Kefir might taste nice (at least when you get used to it!), but it’s mainly consumed for its health benefits.
The main reason kefir is healthy is that it contains probiotics, or “good bacteria”. These bacteria have numerous health benefits including easing digestive problems such as IBS and even improving mood. The most popular probiotic in the Western world is yoghurt, but kefir actually contains more probiotics, making it a better source of good bacteria.
Kefir grains typically contain about 30 different strains of good bacteria.
Let’s look at some of the most exciting health benefits of kefir.
Please note, this article isn’t intended as medical advice, and you should always consult with your doctor before using kefir as a potential treatment for any health issues.
The probiotics in kefir can help improve gut health, which in turn leads to better digestion. Some people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) find kefir beneficial, though this varies from person to person.
Another good thing about kefir is that it is easier to digest for those with lactose intolerance than most other dairy products.
Improved bone health
Like milk, kefir is a good source of calcium and vitamin K2, both of which are essential for bone health. Getting enough calcium and vitamin K2 can help prevent osteoporosis, which is a disease that results in a weakening of the bones, making fractures more likely.
Statistics show that 1 in 2 women in the UK and 1 in 5 men will suffer a bone fracture after the age of 50, which highlights the importance of bone health, especially in older women.
May reduce inflammation
Inflammation is a factor in several health problems including IBS and rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies have found that probiotics reduced inflammation among arthritis sufferers (source), suggesting that kefir be a good dietary supplement for reducing inflammation.
One of the strains of bacteria in kefir is lactobacillales, or lactic acid bacteria, which has been shown to have antimicrobial properties. This study found that Lactobacillus kefiri extracted from Kefir had a protective effect against salmonella when given to mice. This means kefir could potentially help protect us against harmful bacteria that could make us ill.
Helps improve skin
There’s a link between gut health and skin health. Problems such as acne and eczema can be caused, at least in part, by a poor balance of bacteria in your gut. By improving your gut health through probiotics such as kefir, you might find that your skin quality improves.
Like other dairy products, kefir contains quite a few essential nutrients, most notably protein and calcium. According to Foodnutritiontable.com, milk kefir contains the following nutrients per 100 g (about 100 ml):
- Protein: 3.3 g
- Vitamin A: 0.03 mg
- Vitamin B1: 0.03 mg
- Vitamin B2: 0.15 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.04 mg
- Vitamin C: 1 mg
- Calcium: 120 mg
May help with allergies and asthma
The results of some studies in animals suggest that consuming kefir could suppress the unnecessary inflammatory response that our immune system produces due to allergies. This study found that kefir reduced the symptoms of asthma in mice.
May help fight cancer
Cancer kills around 160,000 people in the UK a year (source), so anything we can do to prevent it is a plus. Since kefir contains probiotics, it should stimulate the immune system, which may help fight cancer. This page explains the science behind how kefir could help induce apoptosis (the death of malignant cells such as cancerous cells).
The results from this study suggest that kefir can help inhibit cancer cells from proliferating.