Yes. There is no doubt – both water kefir and milk kefir are gluten-free. Water and milk kefir do not contain any gluten and are perfectly suitable for people with Celiac disease or any other type of gluten intolerance.
However, this is valid for homemade natural kefir, made with fresh milk (or water) and inoculated with healthy milk (or water) kefir grains.
Some commercially sold kefir products, like kefir smoothies, ice creams, shakes, or some sweetened kefir derivatives, may include ingredients that may contain gluten.
Additionally, readers told us that some commercially sold “Kefir starter kits” use oats as a fiber source (prebiotic) for their preparation. These “starters” may also not be entirely gluten-free.
So, don’t forget to read labels whenever you buy a commercially sold kefir product from your convenience store. But beyond that …
Natural kefir is gluten-free and is not only acceptable for celiacs but can also alleviate the symptoms of celiac disease and even, in the long term, eventually heal this condition.
As long as gluten intolerance is usually related to a specific condition, called Celiac disease, let’s first clarify …
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in certain cereal grains, strictly speaking, in wheat grains.
Although it is not yet confirmed, some experts believe that today’s genetically modified wheat contains higher amounts of gluten than the cereal that has fed humanity for centuries. Due to the introduction of GMOs, this imbalance is most probably one of the main reasons why gluten intolerance is recently becoming a real threat to public health.
Reactions to gluten can have different levels – starting from relatively mild gluten hypersensitivity, passing through gluten intolerance, and ending with its most severe form – the Celiac disease.
Gluten can cause intestinal damage to affected people and cause symptoms like diarrhea, flatulation, and bloating. The extreme cases of Celiac disease can lead to serious health effects such as anemia, stunted growth, and neurological conditions.
What is Celiac disease, and what causes it?
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that generally results in the immune system attacking its own body’s cells. It is considered the most severe form of gluten intolerance.
Celiac disease is triggered by the protein gluten found in wheat, rye, barley, and sometimes oatmeal. Another problem is that gluten may also be added to many other foods and products like sauces, mayonnaise, dressings, sausages. In people with celiac disease, consuming these products also triggers adverse reactions.
In people affected by Celiac disease, gluten damages the ganglia that form the absorbent part of the small intestine. When these ganglia are damaged, the inner wall of the intestinal tract becomes sleek, which reduces the surface area of the small intestine and limits its ability to absorb nutrients.
The ganglion tips also process the milk protein called lactose. That’s why many people with celiac disease are also lactose intolerant until the ganglia grow back to normal after a gluten-free diet.
This malabsorption is the reason why many people with celiac disease also suffer from malnutrition and anemia, even if they may be overweight. Anemia is one of the main symptoms of celiac disease.
Other symptoms of celiac disease usually are: general health deterioration, sense of fatigue, greasy stools, canker sores, inability to concentrate, frequent mood swings, dermatitis, osteoporosis, abdominal pain, gas, bloating, indigestion, diarrhea, and the list doesn’t end here …
How can Kefir help with gluten intolerance?
There is virtually no cure for Celiac disease, and this health condition is managed by avoiding all sources of gluten or, in other words, with a gluten-free diet.
Usually, once gluten is eliminated, the small intestine slowly begins to rebuild and heal.
Although the real reason behind Celiac disease is not yet precisely determined, it is clear that this pathological intolerance to gluten is closely related to the gut’s microbiome.
As a collection of bacteria, viruses, and fungi in the gastrointestinal tract, this microbiome plays an essential role in the absorption of nutrients and minerals, synthesis of enzymes, vitamins, and amino acids for the whole body.
Any imbalance in this microbiome may result in a series of severe health conditions, one of which is supposed to be Celiac disease. Indeed, several studies support the hypothesis that the microbiota plays an essential role in the risk of getting Celiac disease and its origination, development, and symptoms.
As a potent probiotic, kefir is recognized for restoring the healthy balance between the gastrointestinal tract’s harmful and beneficial microorganisms.
A laboratory study found that probiotics in kefir contribute to gastrointestinal health, specifically in patients with celiac disease, by strengthening the protective mucus of the gastrointestinal tract. Kefir also suppresses the inflammatory response caused by gluten, decreases intestinal permeability, and possibly even directly supports gluten digestion.
Another study involving 78 celiac patients who were not following strict gluten-free diets found that Bifidobacterium (a typical bacteria found in kefir) resulted in significant improvement in their symptoms compared to the placebo group.
While it is still unclear whether probiotics could completely cure patients with a Celiac disease with the intake of probiotics (and kefir in particular), it is beyond any doubt that the increase in the biodiversity of their intestinal microbiome will lead to improvement of their overall health.
Kefir has at least a two-way positive effect on celiacs:
- As a gluten-free food, kefir is not only tolerated by gluten-sensitive people and celiacs but is also a valuable source of nutrients, vitamins, and amino acids. That makes it an essential part of their everyday diet.
- The probiotic powers of kefir help alleviate the symptoms of Celiac disease and restore the balance in the gut’s microbiome, giving the gastrointestinal tract a chance to heal by itself.