Monthly Archives: May 2014

Kefir: How to make your own! Plus, some of its health benefits proven by research.

Kefir is a fermented milk product with at least a two millenium history of human use. Native people such as the Maasai have used fermentation to preserve their milk products. Kefir is the most popular fermented dairy product in Russia and is thought to have originated in the Caucasus mountain region. Milk that is fermented into kefir has been found to last at least six weeks in refrigeration with no spoilage or loss of probiotic organisms! This is significantly longer than pasteurized and unfermented milk, and works the same way whether with camel, cow, goat or sheep’s milk. Kefir has been found to have many health benefits, among them:

-Kills drug-resistant myeloid leukemia cells

-Slows the progression of kidney disease

-Improves fatty liver disease

-Reduces obesity/body fat content

So, how do you make your own? It’s really simple, actually! All you need is milk, a starter culture, and a jar. Starter cultures can be obtained from someone else who is making kefir, or started from commercially available packets:


The culture that ferments kefir is known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast. Over time, this culture will grow until it looks a bit like soggy cauliflower:


If making kefir for the first time using a package mix, it is best to follow the directions provided with the kefir grains. When you strain out the grains as shown above, they will grow over time and form a bigger SCOBY. This SCOBY is fairly advanced-it’s a good time to share with someone else! This one can ferment a quart of milk into kefir in 24 hours.

The first step to making kefir from a SCOBY is to add the SCOBY to the fermenting vessel (fancy word for quart mason jar in this case!)



The next step is to add the milk:


Then cover the top with a coffee filter or paper towel, to keep dust and insects from contaminating your kefir culture.


and use either a rubber band or one of the threaded rings (since this is a canning jar) to keep the filter attached tightly:


At this point, I place the jar on top of my refrigerator.


It works best if you take it down and stir it lightly 2-3x/day, or at least give it a good swirling-about, to distribute the bacteria more evenly in the milk. If you prefer a lighter fermentation, 24 hours may be sufficient. I prefer a thicker, stronger fermentation, and often leave it 48 hours or place it in the refrigerator the last 24 hours before removing the SCOBY. The next step is to strain out the SCOBY:



The SCOBY culture can then be put into a smaller glass jar with some fresh milk and stored in the refrigerator, or the process can be repeated to start the next batch of kefir. Using this information, you can create your own healthy kefir at home! We use goat milk obtained from a local farm, but it will work with other types of milk or store-bought goat milk also. Fermentation of milk in this manner preserves the milk, as the bacterial culture will actively inhibit or kill any invading bacteria that might cause spoilage or disease. It has been shown to last at least six weeks, as mentioned above. Will pasteurized milk last six weeks if not fermented? Hardly-it would be a horrid stinking mess! In the same manner, unfermented milk that is fermented is safer for consumption than pasteurized milk that is unfermented. Once finished, kefir can be enjoyed as-is, blended with fruit to make smoothies, or added to other drinks and dishes. So get started and enjoy this healthy probiotic beverage!


Natural Remedies for Pain vs. NSAIDS

One of the most common pain classes of pain relievers are NSAIDS. This stands for non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs and these are available over the counter (Ibuprofen, Motrin, Tylenol and aspirin are examples) and by prescription (Indocin, Mobic, Toradol and many others). It is estimated that up to 90 million prescriptions for NSAIDS are written in the US every year. This rate of prescribing is estimated to cause as many as 16,500 deaths per year and many more hospitalizations.

What is not discussed as often is the role of NSAIDS in damaging intestinal linings and gut bacterial populations. The damage causes enteropathy, or damage to the intestines. This damage results in altered/abnormal gut bacteria populations, a condition known as dysbiosis. Increased intestinal permeability also creates increased inflammation.

Abnormally increased inflammation is one of the things that causes pain! Isn’t that what NSAIDS are used to treat? It gets more interesting: Increased intestinal permeability is one of the underlying factors driving many conditions like Crohn’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Asthma. All three of these conditions are very serious and painful!

Inflammation is the common denominator in pain of most types. Gut bacteria play a huge role in the control of inflammation as the symbiont colony helps to manage the functions of the immune system. Anything that is damaging to the gut bacteria is likely to also increase inflammation and pain syndromes. It has been found that NSAIDS cause damage to gut bacterial colonies. It is even possible that the damage to the intestinal walls is in part due to dysbiosis triggered by the drugs!

Instead of taking NSAIDS and causing all of these problems, consider other more natural approaches to temporary pain relief. Some of these approaches and products have a great deal of research supporting their use. Probiotics would be one recommendation, for the reasons stated above: maintaining normal immune function goes a long way to inhibiting inflammatory pain pathways. A second complimentary product would be curcumin. This spice is possibly the most researched natural anti-inflammatory substance we know of today, and it does not cause the problems that NSAIDS cause.

A healthy lifestyle that includes reduced stress, probiotics, a prebiotic/gut bacteria-healthy diet and non-harmful anti-inflammatory supplements such as curcumin can go a long way to reducing chronic pain! More information about the relationship between symbiotic bacteria and pain reduction strategies will be found in The Symbiont Factor which is on track to be published in June 2014.


The Symbiont Factor Looks at Triglycerides, Cholesterol, Weight Gain and Fatty Liver Disease

These days it seems that every other person has high cholesterol, high triglycerides, fatty liver disease or is overweight. Many have combinations of these problems and are constantly on medications to try to control runaway cholesterol or triglycerides. Statin drugs, used to lower cholesterol, are plagued with serious side effects that keep many people from using them. Fatty liver disease results when the body does not manage the metabolism of fats properly and fats accumulate in the liver instead.

Why does the body sometimes do such a poor job of managing these factors? The answer may surprise you! Our human bodies do not function well at all without the population of symbiotic bacteria that live in the intestines. A recent research study showed that gut bacteria produce bile salts that help control host functions. Bile salts are used as a messenger in a “microbe-host dialog” to normalize the metabolism of fats. The bacteria are therefore able to control:

-Fat (lipid) metabolism of the host

-Cholesterol metabolism

-Weight gain

-Circadian rhythms (when you naturally wake or sleep, and how much)

This is an example of the holobiont concept at work; the host does not function normally at all without the symbiont organisms. What are the factors that promote healthy gut bacteria? What are the factors that are harmful to gut bacteria? What do we need to do in order to grow healthy gut bacteria? These are just some of the questions that will be answered in The Symbiont Factor, due to be published next month!

Reference for this article:

Sunday Morning at Symbiont Central

Sunday morning at the Matthews household, aka Symbiont Central. Late night last night bringing Mom home from the airport, so a slow start today! I made a pot of coffee and a great symbiont smoothie, and am now editing Chapter 34 of The Symbiont Factor. The title, just for a teaser: Concepts Behind a Good Holobiont Diet and Lifestyle.  Only two chapters to go! Planning on taking a break in a few minutes to do some serious stretching and deep breathing (yes, that’s in the chapter too!), so I can take my own advice. Remember to take at least part of your own Sunday to relax and help reset that autonomic function from “race mode/sympathetic dominance” to “relax mode/day off/parasympathetic balance.” That helps your gut function to improve and provides a better environment for healthy gut bacteria. It’s all part of a symbiont-healthy lifestyle!

A Synbiotic Feast: 5 Minute Breakfast, Symbiont Factor Style!

Breakfast at the Matthews household, aka “Symbiont Central,” is often a rushed affair. The reality of several dogs, cats and two horses to feed, plus getting five people prepared for their day, makes it challenging at times to follow our own advice. This is when the right power tool comes in hand…enter the NutriBullet. No, this isn’t an ad and we don’t sell them. But, they work really well! So, what was in my breakfast this morning?

-3/4 cup of raw fresh baby kale and mixed organic greens

-3/4 cup of homemade goat milk kefir

-3/4 cup of frozen mango chunks

1 tsp glutamine powder

1 tsp creatine powder

1 tsp Multidophilus probiotic powder

2 opened capsules N-Acetylcysteine or NAC

1 tbsp maple syrup

2 tbsp Tahini (sesame seed butter)

Organic Almond milk, probably 1/2 cup or so, to bring the fluid level up in the cup

This odd-sounding combination, when blended and liquified in the NutriBullet, is actually quite tasty and extremely nutritious! It will carry me through most of the morning till lunchtime. Poured into a cup, with a lid and straw, it is breakfast-to-go, Symbiont style! It is also a good example of a Probiotic and Prebiotic combination, also referred to as a Synbiotic

What do all the ingredients do for the body? The kefir is chock full of beneficial bacteria and yeasts, and has much research evidence showing its benefit to the human body and mind. The greens also provide fiber for the gut bacteria, and the way the NutriBullet cuts up the fiber to tiny fragments dramatically enhances its surface area, permitting more bacterial digestion of the fiber. Sesame is metabolized by beneficial gut bacteria to produce byproducts that inhibit cancer growth and stimulate the immune system. The probiotic powder and kefir both improve immune system function and brain function. Creatine is good for muscle energy (I swam about a kilometer last night and plan to again today). Glutamine helps muscles too, and also helps to heal and maintain the integrity of the intestinal lining-preventing excess inflammation. Immune control is important to preventing inflammation, and excess inflammation limits how hard we can exercise as well as destroying health. NAC has a whole host of benefits, including being neuroprotective so that I don’t fry my brain cells trying to finish editing The Symbiont Factor! NAC also has been shown in multiple studies to promote mental and emotional stability-it has even been shown to help with many psychiatric conditions. Mango provides vitamins and fiber, plus it tastes really good! Maple syrup makes the whole combination taste better and provides some short-term carbohydrates to compliment the fats and protein in the combination. Sometimes I add soft tofu to the drink mix instead to supplement the protein content. It also tends to make it thicker and creamier!

The overall effect is a breakfast that takes about 5-6 minutes to create and is an incredibly healthy boost to the day. It also adds some time to relax and not rush, since it is easy to consume and fast to prepare! Almost every ingredient listed is available at WalMart, though I would rather get them from Whole Foods if it were close enough!

Probiotic Yogurt Helps Prevent Respiratory Infections, Increase VO2 Max for Endurance Swimming (and other sports!)


Many endurance athletes experience an increase in upper respiratory infections, with symptoms such as difficulty breathing and ear pain. These problems account for many missed training opportunities, and for some athletes may pose a “limiting factor” to the level they attain in their sport. A study was performed last year to evaluate the effect of probiotic yogurt on endurance swimmers performing 400 meter freestyle (crawl) swims. The researchers found that 8 weeks of daily probiotic yogurt intake reduced the number of upper respiratory infections, also reducing their duration as well as ear pain and difficulty breathing. The probiotic yogurt also improved the athletes VO2 max, which is a measure of the maximum amount of oxygen the body can absorb and utilize in a unit of time. VO2 max is considered the ultimate limiting factor to aerobic performance, so improvement in this equates to better fitness! It is amazing how scientific research is proving how necessary symbiotic organisms truly are. So, make sure you get your yogurt-and make sure it’s “real yogurt” with active cultures!


Why Antibacterial Soaps May Promote Infections and Disease

Many soaps, shampoos, toothpastes and cleaners have an ingredient called Triclosan. This ingredient is supposed to help kill bacteria, but bacteria are highly adaptable and develop resistance. It has been found that using products with triclosan may result in increased colonization of the nasal cavities with Staphylococcus aureus. Having a Staph infection in your nose is not only very uncomfortable but also dangerous, as Staph infections can spread through the body. Sinus infections that are severe can also result in encephalitis if the bacteria succeed in compromising the membranes protecting the brain!

Triclosan has also been found in streams and water systems, where it is fueling the development of resistant strains of bacteria. Once bacteria form DNA sequences for resistance, they share this DNA on short fragments called plasmids. In this way, resistance to antimicrobial substances spreads quickly through bacterial colonies and even across different species.

Triclosan and a related product, octylphenol, have also been found to disrupt the endocrine system, causing hormonal imbalance and breast cancer. These products are in a category known ad EDC’s or endocrine disrupting chemicals and have been found in the urine of 75% of Americans.

Because these chemicals are antimicrobial, they have the effect of damaging the microbiome in the human body. Without a balanced microbiome, the immune system does not develop normally and the result can be dysfunctions ranging from allergies to autoimmune conditions.

Triclosan has also been found to reduce heart and skeletal muscle function in animals-resulting in heart problems and muscle weakness.

Sometimes, it is possible to be too clean and too sanitary! Using products with triclosan is one example. It is likely, based on triclosan as an example, that other antimicrobial ingredients may promote similar problems. So, read the ingredients and steer clear!