If you have begun to drink milk kefir for it's many health benefits, it can be disheartening to experience negative symptoms as a result. Why would something that's supposed to be so good for you have such nasty side effects?
The answer most likely has to do with how good your gut health was before you began drinking kefir, and how much healing you still have left to do.
First, to understand how milk kefir affects the body we need to understand what milk kefir is and what it does within our digestive system.
What is Milk Kefir?
Milk kefir is a fermented milk drink that is very similar to yogurt. It is cultured using kefir grains, which are essentially a mixture of bacteria and yeast in a cluster of proteins, lipids, and sugars. These “grains” cluster together in what looks like a small cauliflower.
Kefir is made by adding the grains to milk (either cow, goat, or sheep milk) and allowing it to sit in a jar or container for about 1-3 days. This allows the beneficial bacteria in the kefir grains to “take over” and culture the milk. The result is a thick liquid similar to the consistency of yogurt.
Like yogurt, milk kefir is full of good bacteria called probiotics, except that milk kefir contains many more strains of good bacteria than yogurt, making milk kefir far superior to yogurt in it's ability to populate our digestive systems with beneficial organisms.
Benefits of Probiotics
These probiotic organisms are important for many reasons. They improve your body's ability to break down foods and utilize nutrients, as well as boost your immune system.
- Play an important role in normal growth and development
- Fight cancerous cells
- Balance the body's PH levels
- Protect from allergies and autoimmune disorders
- Balance stomach acid
Can Milk Kefir Cause Heartburn?
It can be confusing to understand why milk kefir sometimes causes heartburn even with it's wide range of health benefits. But once we look at the process of how kefir repopulates the gut with healthy bacteria, it's easier to understand why it happens and how to prevent it.
Think of your stomach as sort of a science experiment in healthy bacteria against bad bacteria. This is known as your gut flora. Ideally, the gut of a healthy person is full of good bacteria and very little bad bacteria. However, the reality is that most of us start our journey to health with very bad gut flora.
What Influences Your Gut Flora
The balance of good/bad bacteria in your gut is dependent upon a number of factors, including your typical diet, your lifestyle, and prior use of antibiotics.
Children inherit much of their gut flora (good or bad bacteria) from their mother while she was pregnant.
A mother with very good gut flora will typically pass it on to her children, while a mother with bad gut flora is less likely to pass on enough good bacteria to her child. Whether or not the child is breastfed will also play a role in the quality of gut flora.
Obviously, what we want is for our digestive system to be populated by mostly good bacteria. We can do this by eating plenty of probiotic foods, promoting “detox” that allows our bodies to rid themselves of bad organisms, and limiting our consumption of foods that allow bad organisms to thrive (such as too much sugar).
Why Milk Kefir Causes Heartburn
When the consumption of milk kefir causes heartburn, it is most likely a result of introducing good bacteria to an environment where bad bacteria have taken over.
The good bacteria and the bad bacteria cannot live in harmony, and so they begin to wage war within your digestive system. The probiotics from the milk kefir seek to evict the bad bacteria from your gut, which can result in a number of unpleasant symptoms, including heartburn and other Gastrointestinal (GI) problems.
This period of adjustment in your digestive system is called “gut flora repopulation” or “gut flora repair” , and it can take anywhere from days to months depending on the current state of your digestive system. It can also cause something known as “die off” in which your body reacts to trying to rid itself of bad bacteria.
Common Symptoms During Gut Flora Repopulation:
- GI complaints such as heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, constipation, etc.
- Headaches and muscle aches
- Excess mucous production
- Skin rashes
- Brain Fog
Because kefir is so much stronger than yogurt, it can cause a much stronger reaction if your stomach is not used to the strains of good bacteria that live in milk kefir.
How to Begin Drinking Milk Kefir
Just because you get heartburn when you drink milk kefir does not mean you should stop drinking it. In fact, it probably means that your body needs the good bacteria in milk kefir all the more.
What you will need to do is ease into drinking milk kefir slowly. Start off with 1-2 Tbsp of milk kefir a day and slowly work yourself up as you begin to tolerate it better.
If you are having a lot of heartburn, take a break for 2-3 days until your heartburn has subsided, then try again.
The heartburn could also be related to a dairy intolerance, but I would only suspect this if you don't otherwise consume much dairy.
Want to learn how to cure your heartburn or acid reflux through nutrition? Check out the 30-Day Heartburn Solution by Craig Fear.
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