LivingThere are people who drink Kefir to combat COVID-19:...

There are people who drink Kefir to combat COVID-19: does it help or not?

 

Viral infections, including the one caused by SARS-CoV-2, are conditioned by many internal factors and external elements of the organism. One of them is the composition of the microbiota and the state of the immune system. In this article we review the possible help of taking Kefir to prevent infections.

What is Kefir?

Kefir is a dairy product similar to yogurt that is obtained from the fermentation of milk thanks to bacteria and fungi . The microorganisms normally responsible for this process are bacteria of the Lactococcus and Streptococcus type and the fungus Kluyveromyces marxianus .

Although you can also make water kefir, the most famous is the one created from milk. In some populations it has been consumed for thousands of years, such as in the Caucasus region, but in others it has been introduced in recent decades.

The origin of this word is believed to come from the Turkish word keif which means “feel good”, possibly related to the sensation when drinking this dairy product. What does seem likely is that it was something consumed in the countryside for many years before it spread to other populations and social classes.

To prepare this fermented milk product, it is only necessary to have milk , some Kefir nodules , the right container and use any recipe found on the internet. Kefir nodules are small white balls or grains in a cauliflower-like cluster that contain microorganisms to ferment milk.

These nodules of 0.3-3.5 centimeters in size are “reusable”, since it is enough to keep them with fresh milk every few days and collect the fermented product. For long-term preservation , they can also be frozen or even dehydrated .

How can Kefir help?

In popular culture there are various beliefs about home remedies to “boost” the immune system and “strengthen” defenses. Although most of them lack scientific evidence, others are based on concepts such as a varied diet that provides us with nutrients and a balanced microbiota .

The use of Kefir to combat the coronavirus is based on the hypothesis of its antiviral capacity promoted by the stimulation of cells of the immune system such as macrophages, neutrophils, antibodies and cytotoxic cells, which are responsible for killing pathogens and threats.

On the other hand, one of the big problems with COVID-19 was the symptoms caused by an exaggerated inflammatory environment that activated the immune system in such a way that it was very difficult to turn it off again.

Kefir could also help in this situation, since it acts as an anti-inflammatory agent by reducing the production of molecules that activate the immune system. In the context of the coronavirus, it could serve to slow down the cytokine storm that can be so dangerous.

All of these possible applications were reviewed by experts in an article published in 2021 in the journal Biomedicine & Pharmacotherapy . Although the dominant variants of SARS-CoV-2 currently seem to cause mild symptoms in the vaccinated population, understanding mechanisms to regulate viral infections can be of great help, not only for this pandemic but for other viruses.

A review of the scientific evidence on Kefir

In this review , six experts have checked the studies and experiments published to date to assess how much scientific weight they had on the properties of Kefir as a protective agent against viral infections.

Kefir nodules or grains contain probiotic microorganisms. A probiotic organism is, in general terms, a microbe that can act for the benefit or help maintain the health of our organism. Especially in its function of restoring the intestinal microbiota in a balanced way.

The nodules contain many types of microorganisms, where bacteria can occupy 37-90% of all species, although the composition can vary depending on the type of milk used, since it is the culture medium used by bacteria and that can favor one species or another.

The compounds generated by fermentation also vary according to the populations of microorganisms and the type of milk. In general terms, the bioproducts that Kefir contains are adequate and rich in various types of vitamins and micronutrients . However, these characteristics are not determinants of health if you do not suffer from some serious nutritional deficiency.

Some analyzes in animal models and other observational studies in humans suggest that Kefir consumption favors an adequate immune response, is related to a lower presence of pathogens in the digestive tract and respiratory tract, and a greater amount of antibodies.

Although it is difficult to discern what is the mechanism or molecule responsible for all these observations, it seems that nutrition supplemented with Kefir may be beneficial against viral infections.

References:

Hamida et al. 2021. Kefir: A protective dietary supplementation against viral infection. Biomed Pharmacother. doi: 10.1016/j.biopha.2020.110974

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