Audrey’s Story

In 1984 I was diagnosed with Epstein Barr Virus after sudden onset of symptoms and tested positive for herpes zoster and Coxsackie.  I suffered severe gut issues (candida from years of antibiotics, acid reflux, cramping, bloating) as well as severe brain fog that I have lived with 24/7 for 30 years.  I also started experiencing severe allergies and skin rashes, especially to environment stuff, as well as chemical sensitivity.  Prior to diagnosis, my diet consisted of wheat, sugar, dairy, carbs, etc.

Audrey and her husband at Bryce Canyon this year

Audrey and her husband

I was given Meyers cocktail IVs and high doses of vitamin C with no relief.  I researched and began a nutritional program, eliminating wheat, sugar, and dairy from my diet.  My gut issues were less after about 1 year, but were never gone.

I moved from NYC to AZ in 1990 to come to terms with the stressful life I had been living. By this time I had received a certification in fitness and nutrition. Sedona was considered to be a healing place, so I gave it a try.  My nutritional program became stricter than before.  I was able to exercise moderately and sleep well; however, brain fog and gut issues remained.

In 2011, I started going to Incline Village, NV as a new patient of Dr. Dan Peterson.  At this point my gut issues were severe (by this time I had three colonoscopies which revealed nothing), so I was put on a several month regimen of Xifaxin, followed by prescription probiotics.  There was absolutely no gut relief. An extensive food panel test at Dr. Peterson’s revealed more sensitivities and I removed them.  In January, 2012, I started a 6 month Ampligen trial.

My viral load was less, but my gut was as bad as ever.

I had been off Ampligen for about eight months when I attended a lecture by Dr. Kenny De Meirleir the Whittemore Peterson Institute in early 2012.  Dr. Kenny De Meirleir talked about gut issues, and his belief that they’re a main cause of many ME/CFS patient’s problems.  During that year, other professionals starting to discuss the gut as well.

Dr. De Meirleir did not mention cultured foods, but after I started researching I found Donna Schwenk’s site www.culturedfoodlife.com and her ‘holy trinity’ of fermented foods: kefir, kombucha, and cultured vegetables.

Donna Schwenks Story

I learned how to easily make all three at home and made them a part of my daily diet.  Since then my gut issues  and my allergies and sinus problems of almost three decades have  disappeared and my energy has improved.  I continue to live a strict wheat free, gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free diet.  The only two problems I still have to negotiate my life around is 24/7 brain fog (probably caused by the herpesviruses) and chemical sensitivity.

Cort’s Experience

beaten up

I’ve beaten my kefir culture up mercilessly – but it still seems to be working

I began making  kefir a couple of months ago using a culture provided by Audrey.  I noticed immediate increases in mental clarity, energy, and feelings of relaxation. I also noted an immediate increase in my bowel movements and reduced bloating.

Since then the feelings of increased mental clarity have subsided, but the feelings of relaxation and energy have mostly continued.  This is despite the fact that I’ve beaten up the kefir culture in just about every way possible – high temperatures, irregular feedings with milk, frequent shaking – on my extended camping trip around the west.

I have never noticed any difference from taking probiotics or store-bought kefir or yogurt. In my experience, home-made kefir is far superior to the store bought products. The only other fermented product I’ve noticed immediate effects from was a ‘live’ sauerkraut produced by a Santa Cruz, CA firm which was not pasteurized.

Fermented Foods

Emerging research … indicates that fermentation may magnify the known benefits of a wide variety of foods and herbs, influencing the bioavailability and activity of the chemical constituents. – Selhub, Logan and Bested

Audrey’s gut problems persisted through her use of Ampligen, Xifaxin, probiotics, neutraceuticals, and dietary changes – but vanished when she added fermented foods in the form of kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetables (Donna Schwenk’s “Holy Trinity”) to her diet.

We generally equate fermentation with moldy, smelly, and perhaps dangerous substances, but as Alan Logan and Alison Bested point out in a recent review article, it’s only been in recent times that fermented foods have not been an important of human’s diets. Humans have been fermenting cereal, dairy, vegetable, fish, and meat products probably for over 10,000 years.

Resource: Learn how to make kefir, kombucha, and fermented vegetablaes at Donna’s site.  Her free Ebook provides recipes. You can also buy starters for kefir, kombucha, and vegetables there.  Each sets you back about $25, but you only need to buy it once.

Health Rising is not affiliated with Cultured Food Life in any manner. 

Let’s take a look at Donna Schwenk’s ‘holy  trinity’.


Yogurt is the fermented milk product that gets the most attention, but Donna Schwenk, the creator of the Cultured Food For Life website, argues that kefir is far more powerful.

In her Cultured Food For Life book, Donna states that homemade kefir has 30-56 strains of good bacteria, while yogurt has 7-10. While kefir provides good bacteria directly to your gut, the bacteria in yogurt simply helps to sustain the good bacteria already found in your gut. Kefir bacteria repopulates the gut while the bacteria in yogurt passes through it within 24 hours. Both are helpful, but one builds the foundation for gut and the other helps sustain it.

kefir grain

Kefir grains look like chunks of cottage cheese or caulifower heads. Kefir grains are probably a better way to make kefir than kefir culture.

Kefir ‘grains’, which look like cauliflower heads, are a combination of lactic acid bacteria and yeasts held together in a matrix of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.  The grains (or scoby) can grow to the size of walnuts and are usually white to yellow in color. They provide the bacteria and yeasts used to ferment milk and produce kefir.

While Lactobacillus bacteria (such as L. delbrueckii subsp. bulgaricus, L. helveticus, L. kefiranofaciens subsp. kefiranofaciens, L. kefiranofaciens subsp. kefirgranum and L. acidophilus) are always found in kefir, the other bacteria found in kefir products can vary widely.

The main lactose fermenting yeast kefir are Kluyveromyces marxianus/Candida kefyr, Kluyveromyces lactis var. lactis, Debaryomyces hansenii e Dekkera anomala. Other non-lactose fermenting yeast are present.  Besides breaking down milk sugar, the yeasts in kefir also synthesize B vitamins which in turn assist microbial growth in the kefir.

Kefir grains ferment milk best at around 70-80 degrees but are robust and can ferment the milk (more slowly) at a wide range of temperature. However, they will die above 104 degrees.

During fermentation, which usually occurs within 24  hours, most of the lactose in the milk is broken down into lactic acid, ethanol, and carbon dioxide — often rendering the  beverage tolerable to those with lactose issues. Kefir’s slower passage through the digestive tract may also assist lactose digestion.

Whether this is true of store brought products  (sometimes called “kefir mild’) is unclear.  The light yellow colored, slightly sour, effervescent, and mildly alcoholic kefir made at home has little resemblance to the sweet, dense, milky-appearing kefir bought at the store. Check out Donna Schwenk’s website for ways to make kefir taste really good.

Kefir grains can be used to ferment ‘milk’ products ranging from cows milk to goat milk to soy, rice, and coconut milk as well as fruit juices and coconut water. In contrast to pasteurized kefir products, the culture in home-made kefir is live. Most people refrigerate their kefir, but it can be kept up to 30 days without refrigeration. It can be dried and maintain its potency for up to 12-18 months. Kefir grains appear to be the most potent way making kefir. (A powdered culture is used to produce kefir in commercial products.)

Healthful Effects


Kefir culture is able to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria

Historically kefir has been used to treat gut issues, hypertension, allergies, and even some types of heart disease. Kefir studies, however, are relatively rare, and when they take place usually involve animal models or lab studies, not humans. Kefir has been shown to suppress the growth of E. coli and provides, in contrast to milk, a poor environment for the growth of fecal bacteria.

These studies suggest that besides inoculating the gut with good bacteria, kefir may be able inhibit a wide variety of pathogenic bacteria  (E. coli, Candida albicans, Staphylococcus aureus, L. monocytogenes, Salmonella Typhimurium and others).

Several mouse studies suggest kefir may have anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, and anti-cancer properties. Laboratory studies suggest kefir may be able to suppress the Th2 immune response as well as several pro-inflammatory cytokines.


Kombucha is a fermented, effervescent, lightly sweetened tea made by adding a colony of bacteria and yeast (called a scoby or zoogleal mat) to sugar and tea and allowed to ferment. The gelatinous clump, or scoby, that floats on the top of the tea is distinctive.

Kombucha appears to have originated in northern China. From there it spread to Germany and Europe sometime in the early 1900s.  You can now find commercially produced Kombucha in health food stores and even some grocery stores across the U.S.


The scoby – a gelationous compound of bacteria and yeast – floating on the top of the kombucha – is unmistakable

Kombucha contains acetic acid bacteria (Acetobacter aceti, Acetobacter pasteurianus, Gluconobacter oxydans) and different yeasts (Saccharomyces sp., Zygosaccharomyces kombuchaensis, Torulopsis sp., Pichia sp., Brettanomyces sp.) as well (at times) some lactic acid bacteria. The most complete scientific study of Kombucha indicated that the Gluconacetobacter genus was most common, a significant Lactobaccillus population was present, and Zygosaccharomyces dominated the yeast population.

Fermentation of the yeast turns Kombucha into an effervescent, mildly alcoholic (0.5%) product. The Gluconacetobacter Bacteria transforms most of the alcohol into acetic acid. Kombucha’s acidity and low level of alcohol makes it resistant to most airborne molds or bacterial spores. Kombucha has been shown to inhibit growth of harmful microorganisms such as E. coli, Sal. enteritidis, Sal. typhimurium and Sh. Sonnei. The Wikipedia page states “kombucha is relatively easy to maintain as a culture outside of sterile conditions”.

The scoby (bacteria and yeasts) promotes microbial growth in the kombucha for about six days and then it declines.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has gone so far as to test Kombucha’s microbiological properties and has concluded (yes!) it’s safe for human consumption. Kombucha is a hot item, but not everyone has jumped on board the Kombucha bandwagon.

Until more information is available on Kombucha’s effects, the Mayo Clinic, however,  comes down against it’s use. Warning that stomach upset and allergic reactions can occur, it notes that home-brewed Kombucha is not produced in sterile conditions and that the acids in the drink can leach lead from ceramic pots (Cultured Food Life recommends using glass containers).

Health Claims

Proponents claim Kombucha tea can stimulate the immune system, prevent cancer, and improve digestion and liver function. The little research done on Kombucha means there’s no  direct scientific evidence to support these health claims in humans.

Xafaxin works in one person, fermented foods work in another and herbs work in others: the digestive system is nothing if not complex

Xafaxin works in one person, fermented foods work in another and herbs work in others: the digestive system is nothing if not complex

Whatever Kombucha does it probably does so mostly through the actions of glucuronic acid (GA), a detoxifier/antioxidant that snaps up toxins (xenobiotics), binds them and transforms them into compounds that make it easier for the body to eliminate them.  That process, of course, helps keep them from being absorbed into your tissues. One report suggests Kombucha enhances the activity of glutathione – an important antioxidant in the body.

Given the increased levels of oxidative stress found in both Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome  from the blood to the muscles to the brain, some help with detoxification is probably not a bad idea.

Kombucha’s detoxifying properties may protect the gut membranes and perhaps assist in ameliorating leaky gut syndrome.  It also appears to stimulate digestion by enhancing gut motility.

Fermented Vegetables

We’re going to be going into the subject of fermented vegetables (and fermentation) and health more in future blogs. For now check out a list of vegetables and other foods humans have fermented: cabbage (sauerkraut), pickles, radishes, greens, turnips, garlic, onions, carrots, mushrooms, soy (miso, tempeh),rice (koji) and others.


Health Rising is not affiliated with Cultured Food Life in any manner. 

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