Fermentation is an ancient food preservation process, and fermented products have been traditionally consumed in different cultures worldwide over the years. The interplay between human gut microbiota, diet and host health is widely recognized. Diet is one of the main factors modulating gut microbiota potentially with beneficial effects on human health. Fermented dairy products have received much attention, but other sources of probiotic delivery through food received far less attention. In this research, a combination of in vitro tools mimicking colonic fermentation and the intestinal epithelium have been applied to study the effect of different pasteurized and non-pasteurized water kefir products on gut microbiota, epithelial barrier function and immunomodulation. Water kefir increased beneficial short-chain fatty acid production at the microbial level, reduced detrimental proteolytic fermentation compounds and increased Bifidobacterium genus abundance. The observed benefits are enhanced by pasteurization. Pasteurized products also had a significant effect at the host level, improving inflammation-induced intestinal epithelial barrier disruption and increasing IL-10 and IL-1β compared to the control condition. Our data support the potential health benefits of water kefir and demonstrate that pasteurization, performed to prolong shelf life and stability of the product, also enhanced these benefits.
Keywords: gut barrier; immunomodulation; microbiota; short-chain fatty acids; water kefir.