kefir, the gut microbiome, and 90’s australian boomer blogs

It's been a long while since I've laid eyes on a 90's era ISP free site that is still being maintained, and it made me miss being a kid on the internet all over again.

Feast thine eyes on the epitome of 90's boomer blogs: http://users.sa.chariot.net.au/%7Edna/kefirpage.html . I wish websites were still like this: informative, no fluff, straight to the point, and wholly lacking in woke ads about things I have never and will never care about. There is no pretense here. Just pure autism about kefir. I'm totally into it.

My husband is from rural Australia, and after being stranded there for the duration of the 2019/2020 fires, and living for a short while at a disaster camp as the fires threatened his family's tiny 3000 person beach town, I developed a good grasp on the personality archetype of the "Doms" of the world. They're part of a rare breed of person who is both 1. obsessive and 2. way ahead of their time.

I won't make this entire post about rural Australian gen x'er hippies and their delightful quirks, but suffice to say, some of these guys had a deep grasp on what human health was all about, long before the medical establishment figured it out. Dom is one of those dudes that you probably would have met at a Goan bush doof back in 93', fully gone on a strong ten strip, ranting about kefir's symbiotic relationship the gut, and thus to being, and, naturally, extraploated from there to the cosmos.

And that's kind of the thing about kefir: it is a very mysterious little fungus. Nobody ever seemed to have any clue where it came from, other than Tibetan Monks, and we are often told we have no way to synthesize it. This does kind of give it a cosmic mythology. It's a bacterial symbiosis that does a magical thing to juices, kind of like kombucha. The oldest known variety appears to be the milk variety, and by all accounts, it was first noted in the Cacausus. This creation tale is actually how I found Dom's page in the first place.

The story is basically that an Ossetian or Tartaric prince had possession of these grains, orginally cultured in goatskin sacks full of milk, supposedly given to him by the Prophet Mohammed. A Russian dairy company enlisted a beautiful woman to see if she could procure the grains (known to many as a cure-all for stomach problems). The prince did indeed like this woman (Irina), and after a bride theft (common in that culture), she trapped him into giving her the sacred grains as a dowry. It's a folk tale about their origin, but the actual, legitimate answer as to how we got these grains is: "fuck if I know". The Soviet Food minister in 76' believed in the origin story strongly enough that he formally recognized Irina Sakharova for her contribution.

I have been able to at least partially confirm a theory about kefir and its origins, completely unrelated to Mohammed or Russian honeypots, mind you. I think the secret is in the goatskin bag.

Animal "bags" are an interesting phenomeon. Anyone who has made cheese knows that the abomasum (the last stomach of the cow), is the original means by which cheese was made. Milk stored in this stomach separated as it does with modern rennet. So, when I heard that these milk storage bags were made from animal bits, I couldn't help but wonder if this provided the substrate for the development of kefir. I've found exactly one paper to that end, and it is available here: http://kefir.ilbello.com/articoli/k4.pdf

From "Materials and Methods":

"A goat-hide bag (4-l capacity) obtained from Pariz and Babak villages in Perman (Southwest Iran) was washed several times with sterile water, filled with pasteurized milk and intestinal flora from sheep. It was kept at 24 to 26 degrees C for 48h and shaken hourly. When the milk was coagulated, 75% was replaced with fresh milk. This procedure was repeated for 12 weeks. Gradually a polysaccharide layer (spongy form) appeared on the surface of the hide. The layer was removed aseptically from the hides and propagated in pasteurized cow's milk.
Kefir grains of variable size (0.5-3.2 cm in diameter) were added several times to the fresh cows milk.

This aligns with claims from Hawaiian fruit juice sellers that water kefir grains just emerged out of nowhere in their juice/fruit jars (which were never washed out, just spooned from and refilled as needed).

And, it brings me to a point about the gut microbiome. I listened to a podcast by the Sonnenburgs a few weekends ago (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=miEngVBrrIc&t=2435s), and they insisted that American health issues were down to not eating 175g of fiber a day. (Which, btw, if you're looking for a good way to get impacted bowels, that's one of them!). All this, because the Hadza, in Africa, were chewing on extremely tough, fibrous yams.

It makes me wonder if they took ancestral evolutionary enviroment into account at all when they did comparisons between Western and African gut microbiomes, and I also wonder if they looked closely at the cardiovascular, cognitive, dental, and lifespan results of the "yam diet", before they unilaterally determined that fiber was the culprit for the shrinking gut microbiome, or that having an extremely broad spectrum of bacteria, or even the variety of bacteria in the Hadza microbiome, was desirable. They should have considered comparing the Saami and Inuit gut microbiome with the African hunter-gatherer genome before drawing broad conclusions.

I think, instead of this strange conclusion about levels of fiber consumption that could fell a Shetland pony, that the natural processes involved in processing natural food sources, without refrigeration and sanitization are key in maintenance of microbiome health. After all, microbiota eat what they are geared to eat, be it glucose, cellulose, or some other type of "food". So, regular bacteria-inoculated traditional food consumption should confer these gut benefits, regardless of what specific type of food the bacteria eats, provided it is both beneficial to the gut, and is regularly provided with fuel. Given the fact that neither the Sonnenburgs, nor any other scientists studying the microbiome, have the foggiest clue about which bacteria do what and for what reason, it is inarguable that the fiber theory is premature at very best. They simply do not know whether or not a plethora of fiber-munching bacteria are a must-have, if all peoples are genetically oriented towards high-fiber diets, or what it means for other body systems, particularly the brain, which is intimately tied to the gut microbiome.

Maybe it is the germless, plastic foods we eat, and not so much whether or not they contain absurd amounts of cellulose? If in the course of food production, we historically derived the benefits of things such as kefir, from storing our milk at ambient temperatures in goatskin bags, then, ultra-pasteurizing everything probably prevents population of a broad spectrum of gut microbiota in western populations.

It would seem to me like the symbiotic bacteria that form as a result of our natural interactions with food in nature are the cornerstone of the gut microbiome. This has some pretty serious implications for how we currently live, and it makes me wonder a lot about the feasibilty of being healthy whilst living in urban environments. I'm starting to think that avoiding getting your hands dirty is a hallmark of modern illness. I'm starting to think that lysol and bleach are, too.

Maybe... just maybe.... Pasteur was full of (sterilized) shit and Bechamp was right....

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