Are Kefir Drinks Good For You?

Written by: Pard Bharaj

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Time to read 17 min

Image of Pard, the Author

Author: Pard Bharaj

I am a dedicated researcher with nearly a decade of experience in investigating health best practices. 

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or before making any changes to your diet or lifestyle, especially if you have existing health conditions.

Introduction: 


Kefir drinks are gaining more popularity for their potential health benefits. In this article, we look at 10 scientifically backed health benefits of kefir. I will also provide a concise guide on the different types of kefir drinks available, along with their pros and cons. Whether you're curious about the health claims or looking to incorporate kefir into your diet, this article provides details to help you make an informed decision.


I also encourage people to review references and further reading at the end of each article, here I have summarised all of the relevant scientific findings. Please note all of the studies have been for dairy (milk based Kefir drinks).

Kefir Interesting Facts:


  1. Ancient Origins: Kefir has been consumed for over a thousand years, originating in the Caucasus Mountains, located at the intersection of Eastern Europe and Western Asia.

  2. Powerful Probiotics: Kefir contains up to 61 strains of bacteria and yeasts, making it one of the most potent sources of probiotics available.

  3. Lactose-Friendly: Despite being a dairy product, kefir is 99% lactose-free, making it easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant.

  4. Cancer-Fighting Potential: Some studies suggest that kefir may inhibit the growth of cancer cells, particularly in breast cancer, thanks to its bioactive compounds.

What is Kefir?


Kefir is a fermented drink¬†that dates back over a thousand years, originating in the Caucasus Mountains. It's made by adding kefir grains‚ÄĒa unique combination of bacteria and yeast‚ÄĒto milk. These grains initiate a fermentation process that transforms the milk into a tangy, creamy beverage. During fermentation, the bacteria and yeast consume the lactose in the milk, producing a variety of bioactive compounds.


This process not only imparts kefir's distinctive taste and texture but also enriches it with a high concentration of probiotics. These beneficial microorganisms offer a range of other health benefits. The result is a nutrient-dense drink rich in protein, calcium, and vitamins B12, B1, and K2, while being virtually lactose-free, making it easier to digest for most people. Enjoy it on its own, in smoothies, or as a versatile ingredient in various recipe

Are Kefir Drinks Good For You?


Yes, kefir drinks are very good for you. It's always best to go for a drink that isn't overly processed with sugar and addivtives. 


Please read the following 10 reasons why kefir drinks are good for you. 

Kefir Health Benefits:

1. Improved Gut Health:


  • Probiotics: Kefir is rich in probiotics, which are beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy gut microbiome. These probiotics aid in digestion by enhancing the balance of gut flora, which can prevent gastrointestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and may have potential benefits for IBD. Regular consumption of kefir supports overall digestive health by promoting the growth of good bacteria and inhibiting harmful bacteria.

  • Lactose Digestion: The fermentation process in kefir significantly reduces the lactose content, making it easier to digest for those who are lactose intolerant. The bacteria in kefir produce the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose, allowing lactose-intolerant individuals to enjoy dairy without the usual discomfort. This makes kefir a suitable and beneficial option for improving digestive health in a broader range of people.

2. Mental Health:


  • Gut-Brain Axis: The probiotics in kefir positively impact the gut-brain axis, the communication network between the gut and the brain. By improving gut health, kefir can help regulate mood and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. A healthy gut microbiome produces neurotransmitters such as serotonin, which play a crucial role in mental well-being.

  • Anti-inflammatory Effects:¬†Chronic inflammation is linked to various mental health issues. The anti-inflammatory properties of kefir can reduce systemic inflammation, potentially alleviating symptoms of mental health disorders. Regular consumption of kefir may therefore support overall mental health and improve cognitive function.

3. Anticancer Properties:


  • Cancer Prevention: Some studies have shown that kefir may have anti-cancer properties, particularly in inhibiting the growth of breast cancer cells. The bioactive compounds in kefir, such as probiotics and peptides, contribute to these effects by promoting apoptosis (programmed cell death) and reducing the proliferation of malignant cells.

  • Mechanisms: Kefir's anticancer properties are attributed to its ability to modulate the immune system and its anti-inflammatory effects. These actions help in preventing the initiation and progression of cancer cells, making kefir a potential dietary component for cancer prevention.

4. Skin Health:


  • Probiotic Impact: The probiotics in kefir can improve skin health by promoting a healthy gut microbiome. A balanced gut microbiome helps reduce systemic inflammation, which can manifest as various skin conditions such as acne, eczema, and rosacea.

  • Nutrient-Rich:¬†Kefir is rich in vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin B2 (riboflavin), biotin, and zinc, which are essential for maintaining healthy skin. These nutrients support skin repair, hydration, and overall skin vitality, contributing to a clearer and more radiant complexion.

5. Enhanced Immune System: 


  • Antimicrobial Properties:¬†Kefir contains compounds such as lactic acid bacteria that inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. These antimicrobial properties help to maintain a balanced gut flora, which is crucial for a strong immune response. By preventing the colonisation of pathogenic bacteria, kefir supports the body‚Äôs natural defences and reduces the risk of infections.

  • Immunomodulation:¬†Some studies suggest that kefir can modulate the immune system, enhancing the body‚Äôs ability to fight infections. The probiotics in kefir stimulate the production of antibodies and improve the activity of white blood cells. This immunomodulatory effect strengthens the immune system, making it more efficient at recognising and attacking pathogens, thereby providing an overall boost to immune health.

6. Bone Health:


  • Calcium and Vitamin K2: Kefir is a good source of calcium and vitamin K2, both of which are essential for bone health. Calcium is crucial for maintaining bone density and strength, while vitamin K2 helps in calcium metabolism, ensuring that calcium is deposited in the bones and not in the arteries. This synergy reduces the risk of osteoporosis and other bone-related issues.

  • Increased Mineral Absorption:¬†The probiotics in kefir enhance the absorption of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus. These minerals are vital for bone formation and maintenance. By improving mineral absorption, kefir contributes to stronger and healthier bones, making it an excellent addition to a diet aimed at promoting bone health.

7. Anti-inflammatory Effects:


  • Inflammation Reduction: Regular consumption of kefir has been linked to reduced inflammation in the body. The probiotics and bioactive compounds in kefir help to modulate the body's inflammatory response, which is beneficial for preventing chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis.

  • Cytokine Modulation:¬†Kefir can balance pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines, reducing chronic inflammation. This modulation helps prevent excessive inflammatory responses, supporting overall health and reducing the risk of chronic inflammation-related conditions.

8. Weight Management:


  • Gut Health:¬†As mentioned earlier the probiotics in kefir improve gut health by balancing the microbiome, which can influence body weight and fat distribution. A healthy gut microbiome is linked to better digestion, reduced inflammation, and improved insulin sensitivity, all of which support weight management efforts.

  • Satiety and Metabolism: Kefir can aid in weight management by increasing feelings of fullness and improving metabolism. The high protein content and probiotics in kefir help regulate appetite and reduce overall calorie intake, contributing to weight loss and maintenance.

9. Allergy and Asthma Relief:


  • Immune Regulation: Kefir contains bioactive compounds such as probiotics, peptides, and polysaccharides that help regulate the immune system. These compounds can reduce the body's allergic response by modulating immune cell activity and promoting a balanced immune reaction.

  • Anti-inflammatory Effects:¬†The anti-inflammatory properties of kefir, attributed to its rich probiotic content, can help alleviate symptoms of asthma. By reducing inflammation in the airways, kefir can decrease the severity and frequency of asthma attacks, providing relief to individuals suffering from this condition.

10. Cardiovascular Health:


  • Cholesterol Reduction:¬†Kefir consumption has been linked to lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and higher levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. The probiotics in kefir help metabolise cholesterol and reduce its absorption in the gut, contributing to improved heart health.

  • Blood Pressure Regulation: The bioactive peptides in kefir can help regulate blood pressure by inhibiting the angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE). This inhibition leads to vasodilation and reduced blood pressure, lowering the risk of hypertension and associated cardiovascular diseases.

Different Types of Kefir Drinks and the Pros and Cons:


 1. Milk Kefir 


  • Preparation: Made using kefir grains (a combination of bacteria and yeast) added to milk (cow, goat, or sheep). The mixture is left to ferment at room temperature for 24-48 hours. It can be homemade using organic, unhomogenised milk or store-bought. It can be home-made or store bought.

  • Pros:

    • Rich in probiotics.

    • High in vitamins (B12, B1, and K2), minerals (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus), and amino acids.

    • Easier to digest for lactose-intolerant individuals due to reduced lactose content.

  • Cons:

    • Can be tangy or sour, which might not appeal to everyone.

    • Needs regular maintenance and care of kefir grains when homemade.

    • Contains dairy, unsuitable for those with milk allergies.

    • Store-bought versions may contain added sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavours, and potentially have a lower probiotic count due to processing and pasteurisation.


2. Water Kefir 


  • Preparation:¬†Made by fermenting sugar water, coconut water, or fruit juice with water kefir grains (different from milk kefir grains).

  • Pros:

    • Dairy-free, suitable for vegans and those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies.

    • Lighter and more refreshing than milk kefir.

    • Can be flavoured with fruits and herbs.

  • Cons:

    • Lower in protein and certain nutrients compared to milk kefir.

    • Typically contains fewer probiotics than milk kefir.

    • Requires regular feeding of grains with sugar, which may be a concern for those monitoring sugar intake.

 

3. Coconut Milk Kefir 


  • Preparation: Made by fermenting coconut milk with kefir grains.

  • Pros:

    • Dairy-free and suitable for vegans.

    • Contains medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are beneficial fats.

    • Rich in vitamins and minerals like magnesium, potassium, and calcium.

    • Pleasant, mild coconut flavour.

  • Cons:

    • Can be less probiotic-rich than traditional milk kefir.

    • Coconut milk can be expensive.

    • The consistency may be thinner than dairy milk kefir.


 4. Non-Dairy Milk Kefir 


  • Preparation:¬†Made using non-dairy milks such as almond, soy, oat, or rice milk, fermented with kefir grains.

  • Pros:

    • Suitable for those with dairy allergies, vegans, and lactose intolerant individuals.

    • Can be enriched with additional nutrients.

    • Variety of flavours depending on the type of non-dairy milk used.

  • Cons:

    • Non-dairy milks may require additives to thicken and enhance texture.

    • May have fewer probiotics compared to dairy-based kefir.

    • Some non-dairy milks can have added sugars and preservatives.


5. Commercial Kefir 


  • Preparation: Available in stores, made from various types of milk or water.

  • Pros:

    • Convenient and ready-to-drink.

    • Consistent taste and quality.

    • Available in a variety of flavours and formulations.

    • Often fortified with additional probiotics and nutrients.

  • Cons:

    • May contain added sugars, preservatives, and artificial flavours.

    • Potentially lower probiotic count due to processing and pasteurisation.

    • Generally more expensive than homemade options.

Precautions, Side Effects and Concerns:

 

  • Introducing Beneficial Bacteria: Kefir introduces a large number of beneficial bacteria to your body, which may initially cause digestive discomfort as your system adjusts. It is best to start with small amounts and gradually increase your intake to allow your gut to adapt.
  • Potential Allergic Reactions: Those with a dairy allergy should avoid milk kefir. Instead, opt for non-dairy alternatives like water or coconut milk kefir. Always check for any allergic reactions when trying a new type of kefir.
  • Lactose Intolerance: While kefir is lower in lactose than regular milk, some individuals with severe lactose intolerance may still experience discomfort. Monitor your symptoms and adjust your intake accordingly.
  • Added Sugars and Preservatives: Commercial kefir products may contain added sugars and preservatives, which can negate some of the health benefits. Choose plain, unsweetened versions whenever possible.
  • Interactions with Medications: Kefir may interact with certain medications, such as immunosuppressants and antibiotics. Consult with your healthcare provider if you are on any medications before adding kefir to your diet.

Conclusion: Are Kefir Drinks Good For You? 


It is clear from scientific evidence that milk kefir offers several health benefits, including improved digestive health, enhanced immune function, better bone health, anti-inflammatory effects, and potential anticancer properties. 


Each type of kefir offers unique benefits and potential drawbacks. Traditional milk kefir is nutritionally dense but may not suit those avoiding dairy. Homemade organic kefir is high-quality. Water and non-dairy milk kefirs cater to dietary restrictions but may lack some nutrients found in milk kefir and have fewer probiotics. Commercial kefir provides convenience at the cost of higher prices (avoid ones that have added sugar). Choose the type that best fits your dietary needs, lifestyle, and taste preferences.


Most of the scientific studies I have reviewed focus on dairy milk-based kefir. While there are studies indicating that non-dairy kefir can be effective, it is advisable to avoid those with added sugars and preservatives. I will update the references and further reading section of this article with new studies when they become available.

References and Further Reading:

1. Milk kefir: nutritional, microbiological and health benefits:


Summary: Kefir (milk kefir) improves digestion and lactose tolerance, exhibits antibacterial effects, lowers cholesterol, controls blood sugar, reduces blood pressure, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, shows anti-carcinogenic potential (inhibits cancer cell growth, induces apoptosis, enhances immune response, protects against colon cancer and melanoma), and promotes wound healing. The study highlights the extensive potential health benefits of kefir, while also calling for more systematic clinical trials to better understand its effects.


Authors: Damiana D. Rosa, Manoela M. S. Dias, ŇĀukasz M. GrzeŇõkowiak, Sandra A. Reis, Lisiane L. Concei√ß√£o, Maria do Carmo G. Peluzio.


2. Analysis of Health Benefits Conferred by Lactobacillus Species from Kefir


Summary: Lactobacillus species from kefir (milk kefir) exhibit numerous health benefits, including antimicrobial activity, improved cholesterol metabolism, immunomodulation, antioxidative effects, anti-diabetic effects, anti-allergenic effects, and tumor suppression. These benefits are attributed to various strains such as Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens, and Lactobacillus kefiri. The study highlights the specific health effects of these strains, including enhanced gut health, reduced inflammation, and improved immune response. The study also details further potential avenues for experimentation and calls for more systematic research to explore these benefits.


Authors: Conor Slattery, Paul D. Cotter, Paul W. O’Toole.


3. "Recent Developments in Dairy Kefir-Derived Lactic Acid Bacteria and Their Health Benefits"


Summary: Dairy kefir, a fermented milk product, contains lactic acid bacteria (LAB) that offer numerous health benefits. These include antimicrobial activity, improved cholesterol metabolism, immunomodulation, antioxidative effects, anti-diabetic effects, anti-allergenic effects, and tumor suppression. The study highlights the beneficial effects of kefir-derived LAB on colorectal cancer, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, obesity, kidney diseases, and modulation of the immune system as well as intestinal microbiota. Additionally, bioactive peptides and metabolic products of kefir have shown promising results as health beneficial components along with certain antiviral effects, including those against COVID-19.


Authors: Birsen Yilmaz, Heena Sharma, Ebru Melekoglu, Fatih Ozogul.


4. Effect of Kefir on Gut Microbiota Modulation and Health Benefits


Summary: Kefir, a fermented milk product, contains more than 50 species of probiotic bacteria and yeast, offering a wide range of health benefits. These include anti-obesity, anti-hepatic steatosis (fatty liver), antioxidative, antiallergenic, antitumor, anti-inflammatory, cholesterol-lowering, constipation-alleviating, and antimicrobial properties. The study reviews research on how kefir consumption modulates the host gut microbiota and mycobiota (gut fungi). Kefir's excellent gastrointestinal resistance, colonization ability, and wide-ranging microbial interactions contribute to significant modulatory effects on the gut microbiota. While the association of gut microbiota modulation with health benefits is supported by recent studies, further research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms behind these effects.


Authors: Dong-Hyeon Kim, Dana Jeong, Hyunsook Kim, Kun-Ho Seo.


5. The Many Faces of Kefir Fermented Dairy Products: Quality Characteristics, Flavour Chemistry, Nutritional Value, Health Benefits, and Safety"


Summary: Kefir (milk kefir) offers a wide range of health benefits, including antimicrobial properties, anticancer effects, gastrointestinal benefits, gut microbiota modulation, anti-diabetic effects, anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidative effects, cholesterol-lowering, wound healing, and stress reduction. The study emphasizes kefir’s rich nutritional composition, including proteins, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, which contribute to its health benefits. Additionally, the fermentation process enhances the content of bioactive compounds such as catechin, vanillin, and ferulic acid, further boosting its health-promoting properties.


Authors: Mohamed A. Farag, Suzan A. Jomaa, Aida Abd El-Wahed, Hesham R. El-Seedi.


6. The Microbiota and Health Promoting Characteristics of the Fermented Beverage Kefir


Summary: Kefir (milk kefir) offers numerous health benefits, including antimicrobial properties, tumor suppression, gastrointestinal immunity and allergy relief, increased speed of wound healing, cholesterol metabolism improvement, ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibition, and modulation of the immune system. The study reviews the microbial composition of kefir and its impacts on health, emphasizing the probiotic properties of kefir’s lactic acid bacteria and yeasts. These benefits are attributed to the complex symbiotic fermentation of milk by the microbes in kefir grains, leading to a variety of bioactive compounds.


Authors: Benjamin C. T. Bourrie, Benjamin P. Willing, Paul D. Cotter.


7.¬†Homemade Kefir Consumption Improves Skin Condition‚ÄĒA Study Conducted in Healthy and Atopic Volunteers


Summary: The study aimed to assess the impact of homemade milk kefir consumption on the skin health of healthy and atopic volunteers. It was found that regular intake of homemade kefir significantly improved skin barrier function, reduced transepidermal water loss (TEWL), and increased skin hydration. These effects were particularly pronounced in individuals with atopic dermatitis. The results suggest that the benefits are likely due to the combined effects of kefir’s complex microbiota, metabolites, and macro- and micronutrients. This study highlights the potential of kefir as a dietary intervention to enhance skin health, especially through mechanisms related to the gut-skin axis.


8.¬†Fermented Food in Asthma and Respiratory Allergies‚ÄĒChance or Failure?


Summary: The study reviews the role of various fermented foods, including kimchi, yogurt, fermented milk (amasi), and fermented soy products, in managing asthma and respiratory allergies. It highlights the potential of these foods to modulate the immune system and influence gut microbiota, thereby reducing the incidence and severity of allergic diseases and asthma. The bioactive compounds and live microorganisms in fermented foods can enhance epithelial barrier function, reduce allergen penetration, and modulate immune responses by increasing Th1 cytokines and decreasing Th2 cytokines, which helps control allergic reactions and improve respiratory health.

Authors:¬†Anna DńôbiŇĄska and Barbara SozaŇĄska.


9. Anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects of kefir in a mouse asthma model


Summary: This study evaluated the effects of kefir on a mouse model of asthma. Kefir administration significantly suppressed airway hyper-responsiveness and reduced the total inflammatory cell count and eosinophil count in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. It also normalized levels of Th2 cytokines (IL-4 and IL-13) and total IgE. Histological studies showed that kefir inhibited eosinophilia and mucus hyper-secretion in lung tissue, demonstrating its anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects. These findings suggest that kefir may have therapeutic potential for allergic bronchial asthma.


Authors: Mee-Young Lee, Kyung-Seop Ahn, Ok-Kyung Kwon, Mee-Jin Kim, Mi-Kyoung Kim, In-Young Lee, Sei-Ryang Oh, Hyeong-Kyu Lee.


10. The Effect of Kefir Consumption on Blood Pressure and Some Blood Parameters in Hypertensive Individuals


Summary: This randomized controlled clinical trial examined the effects of daily kefir consumption (250 ml/day) for 28 days on hypertensive individuals. The study found that kefir significantly reduced systolic blood pressure and aided in weight control. However, no significant changes were observed in diastolic blood pressure, pulse, glycemic parameters, lipid profile, or kidney function parameters. The study concluded that regular kefir consumption positively impacts systolic hypertension and supports weight management.


Authors: A. Ozyazgan Tokay, E. Pehlivan.


11. The effect of kefir consumption on human immune system: a cytokine study


Summary: This study examined the impact of kefir consumption on cytokine profiles in healthy volunteers. Participants consumed 200 mL of kefir daily for six weeks. The study found that kefir consumption led to a significant decrease in serum IL-8 levels and an increase in IL-5 and TNF-őĪ levels. These changes suggest that kefir consumption enhances immune response by increasing Th1 polarization and reducing Th2 responses, which can decrease allergic reactions and improve overall immune function.


Authors : Ali Kudret Adilońülu, Nurettin G√∂n√ľlateŇü, Mehmet IŇüler, Altuńü Senol.


12. Short-Term Effects of Kefir-Fermented Milk Consumption on Bone Mineral Density and Bone Metabolism in a Randomized Clinical Trial of Osteoporotic Patients


Summary: This study investigated the effects of kefir-fermented milk supplemented with calcium carbonate on bone mineral density (BMD) and bone metabolism in osteoporosis patients. Over six months, patients consuming kefir-fermented milk showed improved relationships between baseline turnover and changes in BMD, with significant decreases in bone resorption markers and increases in bone formation markers. Serum parathyroid hormone (PTH) levels increased in the kefir group, suggesting enhanced bone remodeling. The study concluded that kefir-fermented milk positively affects bone health, particularly in patients with higher baseline bone turnover.


Authors: Min-Yu Tu, Hsiao-Ling Chen, Yu-Tang Tung, Chao-Chih Kao, Fu-Chang Hu, Chuan-Mu Chen.


13. Milk kefir therapy improves the skeletal response to resistance exercise in rats submitted to glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis


Summary: This study investigated the effects of milk kefir therapy combined with resistance exercise on bone health in rats with glucocorticoid-induced osteoporosis (GIO). The study found that both milk kefir and exercise independently improved bone microarchitecture, quality, and metabolism. However, the combination of milk kefir and exercise (ExK) showed the most significant improvements, reversing many of the negative effects of glucocorticoids on bone. This included increased trabecular bone volume density, trabecular thickness, cortical volume, mineral content, and collagen maturity, as well as improved bone strength and biomechanics. The ExK treatment also increased the number of osteocytes and osteoblasts, indicating enhanced bone formation and remodeling.


Authors: Raquel Felipe de Vasconcelos, Vanessa Costa, Bruno Araujo, Thays Allane Cordeiro Maia, Romero Dias, Lorena Vasconcelos, Helson Silveira, B√°rbara Carneiro, Diego Thiers, F√°bio Wildson Gurgel Costa, L√ļcio Kurita, Alejandro Ayala, Renata Leit√£o, Karuza Maria Alves Pereira, Delane Viana Gondim, Paula Goes.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Are kefir drinks good for you?

Yes, kefir drinks offer numerous health benefits, including improved digestion, enhanced immune function, better bone health and skin health and much more.

Can kefir help with lactose intolerance?

Yes, the fermentation process reduces lactose content, making kefir easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance.

How often should you drink kefir to see benefits?

Consuming kefir daily can provide consistent health benefits, but its best to start with lower quantities to see how the body adjusts. The digestive system may not know what to do with all of the friendly bacteria at the beginning and could need some time to adjust.

Are there any side effects of drinking kefir?

Some people may experience digestive discomfort initially; start with small amounts.

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