Most of us are already familiar with probiotics. We know that fermented foods like pickles, sauerkraut, and Greek yogurt have a number of health benefits, including improving IBS symptoms, such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
Many readers may not know that of the fermented food groups, kefir may just be the magic bullet to improving our health. Kefir, which has been around for thousands of years (see article on its history here), is gaining popularity.
While it’s considered a dairy product, kefir is not your typical milk. It’s more like a “drinkable yogurt.” Fermenting kefir produces billions of colony-forming units (or CPUs) of bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Essentially, there could be between 25-30 billion colonies of healthy microorganisms, or probiotics, in one cup. These organisms have been shown to:
Improve the immune system
Decrease osteoporosis risks
Reduce cholesterol level
Help reduce weight
And that’s just some of the top four benefits. Feed the microorganisms residing in the gut, and you improve your health. In this article, we’ll touch on how the microbiome in kefir affects cholesterol and weight.
How kefir helps lower cholesterol
There are two main types of cholesterol: high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) and low-density lipoprotein (aka LDL, the “bad” cholesterol). Additionally, when measuring total cholesterol, doctors also look at triglycerides, which are composed of fats and oils. People with high LDLs and triglycerides tend to have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke, obesity, and diabetes.
Several researchers reviewed 15 clinical studies and summarized that certain Lactobacillus probiotics — L. plantarum and L. reuteri — significantly reduced total cholesterol, including LDL. In a separate study of 92 people who had high triglycerides, researchers discovered that probiotics L. curvatus and L. plantarum were responsible for reducing high triglycerides.
A meta-analysis published in the journal of Nutrients confirmed that L. plantarum, L. acidophilus, and B. lactis were particularly effective in reducing cholesterol levels. These probiotics bind with cholesterol in the intestines to stop it from being absorbed. They also help produce certain bile acids, which help metabolize fat and cholesterol. Lastly, they can also create short-chain fatty acids to prevent cholesterol from being formed by the liver.
Bottom line? There’s a link between the gut microbe and artery health. So probiotics could be a pathway to reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease.
How kefir helps with weight loss
The gut, which researchers now call the “second brain,” is composed of microorganisms that signals multiple functions, such as hunger. Researchers in Lebanon reviewed 83 clinical articles and discovered that probiotics and prebiotics could influence appetite, metabolism, body composition, and weight.
The gut microbiome includes five different families of bacteria: (Bacteroides, Firmicutes, Actinobacteria, Proteobacteria, and Verru-comicrobial. It appears that imbalances in the gut from select microorganisms can trigger the hunger hormone ghrelin to “turn on” and promote fat storage. A large depletion of specific species also can lead to obesity.
There are multiple factors that affect the diversity and composition of the gut microbiota. Taking probiotics and prebiotics can help replenish the microorganisms that have been depleted as a result of poor diet, lack of exercise, or use of certain medications, like antibiotics. However, if one is truly interested in taking more kefir to reduce weight, it’s also important to incorporate regular exercise and a healthy diet. The article review from researchers in Lebanon listed how different diets influence obesity and gut microbiome (see Chart). Ultimately, they indicated that these studies might lead to promising treatments for preventing and treating obesity in the future.
Kefir may be the key to weight loss and long-term weight management.
How much kefir is beneficial?
For best results, stick to around 1-3 cups (237–710 mL) per day to increase the intake of probiotics. Of course, it’s important to have an honest discussion with a nutritionist/dietitian first before gulping several cups a day.
For those who are not familiar with fermented milk, the flavor can take time to get used to. If you don’t like the taste but want the benefits, pair it with fruits or mix it in a smoothie. Also, try sipping a little bit at a time each day until you adjust to the taste.