Kefir Probiotic Milk:One source, many benefits

-Mags Yap

Kefir is a creamy and refreshing milk drink made from fermented cow’s milk which is an excellent source of probiotics (healthy microorganisms).

My Kefir Story
In December of 2011, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called Urticaria, commonly known as hives. Urticaria is characterized by a red, raised, and very itchy rash. I sought out two medical doctors and both said the same thing, that there is no known cause for the disease, and hence, no cure for it. I was prescribed anti-histamines to keep them from swelling up. Since then, for over a year and a half, I took them daily, but even missing a pill once would allow the rashes to swell over my face and body. It was frustrating because I knew that taking the medicine was only treating the symptoms but not the root cause of it.

Early this year, while visiting my home country (Philippines), a Canadian friend of mine introduced me to kefir milk. He told me that he was culturing kefir in his home and that it has helped him a lot with his general health and that it might be able to help me too. He mentioned that scientists from all over the world are taking great interest in our digestive (gut) health especially since 80% of our immune system is in the gastrointestinal tract. In other words, having a healthy gut is tantamount to a healthy body in general.

In my desperation to find alternative ways to deal with my Urticaria, I agreed to give it a shot. He gave me some kefir grains and I brought them with me to Nepal. I started culturing my own and started drinking it on a daily basis. Three months into drinking kefir, I forgot to drink my anti-histamine pill for a day, and I was surprised that my hives did not swell up. I tried not to take it again the next day just to experiment, and it didn’t swell up again. To make a long story short, it’s been four months already and my hives are no longer a daily problem.

What is Kefir?
Kefir is basically fermented milk, a potent probiotic beverage made with kefir grains. Each kefir grain is a dynamic living ecosystem containing a symbiotic consortia of beneficial bacteria and yeasts held together by a matrix of proteins, lipids, and polysaccharides. This symbiosis is responsible for kefir’s tangy taste and stringy mouth feel and accounts for many of its health promoting and medicinal properties. It looks like curdled milk or runny yoghurt.

The kefir grains transform the milk during fermentation when probiotic bacteria multiply in the milk. It normally just takes 24 hours for this process. Many people assume that because yogurt and kefir are both cultured milk products, there isn’t much difference between the two. This, however, is not true. There are many differences between yogurt and kefir, including how they are made, the type of bacteria present, and the health benefits of each. Both yogurt and kefir are beneficial cultured dairy products that can perform different, helpful tasks in the body.

Benefits
Probiotics (the opposite of antibiotic)
An amount of 500 ml of kefir contains 5 trillion beneficial and friendly bacteria. Easy to digest, kefir cleanses the intestines while boosting your immune response to illness, and promotes better digestion. They may also help with lactose-intolerance and regulating the body while taking antibiotics.

Vitamins and minerals
Apart from the beneficial microorganisms, kefir can provide many essential vitamins and minerals. It is a rich source of vitamin A, B2, B12, K, and D. The most important minerals found in kefir are calcium, phosphorous, and magnesium.

Health conditions
Kefir can help alleviate and treat a number of health conditions like bronchitis, diabetes, allergies, gastritis, pancreatitis, eczema, stomach ulcers, psoriasis, arthritis, gout, osteoporosis, and anemia, to name a few.

Antioxidants/anti-aging
Kefir has antioxidants and anti-aging properties. It can neutralize free radicals that damage the body cells and tissues by oxidizing them. By reducing the impact of free radical damage, it can slow down the aging process.

Origin
Where kefir came from is a mystery since the grains are living organisms and hence are not man-made. However, it has been recognized that kefir grains originated from the Northern Caucasus Mountain region of the former USSR. The longevity of the Caucasian people has been tied to their consumption of kefir, with many among them living up to, and beyond, 100 years.

The word ‘kefir’ comes from the Turkish language and incidentally means ‘long life’ or ‘good life’. It is widely consumed throughout eastern and central Europe, often administered to all, from young children to the elderly.

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