the ‘All Russian Physicians’ Society’ commissioned the Blandov brothers – owners of a large cheese-making factory – to obtain kefir grains. The Caucasus mountain tribesman held their gift from Muhammad as sacred and would not give up the grains. Clinging to their last shred of hope, the Blandovs finally bribed the prince with their beautiful factory worker, Irina. While the bribe didn’t work, Irina eventually succeeded in obtaining the grains. 

Ten + Health Benefits of Kefir

Ten Health Benefits of Kefir

Good for your Gut health 

We now know that the health of our intestines is the axis of health in all the other areas of our bodies. The gut even has direct access to your brain’s health influencing your mood. (Jones, 2018.) Your gut’s microbiome is teeming with bacteria. If you’re healthy, you’ll have a greater number of healthy bacteria in your gut. If you’re unhealthy, your gut will lean heavily towards a greater number of unhealthy bacteria – known as pathogens. 

It turns out that gut health influences a variety of health issues ranging from skin health, autoimmune diseases, mental health, and digestive issues. We could say an unhealthy gut is the ‘root cause’ of many of our modern diseases (Dr. Axe, 2016).

All health issues stem from our gut health.

So, if our entire goal is to make sure our guts are healthy, what can we do? There are many things we can do to achieve gut health, but one of the most powerful things we can do is introduce probiotics (healthy bacteria and microbes) into the gut. Fortunately, dairy kefir contains one of the highest levels of probiotics of all foods!

Dairy Kefir contains 30 to 100 different strains of probiotics. Probiotics are those wonderful little creatures that seal and protect the gut lining, destroy pathogens and balance out your gut (Caldwell, 2020). Studies also prove that kefir positively alters gut microbiota composition (Hsu, 2019).

Immune health – including autoimmune conditions.

Once your gut balances out with higher levels of probiotic activity, so many aspects of our body’s health receive benefits. The first thing it does is improve your immune health by activating your T cells. (Dr. Axe, 2019, Dr. Axe Kefir, 2020, Jones, 2018). “Kefir has been shown to alter the gut in two ways: by adding beneficial species of bacteria and also suppressing pathogens (disease-causing organisms).” (Jones, 2018).

Kefir can Reduce Depression.

In Turkish, the name ‘kefir’ means a ‘feel good drink’. In her book, The Kefir Solution, Shann Jones describes how science confirms the kefir/feel good/serotonin connection. Serotonin is an important hormone in your body that makes you feel happy and at ease in life. It is also involved in nearly every process of the body including the nervous system, digestion, decision-making, bone growth, cardiovascular function, reproductive functions, hormone regulation, and even sleep and mood. This vital hormone is dependant on plenty of life-giving probiotics in your gut. Kefir boosts our immune-boosting T cells, which in turn boosts the serotonin-producing EC cells (enterochromaffin cells) in a beautiful health-giving cycle (Jones, 2018). 

Bone Health and K2

Studies indicate that kefir has positive effects on bone mineral density and improves bone mass. In a six-month study on patients treated with kefir-fermented milk, the changes in bone mass density were “significantly improved”(Tu, 2015). This is partly because kefir contains Vitamin K2 which helps our bodies absorb calcium. Vitamin K2 is the secret vitamin most people don’t know about that helps our bodies use the calcium we consume! 

Kefir is great for bone health!

The best sources of vitamin K2 are animal sources such as raw, grass-fed dairy products, including kefir. The grass-fed part is important because cows convert vitamin K1 from grass into Vitamin K2 (Schmid, 2009). Grain-fed cows will not be consuming grass and thus not able to produce much Vitamin K2 in their milk. Kefir made from raw, grass-fed dairy is a wonderful source of K2 (Axe, 2020).  Vitamin K reduces bone loss and prevents fractures (Cockayne, 2006). Handily enough, kefir also contains higher levels of calcium and protein than regular milk. Because kefir contains K2, calcium, and protein, it is a fantastic bone-strengthening mix all in one cocktail. 

Digestion and Elimination

Kefir brings relief to a wide variety of digestive complaints and conditions such as IBS, diarrhea, and constipation. A study of 1,793 patients revealed that probiotics “reduce pain and abdominal symptom severity scores in IBS patients” (Didari, 2015). In her book, “The Kefir Solution” Shann Jones describes how she healed her husband, Rich, of ulcerative colitis and a deathly MSRA infection using kefir as an external skin bath. The news of her husband’s miraculous recovery spread and others began to share testimonials of recovery from IBS, depression, and anxiety through consuming kefir (Jones, 2018). Because kefir is chock full of probiotics, it is incredibly effective. A meta-analysis in 2012 confirms that probiotics, such as those found in kefir, provide a positive effect for gastrointestinal diseases such as pouchitis, diarrhea, IBS, and helicobacter pylori (Ritchie, 2012). 

Skin Health 

Reduce Eczema, Acne, Rosacea, and Psoriasis

It turns out a compound in kefir called kefiran  improves skin wound healing (Rodrigues, 2020). The probiotics in kefir can help heal eczema, dermatitis, acne, and allergic inflammation (Roudsari, 2015). Kefir also improves rosacea and psoriasis. This is because, as Shann Jones puts it, “…these are not skin conditions, they are gut conditions!”  When you heal the gut, you heal your skin (Jones, 2018). If you don’t believe kefir can help, watch this video testimonial of some ladies who recovered from acne and rosacea using kefir both internally and externally as a mask. (See below for face mask instructions.) 

Anti-Aging Effects

Through the process of fermentation, lactose in kefir turns into lactic acid, a known beauty, and skincare product. Dermatologists often recommend lactic acid as a facial peel because it is a type of AHA (alpha-hydroxy-acid). Many commercial cosmetics use lactic acid, but usually in a synthetic or highly processed form. (I prefer to stick to the natural, organic form whenever possible!) 

AHAs such as lactic acid removes dead skin cells, stimulates collagen production, and reduces inflammation creating an anti-aging effect (Wulandari, 2017). However, lactic acid stands out above the other alpha hydroxy acids due to its hydrating and humectant properties. It even draws moisture out of the air into your face (Glynn, 2020)! Lactic acid specifically “increases cell turnover and helps eliminate accumulated dead skin cells” (Web MD, 2020). Cleopatra, the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt, is the most beautiful woman of ancient times. She regularly bathed in fermented mare’s milk. You can be sure all that lactic acid worked its wonders on the lovely Cleopatra. 

Lactic acid in AHA’s does the following:

  • Exfoliate
  • Regenerate skin
  • Hydrate the skin through moisture retention
  • Brighten the skin
  • Prevent acne
  • Prevent skin discoloration
  • Prevent anti-aging
  • Be antimicrobial

(The Derm Review, 2019).

I recommend taking kefir both internally and externally to repair the gut and also to rejuvenate and heal the skin. Here are some options for applying kefir topically to achieve a beautiful healthy-face glow:  

HOW TO MAKE A KEFIR FACE MASK

Kefir can be used as a rejuvenating, healing, anti-aging face mask.

Directions

1.) Simply apply 2 Tbs. plain kefir with organic cotton pads, cosmetic sponge, or brush to a clean face. 

2.) Allow to sit on face for 15 – 20 minutes and rinse off with a warm washcloth. If desired, add the following ingredients for specific face conditions:

Here is a printable recipe with skin-specific instructions as well as using it for acne, eczema, and rosacea: “Rejuvenating Kefir Face Mask”!

Kefir face mask recipe for every skin type and condition

HOW TO MAKE A KEFIR HAIR MASK

A kefir hair mask can help with dry scalp, itchy scalp, oily hair, and hair loss. Simply section the hair into pieces, cover the hair sections with kefir until the hair absorbs the kefir. Rub gently into scalp areas. Leave on for twenty minutes to one hour. Rinse off while showering. Check out NatureHelps’s blog post for detailed instructions on using kefir for various conditions.

Neurological Protection

In animals subject to nicotine stress tests, kefir seems to improved cognitive function. Kefir also protects neurons from degradation, as well as activates receptors that stimulate learning and memory. While the studies haven’t been done on humans, animal studies are very promising (Peluzio, 2021). 

Additionally, “Anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and memory abilities were improved in several studies where Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus were used” (Dolan, 2016). Talk about a winning probiotic food! 

Allergies

In a study done for 28 days, consumption of milk kefir and soybean kefir (the latter I’m not a proponent of for long-term use), suppressed allergic responses and is considered “the more promising food components in terms of preventing food allergy and enhancement of mucosal resistance to gastrointestinal pathogen infection” (Liu, 2006). This simply means kefir can help with allergies and get your gut microbiome into balance. 

Another study done by Wei-sheng Hong confirmed that Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens M1 “played an important role in antiallergic activities.” Their data revealed antiallergenic activity in three probiotic strains of kefir: kefir lactic acid bacteria, Lactobacillus (L b.), and kefiranofaciens M1. 

Longevity

The famous Dr. Metchnikoff studied intestinal microbial health as well as the factors of living a long life. He noted that the centenarians in Bulgaria, Balkan countries as well as pastoral and tribal people may be able to attribute their long life to fermented dairy foods. People of the Caucasus region drank kefir and in northern Africa, it was sour milk. Long-living Arabs also drank soured milk. 

He documented this in his book, “The Prolongation of Life,” most notably in chapter five which is available for free (include link)“The fact that so many races make soured milk and use it copiously is an excellent testimony to its usefulness” (Metchnikoff, 1908).

Use kefir to live long and healthy!

Thomas Parr – an English peasant- lived between 105 and 150 years on a diet of “sub-rancid cheese and milk in every form, coarse and hard bread and small drink, generally sour whey” (Schmid, 2009).

The Vilcabamba in Ecuador, the Hunza in the Himalayas, and the Caucasians of Caucasia, Georgia all remained vigorous into extreme old age. An important part of all three groups’ diets was fermented raw milk products (Schmid, 2009).

Anti-Cancer

In a study review, author Shafari (2017) discusses special compounds in kefir called polysaccharides and peptides that have the potential to inhibit cancer cells. His review indicates the effectiveness of kefir against colorectal cancer, T lymphocytes, breast cancer, and lung cancer. 

 “The anticarcinogenic role of fermented dairy products can be attributed, in general, to cancer prevention and the suppression of early-stage tumors, by the delaying of enzyme activities that convert pro-carcinogenic compounds to carcinogens, or by the activation of the immune system.” (Leite, 2013.)

Weight Loss

Did you know that even your weight depends on the balance, quantity, quality, and diversity of microbes in your gut? In lean people, there are more of two particular bacterial strains, Bacteriodetes and Firmicutes, while in obese people, there are fewer. (Ley, 2005, 2006). In a meta-analysis of twelve randomized trials including eight-hundred and twenty-one participants, participants consuming probiotics including kefir enjoyed improved metabolic parameters and “statistically significant bodyweight reduction” (Wang, 2019).

Relax and Sleep Better

The powerful probiotics in kefir can even help you relax and sleep better. This is because serotonin, that neurotransmitter that helps you relax, produced by gut microbes work together with EC (entrochromaffin) cells. Additionally, the body needs the amino acid, tryptophan to produce serotonin and kefir is one of those foods high in tryptophan (Jones, 2019).

Why I Prefer Dairy Kefir Over Water Kefir

While water kefir is still a fantastic probiotic drink, and if you’re allergic to dairy, it’s a great option. However, water kefir only has about one-third of the probiotic diversity of dairy kefir (Wilson, 2018). As mentioned earlier, having a diverse range of probiotics is key to many of these health benefits. Here is a full list of the different strains in both water kefir and dairy kefir. There are also many health benefits to drinking raw grass-fed dairy that are not available in water.

Dairy kefir vs. water kefir

What to Do if You have a Dairy Allergy

If you have a dairy allergy, Sarah Pope suggests using a dairy kefir grain starter and coconut milk instead of dairy milk. While you may be missing some of the nutrients found in raw, grass-fed dairy, using dairy grains in coconut milk will provide offer a similar diversity of probiotics as dairy kefir. Plus, certain nutrients in coconut milk are not in dairy milk. You will simply have to refresh your starter with actual dairy every few weeks to keep the culture strong. It may take one or two cycles to get the dairy grains accustomed to coconut milk, so don’t worry if it doesn’t work the first time around. Use the first batch of coconut milk kefir for something else and refresh your grains with more coconut milk. Here is a printable recipe for making dairy-free coconut milk kefir: “Dairy-Free Coconut Milk Kefir”. 

Try making coconut milk kefir.

If you don’t have a dairy allergy but are simply sensitive to dairy, you may try adding in a small amount of dairy kefir to your coconut milk kefir until you gradually accustom your gut bacteria to it. Also, if you are lactose intolerant, dairy kefir is a fantastic option for you. The lactose in milk converts into lactic acid via the kefir fermentation process.

Disclaimer: This post has affiliate links. Thank you for helping others learn a back-to-earth diet and lifestyle!

Yes, Kefir is Good For you!

I hope this article convinces you to give kefir a try! For the basic dairy kefir recipe using activated grains, please see my free dairy kefir printable. For all the instructions on how to make dairy kefir, refer to my step-by-step guide, “Kefir, How to Make and Enjoy It.” If you purchase kefir grains online, activate them using these guidelines: “Kefir, How to Make It and Enjoy It.” 

REFERENCES

Author, Date, Title of Article. Retrieved from: (website link). OR Published location and name of publisher.

Axe. (2016). The Human Microbiome: How It Works + a Diet for Gut Health. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/health/microbiome/

Axe. (2019). Probiotics: Top Benefits, Foods and Supplements. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/nutrition/probiotics-benefits-foods-supplements/

Axe. (2020). 7 Kefir Benefits, Including Boosting Immunity and Helping to Heal the Gut. Retrieved from: https://draxe.com/nutrition/kefir-benefits/

Tu, Chen, Tung, Kao & Hu, (2015). Short-Term Effects of Kefir-Fermented Milk Consumption on Bone Mineral Density and Bone Metabolism in a Randomized Clinical Trial of Osteoporotic Patients Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26655888/.

Rodiquez. (2020). Antimicrobial and healing activity of kefir and kefiran extract. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0924857905000543?via%3Dihub

Roudsari. (2015). Health effects of probiotics on the skin. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24364369/

Wulandari. (2017). What kefir is and how to use it for your skin. Retrieved from: https://en.brilio.net/health/tremendous-benefits-of-kefir-drinks-kefir-mask-diy-included-1703162.html#

Glynn. (2020). Lactic Acid for Skin: A Beginner’s Guide.  Retrieved from: https://www.marieclaire.com/beauty/g34822430/lactic-acid-for-skin/

Web MD Medical Reference. (2020). What to Know About Lactic Acid for Skin Care. Retrieved from: https://www.webmd.com/beauty/lactic-acid-for-skin-care#1

The Derm Review. (2019). 5 Benefits of Lactic Acid for Skin. Retrieved from: https://thedermreview.com/5-benefits-of-lactic-acid-for-skin/.

https://naturehelps.me/hair-care/kefir-benefits-hair-mask-recipes-reviews

Peluzio. (2021). Kefir and Intestinal Microbiota Modulation: Implications in Human Health. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7938729/.

Dolan, (2016). Probiotics and Disease: A Comprehensive Summary—Part 1, Mental and Neurological Health. https://todayspractitioner.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/probiotics_Mental-Health-IMCJ.pdf

Liu, (2006). The Anti-Allergenic Properties of milk kefir and soymilk kefir and their beneficial effects on the intestinal microflora. Retrieved from: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.2649

Metchnikoff, (1908). The Prolongation of Life; Optimistic Studies. Retrieved from: https://archive.org/details/prolongationofli00metc

Schmid, (2009). The Untold Story of Milk. Washington, DC, New Trends Publishing, Inc.

Sharifi, Mortazavi, Salehi, Bagheri & Sheikhi, (2017). Kefir: a powerful probiotics with anticancer properties. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28956261/

Leite, (2013). Microbiological, technological and therapeutic benefits of kefir: a natural probiotic beverage. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3833126/

Ley, (2006). Microbial ecology: human gut microbes associated with obesity. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17183309/

Ley, (2005). Obesity alters gut microbial ecology. Retrieved from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16033867/

Wang, (2019). The Potential Role of Probiotics in Controlling Overweight/Obesity and Associated Metabolic Parameters in Adults: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/3862971/

Jones, (2019). How Kefir Helps You Sleep. Retrieved from: https://www.chucklinggoat.co.uk/how-kefir-helps-you-sleep-and-other-natural-sleep-aids/

Dolan, (2016). Probiotics and Disease: A Comprehensive Summary—Part 1, Mental and Neurological Health. https://todayspractitioner.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/probiotics_Mental-Health-IMCJ.pdf

Wilson, (2018). From Kefir, with LOVE

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