Kefir is one of the most effective natural solutions for multiple health issues, including IBS or irritable bowel syndrome. Even though it has been around for thousands of years, it has only become very popular in the past few years.
If you’re looking for something that can help you calm your bowel and improve your overall health, Kefir will make a huge difference. See what Martin Cohen and (our nutritionist in Manchester) has to say about this beneficial drink.
What is Kefir Exactly?
Benefits of Drinking Kefir
What is Irritable Bowel Syndrome?
What Exactly Causes IBS?
Is Kefir Good for IBS?
Is Kefir High Fodmap?
Is Kefir Good for Stomach Problems?
What Does Kefir Do to Your Intestines?
How to Take Kefir for IBS?
Can Kefir Cause Loose Bowels?
What are the Side Effects of Kefir?
Similar to yogurt, kefir is also a fermented food full of probiotics that improve gut health. Unlike yogurt that only has one type of gut-friendly bacteria, kefir offers a wide range of different probiotic microorganisms and yeast. Its consistency is much thinner, and it’s usually served as a drink. The taste is also similar to yogurt, but with a slightly tart aftertaste.
Kefir is made from cow, goat, or sheep milk, but some people also use coconut milk, rice milk, or soy milk to make it. The milk is mixed with kefir grains rich in bacteria and yeast. After the fermentation process is complete, kefir grains multiply, and they can be used to make new batches of this healthy drink. Kefir can help treat IBS and improve overall health, as well as the immune system.
There’s a reason why kefir is so popular these days. Ancient cultures used it to treat all kinds of health issues, and modern civilization is only waking up to the many kefir benefits it provides. Those who regularly drink it get all kinds of health benefits that are able to improve their overall quality of life. Here’s a quick overview of the benefits you get from drinking kefir:
- Excellent source of amino acids, minerals, and key vitamins;
- Helps reduce levels of harmful gut bacteria;
- It has high anti-inflammatory effects;
- Helps boost the immune system;
- Helps all healing processes in the body;
- Promotes gut health;
- Could help reduce the risk of cancer;
- May help with lowering cholesterol in the blood;
However, many studies over the years proved that some people suffering from IBS saw a vast improvement in their condition after drinking kefir for a few weeks at a time. Some of the benefits listed above also work together to repair your intestines and minimize the symptoms of IBS, but we’ll get to that in just a moment.
During my experience as a Manchester nutritionist I’ve come to realise that irritable bowel syndrome or IBS is one of the most frequent gastrointestinal problems. It’s caused by bad food habits and a stressful lifestyle. People suffering from IBS experience stomach pain and discomfort, followed by excessive flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea or abnormal stools.
Most patients who have IBS report having indigestion, chronic fatigue, painful menstruations, headaches, and poor sleep quality. The symptoms vary from person to person. Here’s a list of the most common symptoms:
- Going to the toilet too often and if your stool is watery or pellet-like;
- Frequent diarrhoea or constipation after breakfast followed by stomach and rectum pain;
- Bloating of the abdomen that gets worse as the day goes on;
- Heartburn and acid reflux;
IBS is caused by a wide variety of unhealthy diet habits, stress, and so on. Here’s a detailed list of the common causes that lead to IBS if not dealt with in time:
- Imbalance of bad bacteria and yeast in the intestines;
- Eating too many carbs and sugar that feed the bad bacteria and make things even worse;
- FODMAP that doesn’t digest fully gets fermented by the bad bacteria leading to the formation of fatty acids followed by increased production of gasses that lead to pain and bloating;
- Eating foods your body doesn’t tolerate;
- High levels of stress caused by fear or anxiety;
- A weakened immune system;
- Not getting enough sleep;
All of the above can lead to the development of irritable bowel syndrome. You must change these habits before things get really bad, but kefir can help you repair your intestines and ease the symptoms if you are already suffering from IBS.
People who drink kefir regularly reported feeling better after a few days of use. Many studies that took place in the past few years proved that kefir provides important health benefits that also help reduce IBS symptoms.
Kefir has a high FODMAP rating, and as such, it can enhance your digestive and overall health. It’s rich in good gut bacteria, and it promotes good bacterial balance in the intestines. Kefir also improves lactose digestion and stool consistency.
People suffering from IBS have a hard time digesting milk products. Drinking milk, eating cheese, and other dietary products are often followed by diarrhoea, stomach pain, and other IBS symptoms. That’s why many people drink coconut or soy milk kefir, or even water, as their stomachs can take it.
In other words, kefir can help you improve your gut health, but it won’t cure you of IBS as long as you keep eating unhealthy foods and not enough veggies. However, it can help you balance the bacteria in your gut and help you speed up the recovery process.
In general, fermented foods are filled with microorganisms or gut-friendly bacteria that provide all kinds of health benefits. These good bacteria are called probiotics, and they help balance the levels of gut bacteria. However, since not all fermented foods provide health benefits, the FODMAP rating helps determine the food content and how it helps rebuild gut bacteria.
Some foods have the same FODMAP rating no matter if they are raw or fermented, but some see a drastic improvement in the rates after the fermentation process. For example, raw cabbage has a low FODMAP rating, while fermented cabbage has high mannitol and polyol levels. The only way to know if a fermented food has a high FODMAP rating is to test it out.
Since kefir is made from different types of milk that already have high FODMAP levels, it also has a high rating. In other words, it helps rebuild the gut flora and has a positive effect on health and the entire body. As such, it has the much needed elements to help decrease IBS symptoms.
Kefir is very rich in gut-friendly bacteria and yeast. That means that it almost certainly positively affects the digestive tract, but the effects are not the same for everyone. If you’re one of the unlucky people who are lactose intolerant, you can only drink water kefir or kefir made from coconut and soya milk.
The ingredients found in kefir help digest food better and improve nutrient absorption. The gut-friendly bacteria levels in your intestines go up, and the levels of bad bacteria go down. As a result, your gut won’t have such a hard time digesting food, and it won’t produce high levels of gasses that lead to bloating and stomach discomfort.
Back to top
Kefir can change your food preferences in a natural way. Once the good bacteria reach your gut, they feed on plant-based fibres. Over time, you will feel a craving for vegetables and dark greens while lowering the need for unhealthy foods like sugar, carbohydrates, and so on.
When compared to store-bought probiotics, kefir offers much higher levels of good bacteria. Not only that, but it also contains over 30 different strains of bacteria, providing your intestines with all types of good bacteria that promote better digestion. A single glass of kefir is enough to satisfy your daily calcium, protein, and vitamin B12 needs. Moreover, kefir also has high anti-inflammatory effects, helping your stomach recover from ulcer wounds and inflammation.
It’s also rich in tryptophan, an amino acid responsible for inducing sleep. The acid promotes serotonin production naturally, helping calm your bowels, reduce stress levels, and improve the overall quality of sleep.
Lastly, kefir also helps balance the immune system, which has a considerable effect on IBS patients. As the immune system becomes stronger, your guts become more efficient when breaking down food, which directly helps reduce symptoms of IBS.
Many people suffering from IBS have a hard time figuring out how to get rid of it with kefir permanently. That is usually caused by lactose intolerance, which can make things even worse every time you drink kefir. So, the first step is to figure out if you are lactose intolerant.
If you are lactose intolerant, you should try water kefir, coconut kefir, or soy milk kefir. One glass of kefir every day should show drastic improvements after a week or two. Your IBS symptoms will become more manageable, and you will feel better overall.
However, regularly drinking kefir won’t be enough to help you cure IBS for good. You will have to make some critical lifestyle changes to recover from IBS fully. Here’s what you need to change:
- Avoid eating spicy and sugary foods;
- Eat foods rich in fibre;
- Drink a lot of fluids;
- Get regular exercise;
- Make sure you get enough sleep;
- Try meditation and other activities that lower stress levels and promote positive thinking;
Many people who come in contact with kefir for the first time ask one question – can kefir make IBS worse? Since it’s a fermented food, it can cause a few negative side effects, loose bowels being the most common problem. You should know that diarrhoea isn’t caused by kefir itself; milk sensitivities almost always cause it.
In other words, if you are allergic to milk or if you’re lactose intolerant, milk-based kefir can trigger an allergic reaction. Surprisingly, the reaction is not caused by the digestive tract but rather by the weakened immune system.
The milk’s proteins can trigger an immune response, as your body sees the milk as a harmful substance. The immune system then produces chemicals to defend the body, and those chemicals can lead to inflammation, gut irritation, diarrhoea, and allergic reactions. If that’s the case, you should switch to water kefir immediately.
Kefir can also cause some side effects if not used correctly, which is why you should always talk to your doctor before you start using it. The biggest issue with kefir is that it has a high insulinemic score, leading to increased insulin levels in the blood. That’s also one of the main reasons you shouldn’t drink more than 1 cup of kefir every day.
Some people can’t digest kefir, which is usually followed by side effects such as bloating, cramping, and in rare cases, diarrhoea. Kefir can also lead to feelings of nausea and abdominal pain. Even though kefir is rich in good bacteria, it could lead to further complications if your immune system is compromised.
The Bottom Line
Kefir is a potent substance rich in the friendly gut bacteria our bodies need to digest food properly. It is also rich in minerals, vitamins, and protein, all of which are crucial for keeping our bodies working as they should. It can help reduce symptoms of IBS particularly when paired with other lifestyle changes.
However, if you have a weakened immune system or if you’re lactose intolerant, drinking milk-based kefir can lead to unwanted side-effects that can negatively impact your health. That’s why you should first make sure that your immune system is strong enough to digest kefir and deal with the sudden influx of good gut bacteria. Overall, kefir is a natural solution to many health issues, including IBS.
Author: Martin Cohen
DipCNM mBANT mCNHC
I am a member of the professional body BANT (British Association for Applied Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy) and the CNHC. In addition, I have also reached the occupational standards of the NTC (Nutritional Therapy Council), which has strict codes of practise and ethics.
In such a developing and exciting field I remain focused on keeping up with emerging research. My continued growth and development as a practitioner comes through peer-reviewed research and regularly attending accredited seminars and conferences around the country.