The whole way through my Nutritional Therapy Diploma my lecturers kept going on about the benefits of Kefir as a Probiotic drink. At the time of studying, the thought of spending time cultivating my own probiotics just seemed like another stress I didn't need, however, it was probably something I really could have done with at the time. But now I am cultivating my own water Kefir grains and so far it is going really well. My boyfriend is still a bit baffled about me growing bacteria in our kitchen, but I think after he reads this, he may start to drink it too!
So what is Kefir?
There are two types of Kefir – one is milk based, the other has a sweetened water base. Both are fermented as Kefir grains are formed of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. Some of the common bacteria that can be found within kefir grains include: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium bifidum, Streptococcus thermophilus, Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, Lactobacillus helveticus, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, Lactococcus lactis, and Leuconostoc species.
Kefir and our digestive system
Our digestive system forms one of the barriers between the outside world and our internal structures. Its role goes far beyond just digesting our food, which is why we seriously need to think about the foods we put in.
There has been a big shift over the last century in the way scientists are approaching the research of our digestive systems. In 1908 Elie Metchnikoff won a Nobel Prize for identifying a link between the digestive system and the immune system. His focus and theory depicted that by manipulating our intestinal microbiome with friendly bacteria, we could enhance our health (Mackowiak, 2013).
But what is this Microbiome I here you say?
Here is an interesting fact for you: you have 10 times more bacteria in your gut than you have cells in your body (Lipsky, 2012), and these guys make up your microbiota/microbiome. Every day you create new ones and eliminate others.
Their role is to protect us from microbial and parasitic diseases, influence the effects of drugs, affect whether we are fat or thin, affect our nutritional status and overall health, and contribute to our rate of ageing (Lipsky, 2012). They also make up a major part of our immune system. Another interesting aspect is that every person’s will be slightly different depending on their birth, how they were fed as a baby and weaned, what exposure they had to different environmental aspects as they were growing up and also nutrition going forth.
We have something between 500-1,000 types of bacteria in our digestive systems and each type has different strains. So you can see it is quite a complex structure.
It is important to realise, however, that amongst these strains of bacteria we have some known as commensals and some known as microbes. The commensals as the word explains, are designed to live alongside us and work with us to strive towards optimal health and function. The microbes are unwanted bacteria, which can make us sick. Therefore, it is important that we have a gut that is balanced.
So where does kefir come into all this?
As mentioned earlier the turn over of bacteria is ongoing. Whilst we have a favorable make-up of bacteria, factors that can negatively affect our microbiome at make it imbalanced, include: the environment around us, stress, poor diet, certain medications, illness etc. This is known as ‘dysbiosis’, which was named by Elie Metchnikoff, who I spoke about earlier. It basically means, “not living together”. So in other words our microbiome isn’t working with us towards optimal health.
Symptoms of Dysbiosis can include:
Digestive discomforts such as: belching, bloating, urgency to go, constipation, cramping, diarrhoea, food sensitivities/ intolerances, foul smelling stools, IBS etc.
It also includes: acne, anxiety, fatigue, depression, skin conditions and some immune conditions.
Kefir bacteria have shown to be able to colonize the intestinal tract and the yeasts within kefir such as: Saccharomyces kefir and Torula kefir have shown to help control and eliminate destructive pathogenic yeasts in the body (Murray & Pizzorno, 2007). Therefore, they can help to repopulate our commensal bacteria and help to eliminate the microbes, creating symbiosis again.
If you are unsure whether you would benefit from adding Kefir into your diet, there are some tests, which you can do to determine the status of your gut. These include: a comprehensive stool analysis with parasitology, Organic acid testing, which looks for candida and a bacterial overgrowth and the Hydrogen or Methane breath test, which also looks for a bacterial overgrowth and can detect the part of the intestine that has the problem.
This is why I am using Kefir:
I decided to use kefir, because I have always suffered from eczema since I was a baby and I have had acne since a teenager. I was never breast fed and have generally always had a poor immune system, grabbing onto every possible cold that was going around! Since I have adjusted the stress in my lifestyle my symptoms have either reduced and some diminished, however, due to the amount of exercise I do, I am still placing my immune system under more of a burden. Therefore, I am using Kefir to support my microbiome, which as mentioned above is the base of my immune system and I am looking forward in a few months time to seeing the benefits. I shall keep you posted.
If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I hope you found this informative.