Kefir is a probiotic drink that resembles liquid yogurt. It is a fermented beverage that contains yeasts, bacteria, and milk proteins. While it most often derives from cow’s milk, it can also occur from any of the following:
- Goat’s milk
- Coconut milk
- Rice milk
- Coconut water
Like yogurt, kefir tends to be tart and creamy. You will find it in the dairy section in most grocery stores. Like yogurt, it has a lot of health benefits, including the following ten.
Ten Probiotic Benefits of Kefir
1. It Delivers A Wide Range of Nutrients
While kefir contains more fats than yogurt, it also provides more proteins than does yogurt. It is also a good source of calcium and some of the B vitamins. In particular, it contains about 10 percent of the recommended daily amount of riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and 12 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin B12. It also contains about 15 percent of the recommended daily amount of phosphorous.
2. It Contains A Lot of Probiotics
One of kefir’s most significant selling points is that it is rich in healthy microbiota. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health describes probiotics as living microorganisms, usually bacteria, that provide different health benefits. Good gut bacteria can perform various functions like aid digestion, help fight disease-causing microbes, or help the body maintain a healthy microbiome, which is the community of microorganisms living on or in the human body. Kefir can contain up to 61 strains of yeasts and bacteria, more than any other food or beverage.
3. It Has Antibacterial Properties
The drink contains a species of healthy bacteria called Lactobacillus kefiri, which is unique to it. L. kefiri impairs the growth of harmful bacteria like E. coli, Helicobacter pylori, and Samonella. In 2014, the science journal BioMed International published an overview of studies devoted to L. kefiri’s effects on pathogenic bacteria. In one study, for example, researchers added strains of L. kefiri to cultures containing pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus. They determined, in many cases, L. kefiri inhibited the growth of the pathogenic bacteria.
4. It May Fight Cancer
Fermented dairy products, in general, are believed to contain healthy microbiota that can fight cancer. Researchers believe they help to stimulate the immune system and thus reduce the growth of tumors. In 2011, the science journal Cancer Management and Research published a study in which researchers tested kefir’s effects on cancer cells that cause adult lymphoblastic leukemia, which affects white blood cells. They found that the beverage killed cancer cells and reduced their ability to spread.
The International Journal of Oncology described a similar study in 2014. The researchers worked with colorectal cancer cells. As with the leukemia cells, they found that fermented milk not only reduced the ability of the cancer cells to reproduce, it also killed them.
An earlier study described in 2007 by the Journal of Medicinal Food produced startling results. Here, the researchers compared fermented milk’s effects on breast cancer cells to those of yogurt and dairy milk. The beverage reduced the number of cancer cells by 56 percent, while yogurt reduced that number by only 14 percent.
5. It May Help the Digestive Tract Stay Healthy
Good gut bacteria in the digestive tract can keep it healthy by preventing or alleviating various conditions like diarrhea, ulcers, and irritable bowel syndrome. For example, the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology published a 2014 study about the effects of probiotics on Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria species that can cause ulcers and increase the risk of stomach cancer. The researchers described several clinical trials that suggest administering good gut bacteria to patients could both increase the effectiveness of conventional treatments and reduce their side effects.
The journal Clinical and Experimental Gastroenterology published a 2014 review of different studies involving the use of good gut bacteria to help treat disorders like pouchitis, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. Adding good bacteria to conventional treatments helped patients with pouchitis and ulcerative colitis but was less effective against Crohn’s Disease. The researchers also reported that the good gut bacteria were well-tolerated by the patients and caused few or no side effects.
BMC Gastroenterology published an older review in 2009 about the effects of good gut bacteria on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The researchers examined the results of 14 clinical trials that compared the effects of supplements containing live bacteria to those of placebos.
They found that the supplements did help relieve some of the symptoms of IBS. They also recommended that researchers conduct longer clinical trials since IBS is a chronic condition. Finally, they suggested conducting tests that would determine which groups of patients were most likely to benefit, which bacteria species that would be the most helpful, and what the most beneficial dosage would be.
6. Healthy Microbiota Can Aid Weight Loss
Good gut bacteria can also aid weight loss, and researchers have been paying particular attention to a species called Lactobacillus gasseri. Gut bacteria, in general, can perform important functions like synthesize nutrients like Vitamin K and some of the vitamins in the B-complex. They can also break down types of fiber that would otherwise be indigestible.
L. gasseri, however, shows particular promise as an aid to weight loss. In 2014, the European Journal of Nutrition described a study in which researchers fed L. gasseri to some mice. They noted that the mice did not gain weight or accumulate any fat. The mice also showed reduced lipogenic genes and triglyceride levels in their livers.
The British Journal of Nutrition published a 2013 study in which scientists tested L. gasseri on humans. They found that drinking fermented milk containing L. gasseri for 12 weeks caused the subjects to lose a significant amount of abdominal fat.
7. It May Help People with Type 2 Diabetes
The Iranian Journal of Public Health shared a 2015 study in which researchers had patients drink fermented milk containing specific types of bacteria on their blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. While the cholesterol levels showed no significant changes, the researchers noted a definite decrease in the volunteers’ blood sugar levels. The scientists thus recommended fermented milk as a complementary treatment for Type 2 Diabetes.
8. Healthy Microbiota May Help Prevent and Treat Urinary Tract Infections
The Indian Journal of Urology published a 2008 review of research on the effects of good gut bacteria on urinary tract infections. The authors noted that the use of antibiotics had caused two problems. First, the development of resistant pathogenic bacteria. Second, it created an imbalance of gut bacteria.
They hoped that good gut bacteria could at least partially reverse these problems. During their review, they examined trials that used healthy microbiota against different types of urinary tract infections. They noted that the gut bacteria weren’t expected to cure infections but to prevent pathogenic bacteria from developing resistance and reducing recurring infections.
9. Fermented Milk May Protect the Heart
Gut bacteria can have a substantial impact on overall health. In 2017, BioMed Research International conducted a study in which they found that people with heart disease had different types of bacteria living in their guts than people who did not have heart disease. Besides, the healthy subjects had a greater diversity of bacteria than did the subjects with heart disease. For example, they had 775 genera living in their guts compared to the 584 genera living in the subjects with heart disease.
The FASEB Journal described a 2018 study in which researchers worked with rats that had hypertension or high blood pressure. They fed some of the rodents fermented milk. They also took the rats’ blood pressure and analyzed their gut bacteria. The rats that had consumed given fermented milk and lower blood pressure and more good gut bacteria than the rats that had not drunk fermented milk.
Since healthy microbiota can reduce blood pressure, they can also reduce the risk of having a stroke. Fermented milk and other foods containing live microorganisms can thus help prevent a stroke.
The journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews published an article in 2002 that described clinical trials in which researchers found that good gut bacteria could prevent urogenital infections from recurring and shorten diarrhea’s duration.
In 2001, the journal BMJ published a study that involved over 570 children at daycare centers. The researchers gave some children milk that contained Lactobacillus while giving others milk with no Lactobacillus. Children that had gotten the milk with good gut bacteria had fewer absences due to illness. If they did develop a respiratory infection, they were less likely to suffer complications than the children who had not gotten milk with good gut bacteria.
As a fermented beverage, kefir has at least one advantage over regular milk; it has less lactose. The fermentation process converts lactose into lactic acid. Consequently, lactose-intolerant people can often safely drink fermented dairy.
The beverage’s growing popularity means that today you can find it in many places. Some people also like to make their own. People who do this need to be careful, for improperly fermented milk will spoil and could make the drinker ill.
Fermented milk still offers plenty of health benefits that make it at least worth trying.