Kefir and the Gut/Brain Axis

We are well into 2024 now and we have been blessed with rather more rain that we would like!  This weather, in general, has left most people feeling a bit fed up and possibly for some who have not got out and about as much as they’d like, a little isolated, anxious or depressed.  Now that Spring is finally on its way, there is hope in the air that things will start to feel a little easier and we can all get out and about a bit in some nicer weather.

The point of starting with this observation is to link our mood to our health, and whilst having to get ourselves through the winter period with all its, cold and flu viruses, plus many other ailments, which always seem worse in the cold, dark months, our general wellbeing often seems depleted by the time we come to spring.  Having attended my classes I am sure by now you have heard me say so many times, that this is all linked to our parasympathetic nervous system which is all run by our Vagus Nerve!  When we do all the things that make our body feel easeful, spend some regular time in peace, eat well and exercise to work the body and use deliberate slow intentional movement , we shift the body systems to work in a more relaxed (parasympathetic) state to help create better balance in the body and the mind, thus increasing our ‘Vagal Tone’ and in general, in this state, you will experience better energy and mood levels, increased motivation and vitality –  all should feel ‘well with the world’.

So, what can we do to give ourselves a boost at this time of year?  I think it needs to be said, first of all, that it goes without saying that approaching something like this requires a multi-facetted approach because there are many different ways to improve our health and we are all starting from different bases. I have chosen to talk about our Gut/Brain Axis and the roll of Kefir in this crucial body system today because many of us have little or no awareness of this very important connection to improve our overall health.  I hope that you find something interesting in here and possibly some ideas to take away for yourself.        By way of a very quick biology lesson to explain The Gut/Brain Axis, it is one of the most crucial anatomical links in our body and one that is often over-looked – In short, what we put into our bodies is intrinsically linked to how strong our immunity is, how well we feel, our energy levels, our mood fluctuations, as well as how much inflammation and pain we experience.  Your Vagus Nerve is the link between your gut and your brain, 90% of the nerve fibres in your gut connect to your brain via your Vagus Nerve.  Your gut is the largest sampling sight for what exists in your environment ie. everything that enters your body – through your mouth, nose, eyes, skin and even your ears – drains into your digestive tract.  Gut microbes communicate through the Vagus Nerve to trigger an immune response in your brain, heart, lungs and skeletal muscles.  The parasympathetic state helps keep this gut flora healthy by sending increased blood flow to the gut, supporting healthy motility, enzyme secretion and nutrient absorption while activating the beneficial effects of the probiotic bacteria.

Your digestive tract is home to a large number of bacteria and microbes, collectively known as your Gut Microbiome.  These ‘good bugs’ help balance out the ‘bad bugs’, maintaining a rich diversity of gut flora and microbiome, to support healthy immune function.  When the microbiome is teaming with many ‘good bugs’ our gut wall functions well, and nothing can leak out.  When the ‘bad bugs’ are on the high side, due to eating a poor diet that does not support gut health ie. too much sugar, processed food, not enough dietary fibre, courses of antibiotics – the gut lining becomes ‘leaky’, allowing pathogens and particles of undigested food through into your blood/brain barrier.  This flood of ‘alien’ structures floating around the blood and the brain cause a massive inflammatory response in the form of headaches, brain fog, digestive problems, an over-active immune response and eventually inflammation in our brains, joints, and other organs in the body – to mention just a few.  This, is largely, what leads to most of the inflammatory conditions we suffer from today.

So, what can we do to improve this vital health link?  I have been looking into this and as I already work on my Parasympathetic nervous system, increasing my ‘Vagal tone’ which I described above, plus working hard at reducing the environmental toxins that find their way into my system too, as a build-up of toxins can block the vagus nerve and reduce its working capacity – increasing inflammation further!  I decided that building and supporting my Gut Microbiome was the obvious place to start. This is where the Kefir comes in! Kefir is a popular fermented milk drink believed to have originated 1000’s of years ago in several different places around the world, like Tibet, Mongolia, Northern Russia spreading to Turkey and the East.  Since the 19th century it has increased in popularity in the West.  Due to our culture of scientific materialism, evidence-based studies are now proving, what these ancient cultures knew all along, that Kefir is incredibly beneficial for us, and we now see it on our supermarket shelves!  But as with many things, it is actually very easy to make yourself at home where the quality of the product can be far superior to the commercial product bought in the shops.

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It all begins life as a ‘starter grain’ which is not cereal based but a cluster of yeast and lactic acid bacteria that resembles a tiny weeny cauliflower or in a group, looks quite like cottage cheese!  They need to be kept in the milk to avoid drying out.  Preferably organic milk as these days, non-organic milk more often than not, contains traces of anti-biotics; choose your milk, cows, goats, sheeps or I believe non animal milks can also work but I have not tried this ,and they will not contain the same amount of nutrients as animal derived milk.  These ‘grains’ are put in a glass, lidded container, cover with milk and in about 24 hrs you will have a thin yoghurty-type fermented milk.  The longer you leave this, the stronger and more potent the mix – ie it will contain more of the good bacteria, better for you.  That said, if you have a delicate tummy or any ongoing digestive issues, its best to start with small amounts and gradually build up to about 180ml per day, over time.  Some people find it an acquired taste, but you soon get used to it and most people can ‘feel’ that it’s doing them good – I know someone who says it’s almost like their tummy ‘sings’ when they take theirs each morning!!

Below is a list of some of the main benefits of Kefir:

  • It is an excellent source of high-quality protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, Vitamins B12, B2, D, K2 and many more bioactive compounds and peptides, all crucial for the building blocks of life, encouraging very ‘happy’ cells.
  • Significantly helps to improve bone health, slowing or avoiding osteoporosis, improving bone density.
  • Improving general brain function, helping to reduce brain inflammations, brain fog, cognitive decline, deteriorating eyesight and many more.
  • Kefir also has powerful antibacterial properties that inhibit the growth and spread of some of the most harmful bacteria, which can leak out through our gut wall, and are a contributing factor in heart disease and many more conditions.
  • There is even evidence now to show that it could help to fight cancer and reduce the growth of tumours through its ability to significantly improve the immune system which if, functioning optimally, will find and destroy the abnormal growth of cells in our body which become the cancer.  This is an area of ongoing research.
  • Highly effective with helping to improve and eliminate many digestive concerns such as acid reflux/indigestion, diarrhoea, IBS, food intolerances and many more, helping to cut down on medication for these conditions.
  • It is often well tolerated (with gradual introduction) by those who are lactose intolerant because the grains significantly reduce the amount of lactose in the milk whilst in the fermentation process.
  • It helps to reduce inflammation by reducing ‘leaky gut’ syndrome which in turn can help alleviate allergic reactions to things that can cause some asthma attacks as well as positively influencing many conditions that are inflammation based.
  • It is also linked with regulating blood sugar levels, alleviating sugar cravings and helping to normalise weight issues.

This is not an exhaustive list of benefits but all of these and more, can be experienced when starting and maintaining, continuous use of Kefir on a daily basis including adding into the diet, a daily amount of prebiotic fibre to help ‘feed’ the good bugs throughout the digestive tract.  This can easily be done but do ask me about this if you need more information on this subject or I may never stop writing!!

To conclude, adding Kefir into your diet, over time, can bring around some amazing health benefits, by improving your immune system and reducing the overall effects of inflammation in your body, making you feel better.  If you are interested in making your own, let me know, I can give you the grains to start you off, along with an information sheet of instructions.  If you try shop bought products, buy the organic versions if possible and avoid kefir products that have any form of sugar or sweeteners in them, as the sugar degrades and potentially over time, kills most of the good bacteria.  Shop bought products say to keep refrigerated, but this can inhibit the functioning of the good bugs however, it is always best to follow their instructions.  When making your own, you keep it at room temperature unless it is too hot in the summer, or you need to slow the fermentation process to keep it at a level that is palatable to you.  Due to its powerful antibacterial properties, the growth of any bad bacteria simple doesn’t occur under normal circumstances, it just gets stronger!

I hope that you have found this interesting and that you all have a wonderful Easter break with your friends and family, possibly dogging a few rain showers, no doubt?!

I look forward to seeing you all in our classes that resume, week beginning 8th April.

With very much love, light and gratitude,

Ness xx