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Can Kefir, An Ancient Sour Drink, Improve Your Mood?

Kefir_in_a_glassWe’ve blogged about the brain-gut, the microbiome, and the importance of healthy diet to brain health, which includes mental health for a while. And the effects of gut-bacteria when it comes to anxiety  and autism are by now, not surprising.

In the past several months, we’ve begun to brew kefir, something C.R. did a long time ago back in her yogurt and sourdough days. We’re already pretty committed to including traditional-fermented veggies like saurkraut, kimchi, and other pickles in our diet; soaking and sprouting grains; and making sourdough breads. But kefir is in a league all by itself.

Kefir is a fermented drink like beer, wine, and kombucha, but I admit, I can’t drink it. I admire it, in theory, but “sour-milk” or even the vegan-milk version, isn’t my thing. At the same time, I am impressed at how much it’s multiple strains of good bacteria seem to help everyone I know who does drink it. (There is water kefir for those who don’t like thick sour drinks.)

Demystifying the Kefir-Making Process

Kefir Grains by A. Kniesel
Kefir Grains by A. Kniesel

Kefir is formed by placing kefir “grains” in milk and letting it ferment at room temperature, unlike yogurt which is fermented by placing yogurt in warm milk.

These grains originated in the Caucausus centuries ago, and either they sprung up in various other areas, or they are particularly well-traveled. What are they?

Kefir grains are a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts in a matrix of proteins, lipids, and sugars, and this symbiotic matrix, (or SCOBY) forms “grains” that resemble cauliflower. For this reason, a complex and highly variable community of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts can be found in these grains although some predominate; Lactobacillus species are always present. (Wikipedia)

One of the amazing things about kefir is that even people who are lactose intolerant are usually able to tolerate it without any problem. That’s because the process “eats up” the lactose in the milk

Beautiful Bacteria

The bacteria in  kefir are far more diverse and numerous than in other ferments, and leave probiotic supplements in the dust. Here are some of them according to


Lactobacillus acidophilus

Lactobacillus brevis

Lactobacillus casei

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. delbrueckii

Lactobacillus delbrueckii subsp. lactis

Lactobacillus helveticus

Lactobacillus kefiranofaciens subsp. kefiranofaciens

Lactobacillus kefiri

Lactobacillus paracasei subsp. paracasei

Lactobacillus plantarum

Lactobacillus rhamnosus

Lactobacillus sake

Lactococcus lactis subsp. cremoris

Lactococcus lactis subsp. lactis

Lactococcus lactis

Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. cremoris

Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. dextranicum

Leuconostoc mesenteroides subsp. mesenteroides


Pseudomonas fluorescens

Pseudomonas putida

Streptococcus thermophilus


Candida humilis

Kazachstania unispora

Kazachstania exigua

Kluyveromyces siamensis

Kluyveromyces lactis

Kluyveromyces marxianus

Saccharomyces cerevisiae

Saccharomyces martiniae

Saccharomyces unisporus

Not Just Bacteria-The Traditional Approach

Perhaps there’s more to the brain-gut health than the bacteria. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, different tastes or flavors treat different health issues which are linked to organs. (Body organs, such as the liver or heart in TCM are not a description of the actual organ, per se, as we Westerners think of it, but also the “process” or “function” of the organ and its energy path in the body, what processes the organ represents in the body and/or is the source of.)

The sour taste, prominent in kefir, something very much lacking in today’s typical Western diet, is often used to treat the liver, the seat of anger, and when imbalanced, rage, moodiness, irritability, etc., according to TCM as well as Kabbalah.

The sweet taste, which is a secondary taste in kefir, is linked to the heart, the seat of joy in TCM and joy as well as understanding in Kabbalah. When the heart function is impaired, both depression and anxiety are common, restlessness and grief may be present.

According to TCM and TJM (traditional Jewish medicine based on Kabbalah), eating a natural balanced diet, while in a calm frame of mind, without overeating, expressing gratitude both before and after the meal, is conducive to good physical and mental health.

For more information on brewing your own kefir and to purchase kefir grains, these are reputable and helpful companies: Fusion Teas or Cultures for Health.


Check out C.R.’s new PsychCentral blog, A Little Bit of Soul.


Can Kefir, An Ancient Sour Drink, Improve Your Mood?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2016). Can Kefir, An Ancient Sour Drink, Improve Your Mood?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 25 Feb 2016
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