Kefir: a powerful probiotics with anticancer properties


Probiotics and fermented milk products have attracted the attention of scientists from various fields, such as health care, industry and pharmacy. In recent years, reports have shown that dietary probiotics such as kefir have a great potential for cancer prevention and treatment. Kefir is fermented milk with Caucasian and Tibet origin, made from the incubation of kefir grains with raw milk or water. Kefir grains are a mixture of yeast and bacteria, living in a symbiotic association. Antibacterial, antifungal, anti-allergic and anti-inflammatory effects are some of the health beneficial properties of kefir grains. Furthermore, it is suggested that some of the bioactive compounds of kefir such as polysaccharides and peptides have great potential for inhibition of proliferation and induction of apoptosis in tumor cells. Many studies revealed that kefir acts on different cancers such as colorectal cancer, malignant T lymphocytes, breast cancer and lung carcinoma. In this review, we have focused on anticancer properties of kefir.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2


  1. 1.

    Furuya H, Shimizu Y, Kawamori T. Sphingolipids in cancer. Cancer Metastasis Rev. 2011;30(3–4):567–76.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Marco ML, Pavan S, Kleerebezem M. Towards understanding molecular modes of probiotic action. Curr Opin Biotechnol. 2006;17(2):204–10.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Veer VT, Van Leer EM, Rietdijk A, Kok FJ, Schouten EG, Hermus RJ, et al. Combination of dietary factors in relation to breast-cancer occurrence. Int J Cancer. 1991;47(5):649–53.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    van’t Veer P, Dekker JM, Lamers JW, Kok FJ, Schouten EG, Brants HA, et al. Consumption of fermented milk products and breast cancer: a case-control study in The Netherlands. Can Res. 1989;49(14):4020–3.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Le MG, Moulton LH, Hill C, Kramar A. Consumption of dairy produce and alcohol in a case-control study of breast cancer 2. JNCI: J Natl Cancer Inst. 1986;77(3):633–6.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Cramer D, Willett W, Bell D, Ng W, Harlow B, Welch W, et al. Galactose consumption and metabolism in relation to the risk of ovarian cancer. Lancet. 1989;334(8654):66–71.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Biffi A, Coradini D, Larsen R, Riva L, Di Fronzo G. Antiproliferative effect of fermented milk on the growth of a human breast cancer cell line. Nutr Cancer. 1997;28(1):93–9.

  8. 8.

    Rosa DD, Dias MM, Grześkowiak ŁM, Reis SA, Conceição LL. Maria do Carmo GP. Milk kefir: nutritional, microbiological and health benefits. Nutr Res Rev. 2017;30(1):82–96.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Jalali F, Sharifi M, Salehi R. Kefir induces apoptosis and inhibits cell proliferation in human acute erythroleukemia. Med Oncol. 2016;33(1):7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Garrote GL, Abraham AG, De Antoni GL. Microbial interactions in Kefir: a natural probiotic drink. In: Biotechnology of lactic acid bacteria: novel applications. Wiley-Blackwell; 2010. P. 327–36.

  11. 11.

    Farnworth ERT. Handbook of fermented functional foods. New York: CRC Press; 2008.

    Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Magalhães KT, Pereira GVdM, Campos CR, Dragone G, Schwan RF. Brazilian kefir: structure, microbial communities and chemical composition. Braz J Microbiol. 2011;42(2):693–702.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Chen C, Chan HM, Kubow S. Kefir extracts suppress in vitro proliferation of estrogen-dependent human breast cancer cells but not normal mammary epithelial cells. J Med Food. 2007;10(3):416–22.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Salminen S, Bouley C, Boutron M-C, Cummings J, Franck A, Gibson G, et al. Functional food science and gastrointestinal physiology and function. Br J Nutr. 1998;80(S1):S147–71.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Gorbach SL, Newton I. The discovery of lactobacillus GG. Nutr Today. 1996;31(6):5S.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Hotel ACP, Cordoba A. Health and nutritional properties of probiotics in food including powder milk with live lactic acid bacteria. Prevention. 2001;5(1):1–10.

  17. 17.

    Otles S. Cagindi Oe. Kefir: a probiotic dairy-composition, nutritional and therapeutic aspects. Pak J Nutr. 2003;2(2):54–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Terpou A, Gialleli A-I, Bekatorou A, Dimitrellou D, Ganatsios V, Barouni E, et al. Sour milk production by wheat bran supported probiotic biocatalyst as starter culture. Food Bioprod Process. 2017;101:184–92.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Prado MR, Blandón LM, Vandenberghe LP, Rodrigues C, Castro GR, Thomaz-Soccol V, et al. Milk kefir: composition, microbial cultures, biological activities, and related products. Front Microbiol. 2015;6:1177.

    PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Nielsen B, Gürakan GC, Ünlü G. Kefir: a multifaceted fermented dairy product. Probiotics Antimicrob Proteins. 2014;6(3–4):123–35.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Baschali A, Tsakalidou E, Kyriacou A, Karavasiloglou N, Matalas A-L. Traditional low-alcoholic and non-alcoholic fermented beverages consumed in European countries: a neglected food group. Nutr Res Rev. 2017;30(1):1–24.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Gemechu T. Review on lactic acid bacteria function in milk fermentation and preservation. Afr J Food Sci. 2015;9(4):170–5.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Sarkar S. Potential of kefir as a dietetic beverage–a review. Br Food J. 2007;109(4):280–90.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Diosma G, Romanin DE, Rey-Burusco MF, Londero A, Garrote GL. Yeasts from kefir grains: isolation, identification, and probiotic characterization. World J Microbiol Biotechnol. 2014;30(1):43–53.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Chen Z, Shi J, Yang X, Nan B, Liu Y, Wang Z. Chemical and physical characteristics and antioxidant activities of the exopolysaccharide produced by Tibetan kefir grains during milk fermentation. Int Dairy J. 2015;43:15–21.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    da Silva Fernandes M, Lima FS, Rodrigues D, Handa C, Guelfi M, Garcia S, et al. Evaluation of the isoflavone and total phenolic contents of kefir-fermented soymilk storage and after the in vitro digestive system simulation. Food Chem. 2017;229:373–80.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Fiorda FA, de Melo Pereira GV, Thomaz-Soccol V, Rakshit SK, Pagnoncelli MGB, de Souza Vandenberghe LP, et al. Microbiological, biochemical, and functional aspects of sugary kefir fermentation-a review. Food Microbiol. 2017;66:86–95.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Sheikhi A, Jafarzadeh A, Kokhaei P, Hojjat-Farsangi M. Whole tumor cell vaccine adjuvants: comparing IL-12 to IL-2 and IL-15. Iran J Immunol. 2016;13(3):148.

    PubMed  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Sheikhi A, Jafarzadeh A. A new therapeutic potential for cancers: one CAR with 2 different engines! Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2017;13(8):1786–8.

  30. 30.

    Sheikhi A, Shakerian M, Giti H, Baghaeifar M, Jafarzadeh A, Ghaed V, et al. Probiotic yogurt culture bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis BB-12 and lactobacillus acidophilus LA-5 modulate the cytokine secretion by peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with ulcerative colitis. Drug Res. 2016;66(06):300–5.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Daniluk U. Probiotics, the new approach for cancer prevention and/or potentialization of anti-cancer treatment. J Clin Exp Oncol. 2012;1:2.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Kumar M, Nagpal R, Verma V, Kumar A, Kaur N, Hemalatha R, et al. Probiotic metabolites as epigenetic targets in the prevention of colon cancer. Nutr Rev. 2013;71(1):23–34.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Adiloğlu A, Gönülateş N, Işler M, Senol A. The effect of kefir consumption on human immune system: a cytokine study. Mikrobiyoloji bulteni. 2013;47(2):273–81.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Liu J-R, Wang S-Y, Lin Y-Y, Lin C-W. Antitumor activity of milk kefir and soy milk kefir in tumor-bearing mice. Nutr Cancer. 2002;44(2):183–7.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Tellez A, Corredig M, Brovko LY, Griffiths MW. Characterization of immune-active peptides obtained from milk fermented by Lactobacillus helveticus. J Dairy Res. 2010;77(2):129–36.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Jain S, Yadav H, Sinha PR, Marotta F. Modulation of cytokine gene expression in spleen and Peyer’s patches by feeding dahi containing probiotic Lactobacillus casei in mice. J Dig Dis. 2009;10(1):49–54.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Hong WS, Chen YP, Chen MJ. The antiallergic effect of kefir Lactobacilli. J Food Sci. 2010;75(8):H244–53.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Díaz-Ropero M, Martin R, Sierra S, Lara-Villoslada F, Rodriguez J, Xaus J, et al. Two Lactobacillus strains, isolated from breast milk, differently modulate the immune response. J Appl Microbiol. 2007;102(2):337–43.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Ahmed Z, Wang Y, Ahmad A, Khan ST, Nisa M, Ahmad H, et al. Kefir and health: a contemporary perspective. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(5):422–34.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Pepe G, Tenore GC, Mastrocinque R, Stusio P, Campiglia P. Potential anticarcinogenic peptides from bovine milk. J Amino Acids. 2013;2013:1–7.

  41. 41.

    Khoury N, El-Hayek S, Tarras O, El-Sabban M, El-Sibai M, Rizk S. Kefir exhibits anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on colon adenocarcinoma cells with no significant effects on cell migration and invasion. Int J Oncol. 2014;45(5):2117–27.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Ozcan A, Kaya N, Atakisi O, Karapehlivan M, Atakisi E, Cenesiz S. Effect of kefir on the oxidative stress due to lead in rats. J Appl Anim Res. 2009;35(1):91–3.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Liu J-R, Lin Y-Y, Chen M-J, Chen L-J, Lin C-W. Antioxidative activities of kefir. Asian-Aust J Anim Sci. 2005;18(4):567–73.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Grishina A, Kulikova I, Alieva L, Dodson A, Rowland I, Jin J. Antigenotoxic effect of kefir and ayran supernatants on fecal water-induced DNA damage in human colon cells. Nutr Cancer. 2011;63(1):73–9.

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Güzel-Seydim Z, Grene A, Tas T. determination of antimutagenic properties of some fermented milks including changes in the total fatty acid profiles including CLA. Int J Dairy Technol. 2006;59(3):209–15.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Teruya K, Myojin-Maekawa Y, Shimamoto F, Watanabe H, Nakamichi N, Tokumaru K, et al. Protective effects of the fermented milk kefir on X-ray irradiation-induced intestinal damage in B6C3F1 mice. Biol Pharm Bull. 2013;36(3):352–9.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Matsuu M, Shichijo K, Okaichi K, Wen CY, Fukuda E, Nakashima M, et al. The protective effect of fermented milk kefir on radiation-induced apoptosis in colonic crypt cells of rats. J Radiat Res. 2003;44(2):111–5.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    de LeBlanc AdM, Matar C, Farnworth E, Perdigon G. Study of cytokines involved in the prevention of a murine experimental breast cancer by kefir. Cytokine. 2006;34(1):1–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Maalouf K, Baydoun E, Rizk S. Kefir induces cell-cycle arrest and apoptosis in HTLV-1-negative malignant T-lymphocytes. Cancer Manag Res. 2011;3:39.

    CAS  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Rizk S, Maalouf K, Baydoun E. The antiproliferative effect of kefir cell-free fraction on HuT-102 malignant T lymphocytes. Clin Lymphoma Myeloma. 2009;9:S198–203.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Ghoneum M, Gimzewski J. Apoptotic effect of a novel kefir product, PFT, on multidrug-resistant myeloid leukemia cells via a hole-piercing mechanism. Int J Oncol. 2014;44(3):830–7.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Nagira T, Narisawa J, Teruya K, Katakura Y, Shim S-Y, K-i Kusumoto, et al. Suppression of UVC-induced cell damage and enhancement of DNA repair by the fermented milk. Kefir Cytotechnol. 2002;40(1):125–37.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Ghoneum M, Felo N. Selective induction of apoptosis in human gastric cancer cells by Lactobacillus kefiri (PFT), a novel kefir product. Oncol Rep. 2015;34(4):1659–66.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Gao J, Gu F, Ruan H, Chen Q, He J, He G. Induction of apoptosis of gastric cancer cells SGC7901 in vitro by a cell-free fraction of Tibetan kefir. Int Dairy J. 2013;30(1):14–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Rizk S, El Khoury N, El-Hayek S, Tarras O, El-sibai M, El-Sabban M. Kefir exhibits anti-proliferative and pro-apoptotic effects on colon adenocarcinoma cells with no significant effects on cell migration and invasion (647.24). FASEB J. 2014;28(1 Supplement):647–724.

    Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Can G, Topuz E, Derin D, Durna Z, Aydiner A. Effect of kefir on the quality of life of patients being treated for colorectal cancer. Oncol Nurs Forum. 2009;36(6):335–42.

  57. 57.

    Cevikbas A, Yemni E, Ezzedenn FW, Yardimici T, Cevikbas U, Stohs S. Antitumoural antibacterial and antifungal activities of kefir and kefir grain. Phytother Res. 1994;8(2):78–82.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Alsha’ar IA, Aloklah B, Al-Deen RB, Aljamali M, Alkadry R, Albiski F. In vitro anticancer properties of kefir and kefir products produced by a novel method in Syria.​ IJPSI. 2017;6(5):1–6

  59. 59.

    Topuz E, Derin D, Can G, Kürklü E, Çınar S, Aykan F, et al. Effect of oral administration of kefir on serum proinflammatory cytokines on 5-FU induced oral mucositis in patients with colorectal cancer. Invest New Drugs. 2008;26(6):567–72.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Furukawa N, Matsuoka A, Takahashi T, Yamanaka Y. Anti-metastatic effect of kefir grain components on lewis lung carcinoma and highly metastatic B 16 melanoma in mice. J Agric Sci-Tokyo-Univ Agric. 2000;45(1):62–70.

    CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mohammadreza Sharifi.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and animal rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed consent


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sharifi, M., Moridnia, A., Mortazavi, D. et al. Kefir: a powerful probiotics with anticancer properties. Med Oncol 34, 183 (2017).

Download citation


  • Kefir
  • Probiotics
  • Cancer
  • Anticancer