Kefir for immunity & COVID protection
What is kefir?
Kefir is a probiotic drink, similar to a thin yoghurt. It is easily produced at home by milk fermentation with kefir grains; the starter culture is then used to produce kefir. Its nutritional composition can vary according to the milk composition, the microbiological composition of the grains used (now available commercially), the time and temperature of fermentation and storage conditions.
Kefir originated in the Caucasus region of Eastern Europe and the Tibetan mountains, where, in 2000 years BC, kefir grains were considered a source of family wealth and were traditionally passed from generation to generation. Nowadays, artisan strains are produced locally in many locations around the world including Asia, Africa, South America, and Western and Eastern Europe.
The name kefir originates from the Slavic Keif, meaning ‘well-being’ or ‘living well’, due to the overall sense of health and well-being generated in those who consume it (Farnworth 2005). Kefir differs from other fermented products because kefir grains consist of a vast variety of different species of live probiotic bacteria such as Lactobacillus kefiri, which is unique to kefir. The probiotic bacteria found in kefir, in addition to various yeasts, live in a symbiotic association (Lopitz-Otsoa et al 2006) and their diversity is believed to protect against various bacterial and viral infections (Slattery et al 2019).
Kefir – health benefits
As noted by Rosa et al (2017), regular consumption of kefir has been associated with a wide range of health benefits including improved digestion and tolerance to lactose, cholesterol lowering effects, control of blood glucose, blood pressure lowering effects, anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant activity, anti-carcinogenic activity, anti-allergenic activity, etc.
Kefir and COVID protection
As noted by Ye et al (2020), it is well established that COVID damages the body’s immune system through a “cytokine storm”, resulting in severe inflammation, due to an excessive immune response to external stimuli such as viruses. During the COVID-19 epidemic, the cytokine storm was closely related to the severe and rapid deterioration of some patients and high mortality rates.
As corona viruses are an extremely common cause of colds and other upper respiratory infections, the gut microbiome which influence systemic immune responses, as well as immune responses at distant mucosal sites such as lungs, can have a beneficial impact on virus clearance (Baud et al 2020). As noted by Hamida et al (2021), given that the cytokine storm appears to occur in many COVID patients, kefir and its by-products could be employed as protective agents against viral infections. Additionally, probiotic strains can modify the balance between proinflammatory and immunoregulatory chemicals (cytokines) that minimize immune response-mediated damage to the lungs.
With the emergence of the highly-contagious new strain of COVID, Omicron, it is particularly important that we boost and protect our immune system with a healthy diet and lifestyle. As kefir has been shown to suppress virus entry into host cells by binding with the virus (Hamida et al 2021), it could be used as an adjunctive therapy to orthodox treatments such as vaccination.
A small Turkish study by Adiloğlu et al (2013) demonstrated that the participants who consumed 200 mL kefir daily, for six weeks had a decreased inflammatory response and a more efficient immune response in the intestinal lumen, which can then have positive effect on systemic immunity (Martín-Peláez et al 2016).
Although there are now medical drugs that help to control COVID infections, for immunologic complications like the cytokine storm, anti-viral treatment alone is not enough and should be combined with appropriate anti-inflammatory treatment (Soy et al 2020). Hence, natural remedies such as kefir may help to potentiate their effects.
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