Are Kefir Health Benefits Too Good To Be True?

Written by Varsha Patnaik , MSc (Biotechnology), Certified Diet & Nutrition Coach

Kefir is taking the world of health and nutrition by storm. You can find posts on it all across social media and bottles of the drink moving fast off the shelves in stores. There’s plenty of reason for all this: kefir health benefits are abundant, it is easy to make at home and quite inexpensive to buy. But what is kefir and is kefir good for you? Let’s find out here.

Kefir: What Is It?

The word kefir (pronounced kee-feer)comes from the Turkish word keif, which means “feeling good”. That’s because this drink, typically made from fermenting milk with kefir grains containing a complex mix of yeasts and bacteria, has been historically drunk as a probiotic. Kefir grains are not cereal grains, but instead a grainy colony of yeast and lactobacillus (the popular bacteria that turns milk into yogurt) which kind of looks like a cauliflower head (1).

As for the kefir drink, think of greek yogurt: Kefir is similarly a little sour in taste, albeit a little thinner in its consistency. The probiotic drink contains essential amino acids and is a powerhouse of vitamins and minerals. However, how nutrient-rich your kefir is, will depend on the quality of the grain and milk used as well as the fermentation process. You can prepare homemade kefir by fermenting milk from cows, goats, or sheep with kefir grains in around 24 hours (1).

The wide range of claimed kefir health benefits, from improved digestion to protection against cancer, has got the modern Science community interested. Let’s see what benefits of kefir are backed by research and evidence.

Health Benefits Of Kefir Backed By Science

When you drink kefir, what you are drinking is essentially alive with more than 300 microbial species of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi coexisting in a symbiotic relationship. The dependency between these bioactive components is responsible for the variety of nutrients in kefir as well as the stability of the microbiologic makeup of kefir grains and the kefir drink (1).

In simple terms, you have microbes to thank for all the amazing kefir health benefits that are coming up for you in a listed form.

  •  Fights Against Salmonella, Escherichia coli, And Other Bad Harmful Microbes

You can ditch certain antibiotics and take up kefir. A study conducted to check the antimicrobial effects of kefir revealed that kefir can kill a wide variety of pathogens like salmonella and E.coli. The complex dynamics between the various probiotic strains and their production of antimicrobial substances may have a role to play in its effectiveness against harmful microbes (2).

  •  Boosts The Immune System And Promotes Immuno-cell Response

You may give a big boost to your immune system by drinking kefir. Animal studies that were conducted to understand the role of bioactive peptides and kefiran (an exopolysaccharide in kefir) in modulating immune response have shown positive results. In mice, these have stimulated the existing immune system to promote their cell response against tumors or invasive pathogens (3).

  •  Reduces Inflammation

Whether you choose to have kefir made from milk or kefir water, you may help your body fight against inflammation. Components in kefir aid in suppressing pro-inflammatory cytokines and enhancing the growth of anti-inflammatory cytokines. An animal study conducted to appraise the role of kefir against inflammation revealed that symbiotic cultures of kefir contain prebiotics with anti-inflammatory properties (4).

  •  Strengthens Bones And Reduces Risk Of Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is one of the most dreaded conditions that pose a threat to post-menopausal women. The good news for you is that you may lower that risk by drinking kefir. A study conducted to assess the effect of kefir on gut microflora and the prevention of estrogen deficiency-related osteoporosis showed that kefir can prevent osteoporosis in mice and change the gut flora significantly. It also pointed towards stronger bones with improved bone mineral density and bone volume (5).

  •  Improves Gut Health And Helps In Digestion

A happy gut makes a happy you, and a fizzy glass of kefir makes a happy gut! Can you spot the link? Yes, several studies have shown that kefir works wonders to modify the gut flora by increasing friendly microbes like bifidobacterium and lactobacillus. At the same time, it decreases the number of unfriendly microbes and reduces instances of intestinal infections. That’s not all. Kefir can also promote positive changes in activities and gene expressions of certain gut microbes (6).

When you drink kefir, you are also making it easy for your body to digest food and pass it. That is why kefir is also used commonly to relieve constipation and can be of crucial help to bedridden patients for passing food smoothly through their colon (7).

  •  Helps To Control Cholesterol and Supports Heart Health

Kefir is good for your gut and bowels, but did you know that it may be great for your heart too? That’s because kefir has properties to help lower your body’s cholesterol levels. The best part? It leaves the good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein or HDL) behind and only works to reduce the total amount of cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein or LDL, the bad cholesterol, as a study shows (8).

Cholesterols are important for the healthy growth of cells in the body but too high levels of cholesterol can be a dangerous thing. Bad cholesterols are called bad because they can result in fat deposits in blood vessels which put a lot of pressure on the heart and make blood flow through the arteries really difficult. All this increases the risk of heart diseases, a risk that thankfully kefir may be able to thwart (9).

  •  May Protect Against Cancer

You may have one more excellent reason to dabble in kefir making and putting it high on your list of favorite beverages. Research shows that kefir may have anti-carcinogenic properties which can prevent and suppress the growth of a variety of tumors in the early stages. A study conducted on mice with induced tumors to verify the effectiveness of kefir revealed that both milk kefir and soy milk kefir inhibited the tumor growth by sixty-four to seventy percent (10).

Multiple other studies have revealed that kefir has a huge potential for the prevention and treatment of cancer due to its effect on the immune system, potential to prevent mutations in cells when exposed to carcinogens, and ability to induce apoptosis (controlled cell death) of various types of cancer cells (6).

  •  Promotes Wound Healing

Kefir is a drink, but that does not stop it from having topical effects on wounds. A study conducted with gels made from kefir and kefir grains to treat severe infected burns showed the effectiveness of kefir as an excellent wound healer, even when compared to standard medication (10). So how does it work? Well, it is theorized that kefir’s ability to modulate the immune system enables it to assign immune cells to help with the wound healing process. The antimicrobial and antibiotic effects of kefir may also play a role in keeping the wound clean and free of infection.

  •  May Improve Allergy And Asthma Symptoms

You may want to drink kefir regularly if food allergies have a thing for you because the wonderful bio-active compounds of kefir can kick your gut into full gear to kick out those nasty pathogens. A study to understand the effects of kefir on food allergies noted that it is a promising food to prevent food allergies and reduce the risk of stomach infections (11).

The anti-inflammatory effects of kefir can also come in handy if you are prone to air-borne allergies or asthma attacks. Though sufficient human trials have not yet been conducted, an animal study shows that kefir can significantly reduce excessive mucus generation and inflammation in asthma caused by allergic reactions (12).

  •  May Support Weight Loss

Drink up that kefir if you want to fight obesity and excess fat accumulation in your body. A study conducted to gather evidence on the action of kefir against fat storage and fat cell profiles in mice found that kefir reduced fat gain and deposits in liver and fat tissues. At a certain dose, kefir powder was able to completely prevent obesity in mice. It also found that kefir acts against triglycerides and LDLs, resulting in an improved lipid(fat) profile (13).

A similar study conducted on humans did not show such promising results. However, there is not enough evidence to rule out kefir for weight loss yet.

Now that you are familiar with all the kefir benefits for your health, why not look at a quick analysis to figure out if kefir is right for you?

Analyzing Kefir: Advantages Vs Disadvantages

There are so many kefir health benefits that you can enjoy as you sip on this tangy and fizzy drink. It makes sense though to check out the pros and cons of including kefir in your diet.

Advantages Of Kefir

Kefir Is A Powerhouse Of Nutrients

Kefir is not only rich in active microorganisms but also can be a powerhouse of other essential nutrients (14).

  •  Vitamin A, K, B5, B2, and B1 are present in kefir along with carotenes.
  •  Minerals like calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are plentiful in kefir. You can also find small amounts of micronutrients like copper, zinc, cobalt, manganese, and molybdenum in the drink.
  •  Some of the essential amino acids found in kefir are valine, isoleucine, tryptophan, lysine, methionine, threonine, and phenylalanine. Tryptophan is crucial to the health of your nervous system.

Kefir Is A Powerful Probiotic

Kefir contains around 300 species of bacteria, yeast, and fungi working symbiotically. That makes kefir a very strong probiotic; stronger than yogurt, you may argue (1).

Kefir Is Low In Lactose

The answer to your question, does kefir have lactose, is yes. But luckily, you can drink kefir even if you are lactose intolerant. That’s because it loses lactose (natural sugars in milk) during the fermentation process and contains very low amounts of it by the time it is ready for you to drink (15).

Disadvantages Of Kefir

  •  You Cannot Drink Milk Based Kefir If You Are Allergic To Milk

You can drink kefir with lactose intolerance but not with an allergy to milk. However, you can enjoy the kefir health benefits by drinking soy milk-based kefir or kefir water.

  •  Kefir Is Not Sugar-free

Kefir is made from fermenting milk, which is naturally high in sugar. The fermentation process does not remove all the sugars in it. So, if you are on a keto diet, you may want to check the labels carefully.

  • Store-bought flavored Kefir Is High In Sugar

It is best to stick to plain kefir, even if you are buying from a health or grocery store as the flavored variants can be packed with sugar.

  •  Homemade Kefir May Contain A Bit Of Alcohol

No, the alcohol in homemade kefir won’t get you even close to tipsy as there may only be trace amounts of alcohol in there. If you want to steer clear of any possibility of alcohol in your kefir, you can opt for commercially prepared versions.

To sum it up, kefir is a historic probiotic drink that deserves to be treated with respect. The numerous health benefits that it has to offer have rightfully made it a popular drink for the young and the old alike. The best part is that it tastes refreshing and makes a great substitute for sugary sodas when you are looking for a drink on the go. So, bottle up and enjoy kefir in different ways for all the glorious things it can do for your body.

Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

Does kefir have any side effects?

Kefir is generally considered to be a safe probiotic drink with not many reported side effects. However, if you introduce any probiotic to your diet suddenly, you may experience some digestive discomfort like bloating, gassiness, diarrhea (16). However, these disappear over time and are not considered a health risk. As a caution, please consult your doctor starting out with kefir if you are immunocompromised or diabetic.

What is water kefir?

Water kefir is a naturally carbonated drink made by fermenting water with water kefir grains.

How is kefir different from yogurt?

There are quite a few differences between kefir and yogurt. Firstly, the processes of making yogurt and kefir are different which also influences the properties and health benefits of each, making them different from one another.

  •  Kefir uses kefir grains while yogurt requires cultured bacteria.
  •  Yogurt ferments in a single step while kefir fermentation is a complex multistep process.

How to make kefir a part of your diet?

A kefir probiotic drink can be used to replace a smoothie or another beverage. You can also add kefir to one-pot meals for a creamy and tangy gravy.

How much kefir should you have in a day?

Eating between 1 to 3 cups of kefir per day is considered safe. There is not enough scientific data to support this and if you have concerns, you should ask your doctor.

What are kefir benefits for skin?

Kefir is said to have antioxidant properties besides doing wonders for the gut flora. Both these factors make kefir a good choice for maintaining skin health. Kefir also has wound healing properties as discussed above in the article (10).

What are kefir benefits on hair?

Kefir contains essential amino acids and nutrients which protect against hair loss due to nutritional deficiency and may promote healthy and strong hair growth (15,16 17).

What benefits does water kefir have?

Water kefir has many benefits of probiotics, besides the fact that it is a vegan, sugar-free alternative to traditional kefir.

How to use kefir?

You can drink kefir straight up! You can also use kefir to bake, make gravy, put on your cereals, make smoothies, and even make ice cream with it.

References:

Articles on StyleCraze are backed by verified information from peer-reviewed and academic research papers, reputed organizations, research institutions, and medical associations to ensure accuracy and relevance. Read our editorial policy to learn more.

  1. Milk Kefir: Nutritional Microbiological and Health Benefits
    https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/nutrition-research-reviews/article/milk-kefir-nutritional-microbiological-and-health-benefits/1393DC2B8E5F08B0BE7BD58F030D387B
  2. In Vitro Assay of the Antimicrobial Activity of Kephir against Bacterial and Fungal Strains
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21624484/
  3. Immunomodulating Capacity of Kefir
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15909685/
  4. Anti-inflammatory Properties of Kefir and Its Polysaccharide Extract
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7488350_Anti-inflammatory_properties_of_kefir_and_its_polysaccharide_extract
  5. Kefir Peptides Prevent Estrogen Deficiency-Induced Bone Loss and Modulate the Structure of the Gut Microbiota in Ovariectomized Mice
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33182364/
  6. The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4854945/
  7. Fermented Milk Kefir: Probiotic Content and Potential Health Benefits
    https://www.researchgate.net/publication/325689271_Fermented_milk_kefir_probiotic_content_and_potential_health_benefits
  8. Hypocholesterolaemic Effects of Milk-Kefir and Soyamilk-Kefir in Cholesterol-Fed Hamsters
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16611384/
  9. Cholesterol: The Good the Bad and the Ugly – Therapeutic Targets for the Treatment of Dyslipidemia
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5586853/
  10. Evaluation of Wound Healing Activities of Kefir Products
    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0305417911003536?via%3Dihub
  11. Antitumor Activity of Milk Kefir and Soy Milk Kefir in Tumor-bearing Mice
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12734066/
  12. The Anti-Allergenic Properties of Milk Kefir and Soymilk Kefir and Their Beneficial Effects on the Intestinal Microflora
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.2649
  13. Anti-Inflammatory and Anti-allergic Effects of Kefir in a Mouse Asthma Model
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17869642/
  14. Kefir Prevented Excess Fat Accumulation in Diet-induced Obese Mice
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28110622/
  15. A Review: Chemical Microbiological and Nutritional Characteristics of Kefir
    https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/19476337.2014.981588
  16. Risk and Safety of Probiotics
    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25922398/
  17. Diet and Hair Loss: Effects of Nutrient Deficiency and Supplement Use
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5315033/
Was this article helpful?
The following two tabs change content below.