Wednesday, July 14, 2010
I did a little research and found a company called Body Ecology that markets a Kefir Culture Starter kit. The website touting the benefits of Kefir claims all the usual nonsense about "strengthening the immune system" and such, but goes on to specifically claim that Kefir helps patients with ADHD, flatulence, herpes, cancer, colon "strengthening," chronic fatigue syndrome, and "cleansing the whole body." What exactly does that mean?
Another website, this one for Lifeway Foods, claims that Kefir helps with Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis (UC) because those diseases are "similar to Irritable Bowel Syndrome." In fact, Crohn's and UC are not related to Irritable Bowel Syndrome at all (other than the fact that they all affect the bowel). Without descending too deeply into technical details, Crohn's disease and Ulcerative Colitis are inflammatory conditions of the gut that, when present, effectively rule out Irritable Bowel Syndrome as a cause of abdominal pain.
Two clicks more on my Mac took me to PubMed, the web portal of the National Library of Medicine, where I found absolutely no randomized, controlled trials supporting any of these claims. It appears, then, that Kefir is a yogurt-like food that may have some as yet poorly established benefits of a "probiotic" nature, now being promoted--with no reliable research support--as a cure-all for all sorts of symptoms and diseases.
What's the harm, one might ask. Well, in this case, Kefir is not being promoted simply as a nutritious food (which it might very well be), like cheese or yogurt. Purveyors are making health claims about this product. Some patients suffering from symptoms like chronic abdominal pain, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, nausea, fatigue, colon cancer, herpes, and ADHD are listening in, and buying it. This can cause unsafe delays in actually working up, diagnosing, and treating potentially dangerous illnesses. It can also foster a false sense of security in a patient who believes he is adequately protecting himself or others from the effects of a serious infection when in fact it isn't true.
In summary, there is no reliable evidence that Kefir is anything more than a (moderately disgusting) food. The patient with the Kefir turned out to have a Helicobacter pylori infection which I treated with antibiotics and an acid reducing medication.