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. The fermented drink 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 the fermented drink 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.24

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
  24. https://www.jenreviews.com/kefir/
21 Comments
  1. Thank you for this honest article on Kefir. Just like any food, vitamin or supplement, one does need to take heed of the side effects.

    Great read!

  2. I’ve experienced both sides of Kefir.
    Overuse of proton pump inhibitor left me with SIBO. Kefir took care of that. I’ve made fresh Kefir for months with no problems.

    The other side : I somehow got the idea that Kefir could not spoil… Old Kefir causes intestinal discomfort, gas, and finally diarrhea.

    I do find that Kefir eliminates my compulsive consumption of sweets. I am greatly grateful for this. This did NOT however miraculously make me thin.

  3. Even a tiny amount of Kefir gives me really awful painful wind nausea and diarrhea. I don’t know why, any clues? I don’t want to hear anything from the Kefir evangelists thanks about how it’s a healing reaction). I’m totally fine with other ferments i.e. yoghurt and sauerkraut.

  4. I usually experience histamine intolerance symptoms like cold, running nose after consuming yogurt,milk kefir, citrus fruits, etc. Does this mean I will experience same symptoms after consuming water kefir also? Please suggest.

  5. WOW thanks for the info. Does the same apply for kombucha? I would like a dairy free, histamine free kefir which brands offer them. Links would be great.

  6. Normally I do well with homemade kefir, but I’ve had a reaction to it on a few occasions (severe brain fog, pressure behind eyes, extreme irritability, dizziness, and more). It seems that the times I’ve reacted to it were when I drank a decent amount of overly fermented kefir. The way it gets when it’s been in the fridge for a week. I notice that it often takes on a slightly different taste at these times and is very strong. It’s almost a subtle blue cheese aroma (although there’s certainly no visible sign of mold). I wonder if the reaction is just from more of the same bacteria/yeast that is in fresh kefir, or if it’s because something else takes hold. I bet that freshly made, light tasting kefir is tolerable to more people, especially if the grains are properly cared for.

    • Hi Robin. I had very similar experiences this summer…and they were horrible! It was always when I ate ‘old dairy’. The first time I ate some old kefir made from low pasteurized A2 milk. Within an hour I had a HUGE headache, including behind my eyes. Within a few hours I developed vertigo/nausea, memory problems, and irritability. This lasted for DAYS. The next time I ate old cottage cheese. After that it was old sour cream…which had that blue cheese taste like you described. I forget what the 4th thing was…but at least now I remember not to eat ‘old dairy’. I actually have been living with these symptoms for a few years, including worsening brain fog, irritability, and memory problems, eating old dairy just really ramped them up.

      JOHN, I need to somehow fix this problem as it is destroying my life. I have lactic acidosis and hyperventilation syndrome for over 10 years, plus have slowly developed histamine intolerance. Taking great supps like dandelion and activated charcoal and baking soda and papaya enzymes and chlorophyll and niacinamide have all brought on hyperventilation. My theory is that they lower my Ph, causing my overbreathing body to slow down…and this screws up my breathing. I’ve also SLOWLY developed rhinitis over the last 10 years, which I recently realized is also behind my hyperventilation. I know that sals and B1 deficiency are behind this too.
      Severe brain fog began 5 years ago. I removed salicylates a year ago and that has been key to removing horrible symptoms of overheating, overbreathing, AFib, hearing loss, and very bad mood problems, inc fear and anger. Obviously I have been B1 deficient for a long time as it is helping greatly with my mood, energy, strength. In the last year my scalp and teeth have gone numb. Now that is really weird (and bothersome), and evidence that something is really wrong in my brain. My memory began really being affected 6 months ago…not knowing words…or having problems with pronunciation and order. Scary! Taking Benfothiamine also caused similar symptoms as the old dairy I ate…HUGE headache and vertigo. I can tolerate straight B1 better. I know it’s anti-inflammatory, but not sure why I get such bad symptoms. I have had an very itchy back, which began developing almost 40 years ago. It’s gotten so bad I literally scratch it on my fireplace to get deep relief. Removing sals decreased symptoms, but it’s still really there, and now I don’t know if it’s really the histamine or lactic acid causing it. I depersonalized 22 years ago, and have had a lifetime of anxiety, fear, and depression. I’ve been working really hard the last 5 years trying to reverse it (researching/diet/supps). A year ago I switched to a traditional Northern European diet, which has been very helpful, and was following a general traditional diet for 10 years. I did eat some fermented foods, but never alot. I try to eat things in moderation, not obsessively. I do make a 3-hour chicken broth weekly for soups and gravy, etc. as it’s so medicinal. I also do eat dairy often as I’m from Wisconsin and we have great local products! I try to avoid aged ones though. Cheese curds are great…fresh and no whey. Going N.E.D. has really removed the burden of so many of my symptoms. I have cured or greatly lessened 40 symptoms! I began the MTHFR and COMT protocols a month ago (and B1), which is also helping.
      I now know that my mitochondria /metabolism are dysfunctional too. Can’t get my temp above 97.1 and I have gained 70 pounds in the last 8 years. This is definitely hormone imbalances too! I just tried Pregnenolone for a week, but removed as it’s just too much burden on my brain with all the other supps…overstimulating!
      I have unfortunately been working around chemicals the last few years and I just figured out how much they are at the root of my current mess! They have really ramped up my mitochondrial dysfunction/weight gain/histamine reactions. I started taking a little PQQ and P5P a month ago for that. I was diagnosed with AF 25 years ago, and am very sensitive to stimulants and supps, so I never take whole pills. Since adding B1 2 months ago this is getting better! I also take all the Bs, finally adding B5 yesterday. My goal is to heal my very broken nervous system. But this histamine/lactic acid problem is kicking my butt! Before removing the sals suicidal ideations were a daily occurrence! I take molybdenum and magnesium (and other minerals), but probably not enough, and Culturelle, iflora, and Align. I just started taking Culturelle DAILY for best gut health.

      I’m waiting for my 23andme lab results, and I’m going to send in a UBiome test today. Interestingly I had to resend my saliva sample because they stated there wasn’t enough DNA in it. I wonder if this relates to MTHFR/folate anemia/megaloblastic anemia. So is a lifetime of B1 and Bs deficiencies at THE root of all this, plus a broken gut? I have brought back my gut health alot by removing plant oils, adding sugar (demerrera, maple, etc), B1, and N.E.D. I can finally tolerate acids again! I have mostly removed wheat gluten, but now eat soaked and well-cooked barley, oats, and rye. Their glutens are much gentler on the gut than wheat. As far back as I can remember I had stomach aches. I had School/social anxiety even before kindergarten. I’ve even tested positive on an online test for mild Aspberger’s. Interestingly since removing sals/adding B1 I am finding my voice and feelings again. I am beginning to be comfortable in social situations again…maybe better than ever before!

      Robin, can you relate to any of this?? I’m going to also put this on the forum and see if anyone can help me.

      Thanks for reading! “)

      • I didn’t read all as I’m tired and cell phone is blinding me. But research how dairy protein causes hearing loss and other symptoms you described. Just stop eating cow’s breast milk unless you’re a calf ;-)! YouTube search the China study, foods that kill and know that dairy cross reacts with gluten and should be avoided if you have any autoimmune condition. All the best!

      • Have you been checked for a candida overgrowth? That can cause many of the symptoms you mentioned. Those symptoms progress and get worse over time and you can get more types symptoms.

  7. I’ve never heard of anyone ever having issues with homemade kefir, or even store bought for that matter. I’ve never read an article on it, nor have I ever seen a blog posting indicating someone couldn’t tolerate kefir or got sick from it. That’s not to say no one ever has, it’s just that if they have, they’re an exception to the rule. If anyone’s going to have a problem with kefir, it will most likely be the government. It does it’s best to make sure we get sick, and stay sick.

    • I agree with you about the heads of the AMA and FDA, haha. But I have coached people that have had issues to it especially histamine.

    • Billy, with all due respect but you are clearly misinformed. People with severe excess of D-Lactase have great difficulty with Milk Kefir due to the specific lactase-producing bacteria in the kefir itself. And that is just ONE example.

  8. Home-made kefir made with raw milk, (goat or cow) is really the best for making kefir.
    Raw milk has all the enzymes in tact. The enzymes are cooked out of pasteurized milk. If you start with inferior raw materials, then you’re going to end up with an inferior end product.
    Some states allow the sale of raw milk at the health food stores.
    For those states that don’t, you may be able to purchase it directly from the farm or farmers market.

    • This comment is probably unfounded, there is little evidence of any benefit to consuming raw milk as opposed to pasteurized milk: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4890836/

      Also, culturing raw milk may have downsides for multiple reasons. First, the microbial load in the raw milk will compete with your kefir grains giving you less control over the culture you want. Second, any pathogenic microbes present in the raw milk could amplify during fermentation, perhaps increasing the health risks associated with raw milk consumption.

  9. Great article, thanks!

  10. 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!

    • Guys! Kefir from unpasteurized milk is the best and most nutritious food ever!
      Do not give up on it! The fact is that it is so packed with nutrients that it acts also as a detoxifier, it can dramatically increase your glutathion and you may experience significant Herxheimer or detox reaction. We are filled with viruses and bacteriae which this heavenly food starts to eradicate. As this happens you will fill sick. So don’t give up on kefir, just take it easy with it, go slowly. I have a homemade kefir from organic unpasteurized milk that I let ferment for 10 months. I drank 50-60 ml two days in a row and I felt like….crazy! I remembered how strong it can be and I reduced my dosage to 1-2 ml per day and slowly increasing to the point I can deal with my reactions. I have a high viral load and bacteriae and I know why I react as I do so take it easy. If you give up to it you lose so many benefits. It has billions of nutrients that man hasn’t even discovered.

      Good luck!

      • Of course you are completely right. But the owner of this blog have no idea of digestion and this guy has written a book?!?!?! – what a joke.
        Most people with sibo have low stomach acid – John does not even know what this means – this means that every time they eat meat as he suggests they feed bad bacteria in their intestines – it seems John does not even know that bacteria can feed on protein and peptides not only sugars – this is called putrefaction. The above article about kefir is total BS. The only problem with kefir is if it is made from pasteurised milk – because kefir cultures even they have problems predigesting pasteurised milk – so casein remains undigested and putrefies in intestines but you have better chances with pasteurised milk kefir than with beef steak for example.

  11. 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!

  12. 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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