Why I am Split on Recommending Kefir, A Review

Why I am Split on Recommending Kefir, A Review

Most people in the health blogosphere focus on the positives of kefir; it is the bee’s knees! However, what about the negatives of ingesting the probiotic drink? Why do so many of the clients I coach seem to be intolerant of the beverage? It is chocked full of strains of probiotic bacteria and yeast; it should help revitalize the digestive tract, yet is it truly the panacea that everyone praises?

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a fermented milk product that originated from the Caucasus mountain region. It is a slightly tangy beverage full of probiotic yeast and bacteria. It is made by adding kefir grains (a “grain” is a combination of bacteria, yeast, proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates) to a liquid medium (either ruminant dairy, coconut milk / water, or water). “Controlled” fermentation occurs to produce the actual kefir product. 1

Since kefir is a fermented beverage, it is rich in many different vitamins, minerals, SCFA’s, and amino acids. Kefir contains: 2 3 4 5 6

  • B vitamins (thiamin, folate, B-12, biotin)
  • Vitamin K2
  • Calcium
  • Magnesium
  • Phosphorus
  • Propionic acid
  • Acetate
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Amino acids (methionine, cysteine, tryptophan, phenylalanine, tyrosine, isoleucine, threonine, lysine, valine)
  • Lactoferrin
  • Probiotic bacteria and yeast

Why I Am Hesitant In Recommending Kefir

Kefir has helped many people recover from their digestive woes and improve their overall health. That being said using it on a daily basis maybe hiding digestive issues if it brings constant relief. There are issues with its use including:

  • Histamine intolerance – some kefir contains strains that produce histamine. If you are suffering from histamine intolerance, then you want to stay away from kefir that contain: Lactobacillus bulgaricus, Lactobacillus casei, Lactobacillus helveticus, and Lactobacillus reuteri (might be ok for some people with histamine intolerance, converts histidine to histamine). 7 8 9
  • SIBO – I do not recommend the ingestion of probiotics when motility is compromised.
  • Yeast and aldehyde sensitivity – the yeast in the probiotic drink can produce aldehyde. Aldehydes are broken down in the body by the enzyme aldehyde dehydrogenase in the liver. The body’s production of aldehyde dehydrogenase depends on bio-availability of molybdenum, liver function, and genetics (ALDH genes). People with yeast sensitivities do not have enough aldehyde dehydrogenase and because of this react negatively to products containing yeast and mold. 10 11
  • D-lactate sensitivity – many of the lactic acid producing bacteria in kefir produce d-lactate. L-lactate is the primary lactic acid produced within the body and is readily metabolized. D-lactate is also produced by our bacteria and our metabolism, but in lesser amounts. When d-lactate is over produced and leaks out into the bloodstream from our gut, medical problems including delirium, ataxia, slurred speech, trouble concentration, and brain fog can occur. Though true d-lactate acidosis is rare (short bowel syndrome), issues from too much d-lactate being in the blood can occur. L. acidophilus, L. bulgaricus, L. fermentum, L. delbrueckii subsp lactis are examples of a d-lactate producing probiotics. 12 13 14 15 16 17
  • Contamination – production of fermented foods always comes at a likelihood of contamination. Granted the risk of contamination of a foreign strain is manageable in a controlled environment. Microorganisms, however, are mostly everywhere and are hard to keep out of a medium that is tailored to their growth.
  • Immunocompromisation – immunocompromised individuals should ingest probiotic foods or probiotic supplements with caution because of potential opportunistic effects.
  • Casein sensitivity – casein is a protein found in some dairy products (milk, cheese, kefir). Casein can be a hard to digest protein and can cause inflammation and digestive issues for some people. Casein also contains the opioid peptide casomorphin, which can slow motility and possibly cross the blood brain barrier causing proposed issues (cravings, histamine intolerance, further slowing of motility). There are claims of differing beta-casein proteins, known as A1 and A2. A1 proteins are mostly found in U.S. and Canadian dairy and may be more reactive in the gut because of the release of beta-casomorphin-7 upon its digestion. Also, A1 beta-casein contains histidine at position 67 of its makeup instead of proline that may affect its digestion and possible triggering in people who are histamine intolerance. However, studies are differing in the reactions of A1 or A2 casein in the human body. To be the most health conscious, if possible, I would consume milk or dairy products produced from A2 dairy. 18 19 20 21 22
  • Lactose intolerance – lactose is a disaccharide sugar found in some forms of dairy. Not all dairy kefir contains lactose. Some people are lactose intolerant and ingestion of the sugar causes digestive symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal cramps, gas, and bloating. 23
  • MAP (Mycobacterium avium paratuberculosis) – If you suffer from ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease you should avoid all dairy products including kefir produced from dairy. If you are suffering from either condition you should have little issue with dairy free kefir.

Final Thoughts on Kefir

Kefir is fine to ingest occasionally for most people as long as you do not have any of the above issues.

Homemade kefir might be a better option because you can control the strains used you use and the type of starter material (dairy, coconut, or water). It is possible to produce a kefir overlooking most of these issues from home. You could produce for example either water or coconut kefir from d-lactate free / low histamine producing probiotics and yeast. In doing so, you would avoid issues with d-lactate sensitivity, histamine intolerance, and casein / lactose intolerance. If I were to produce kefir at home, this is what I would make so that I could ingest the best possible kefir.

What about producing kefir without using yeast? Well, kefir technically is supposed to have yeast in it, producing kefir without yeast is more akin to producing yogurt, sorry.

That being said if you were suffering from SIBO, yeast sensitivity, or severe immunocompromisation there might be no version of the drink that you would be able to tolerate. I cannot recommend kefir ingestion if you fall into these categories.

  1. http://chriskresser.com/kefir-the-not-quite-paleo-superfood/
  2. http://chriskresser.com/kefir-the-not-quite-paleo-superfood/
  3. http://jitek.ub.ac.id/index.php/jitek/article/view/157
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24532061
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC65674/
  6. http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/~dna/kefir-composition.htm
  7. http://thelowhistaminechef.com/these-probiotic-strains-lower-histamine-rather-than-raising-it/
  8. https://examine.com/supplements/lactobacillus-reuteri/
  9. https://www.bulletproofexec.com/why-yogurt-and-probiotics-make-you-fat-and-foggy/
  10. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18983993http://www.jbc.org/content/227/1/533.full.pdf
  11. http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/minerals/molybdenum
  12. http://www.biolab.co.uk/docs/dlactate.pdf
  13. http://www.hindawi.com/journals/grp/2015/476215/
  14. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15987839
  15. http://www.mommypotamus.com/popular-probiotic-strain-may-induce-neurotoxicity/
  16. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22968410
  17. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3723183/
  18. http://www.breakingtheviciouscycle.info/knowledge_base/detail/casein-sensitivity/
  19. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dairy-intolerance/#axzz3wodQdDP3
  20. http://www.amymyersmd.com/2013/04/the-dangers-of-dairy/
  21. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj19dKlv57KAhVMRSYKHXShBpAQFgguMAI&url=http%3A%2F%2Fblog.healthkismet.com%2Fcasomorphins-cheese-addiction-diet-health&usg=AFQjCNE3OyNj_9IbJzFAxLDbiJJBExHpzg&sig2=3uSj-Sf6yVdPZSS08Fm8GA
  22. http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v59/n5/full/1602104a.html
  23. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/lactose-intolerance/basics/definition/con-20027906
3 Comments
  1. I am very glad to find your article! I have discovered that I cannot tolerate kefir at all. It gives me massive brain fog and slows down my ability to think – every time I take it. I just accidentally confirmed this again today. I had a full bottle left over in the fridge. I hadn’t taken any in many months because I had finally made a connection between it and the pronounced brain fog effect it has on me. I’d mostly forgotten that and today decided to use some of it up in a smoothy. Bam! Within 20 minutes I began feeling the old brain symptom. In an hour it had gotten more intense and will probably be with me the rest of the day until I can process it out of my system. I suspect it’s the yeast component, but not sure. I’m allergic to molds and a lot of other things. I was impressed at how you broke down the various components in kefir that can contribute to foggy brain. I know I’m intolerant and won’t be using it anymore. After I made the connection, I started using a high-potency probiotic in gel-cap form that I have no trouble with. What you did for me was explain how kefir can be a problem for some people. I’m one of those people and someone who likes to know – so thank you for laying it all out there. You are the first writer I’ve found who has done this!

  2. I have GERD. I dont have a hiatal hernia and suspect SIBO, but havent been breath teasted so cannot be sure. I know that my motility is weird because my stomach doesnt rumble as often as it should, amongst other things. I tried home-made kefir made from pastuerised organic goats milk and it did nothing for me whatsoever. I think its over-sold in the alt-health world and the fact that its dairy not given due respect and caution. I had better results the day I cut out dairy altogether. After 6 years with GERD, apart from moving to a lower carb, low fermentation diet, cutting out dairy would be the first thing Id recommend to any GERD sufferer. It took me so long to accept and do it because Id consumed dairy just fine for so long in my life. If you want a good probiotic, make your own sauerkraut, and for petes sake, eat a greens salad with every meal!

  3. You’re right that most blogggers say Kefir is amazing. It is valuable to get the other perspective.

    My main criticism for your post is that you’re truly breaking up the parts and looking at them separately instead of acknowledging the synergistic effects of kefir and the fermentation process.

    And just because Kefir contains a certain probiotic, it may have other probiotics that balance out the negative effects — you just don’t know.

    That being said, since everybody is unique in our gut health, then obviously Kefir will not be the right method for EVERYBODY. This can be said about ANYTHING!

    Overall though, the reason people promote kefir so much is because many people have experienced the life changing benefits of it. I’m not talking about the store bought kefir of course so I’m glad you made a caveat for the homemade kefir.

    There’s just too much research and experience proving the benefits of real, raw kefir that it’s worth making the attempt. It could change someone’s life for the best. Sometimes you shouldn’t overthink it or over-analyze it.

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