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Kimchi Is Also Antifungal?

Last week a person told an amazing story in the comments section after a post on this site. After suffering from a "constant runny nose and a bad smell" in the nose for 2 years - which was diagnosed as "fungi and staph" in the sinuses - the person started doing "kimchi treatments" (as discussed in the Sinusitis Treatment Summary page). After 2 weeks a fungal ball was loosened, which came out of the sinuses and into the mouth, and was then spit out. About an inch in size - a smelly, grey/green, round fungal ball. Wow. Which leads to the question: Are any of the microbes in live kimchi anti-fungal?

Kimchi is an amazing live fermented food, typically made with cabbage and other vegetables and a variety of seasonings. Kimchi is the national dish of Korea and so there is tremendous interest in Korea in studying kimchi to learn about the many different microbial species in kimchi, including how they change over the course of fermentation.

It turns out that kimchi contains many species of bacteria, including various species of Lactobacillus - which are considered beneficial. Of course one of the species found in kimchi over the course of fermentation is Lactobacillus sakei - the bacteria that successfully treats sinusitis, and which I have written about extensively. L. sakei predominates over pathogenic bacteria (antibacterial) - which is why it is also used as a sausage starter culture (to kill off bacteria such as Listeria). One study found that the garlic, ginger, and leek used in making kimchi were the sources of L. sakei bacteria found in fermented kimchi.

Studies show that a number of the Lactobacillus species found in kimchi are antifungal against a number of different kinds of fungi.  Some of these antifungal bacteria are: Lactobacillus plantarum, L. cruvatus, L. lactis, L. casei, L. pentosus, L. acidophilus, and L. sakei (here, here).

A study from 2005 found that some Lactobacillus species found in kimchi are predominant over a fungi known to cause health problems in humans - Aspergillus fumigatus, a mold (fungi) which is the most common cause of Aspergillus infections. Aspergillus (of which there are many species) is very common both indoors and outdoors (on plants, soil, rotting plants, household dust, etc.), so people typically breathe in these fungal spores daily and without any negative effects. However, sometimes Aspergillus can cause allergic reactions, infections in the lungs and sinuses (including fungal balls), and other infections. (more information at CDC site).

The study found that 5 bacterial species in kimchi were also antifungal against other species of fungi (Aspergillus flavus, Fusarium moniliforme, Penicillium commune, and Rhizopus oryzae). The 5 bacterial species in kimchi that they found to be antifungal were: Lactobacillus cruvatus, L. lactis subsp. lactis, L. casei, L. pentosus, and L. sakei.

Just keep in mind that fungi are everywhere around us, and even part of the microbes that live in and on us - this is our mycobiome. We also breathe in a variety of fungi (mold spores) every day. In healthy individuals (even babies) all the microbes (bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc) live in balanced microbial communities, but the communities can become "out of whack" (dysbiosis) for various reasons, and microbes that formerly co-existed peacefully can multiply and become problematic.

If the populations get too unbalanced (e.g., antibiotics can kill off bacteria, and then an increase in fungi populations take their place) then ordinarily non-harmful fungi can become pathogenic. Or other pathogenic microbes can enter the community (e.g., through infection), and the person becomes ill.

IN SUMMARY: Kimchi has beneficial bacteria in it that are effective not just against bacteria (antibacterial), but also against some kinds of fungi (antifungal). One 2016 review study went so far as to say: "Kimchi possesses anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, anticancer, antiobesity, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, and antiaging properties."

Experiences of my family and people writing suggest that the L. sakei in kimchi (and other products) is also antibiofilm. Hopefully, there will be some research on this in the future. But in the meantime, please keep writing to me about fungal complications of sinusitis, and especially if kimchi, L. sakei products, or other probiotics helped.

12 thoughts on “Kimchi Is Also Antifungal?

  1. Richard

    With n=1 it is always hard to know cause and effect, but I have tried lactopy and b2 and now kimchi juice, and while all have been effective the kimchi juice seems to have been the most effective. I wonder if this is part of the reason why.

    I have nasopharyngitis (as diagnosed by an ENT) : inflammation of the area at the back of the nose just before it enters the throat. I have also had a lot of pain in the frontal sinuses.

    I have been treating the nasopharyngitis with twice daily swabbing with .5% zinc chloride solution (which is meant to remove the infected cells and promote the growth of new ones). I have been judging my progress by how bloody the swabs become and how painful it all is.

    When I started on the lactopy I got major improvements in reduced lightheadedness and pain, but no consistent change in the nasopharyngitis. B2 was much the same. I got some further improvement from a course of fluconazole (I am half way through) I moved from severe to moderate inflammation to mostly moderate to mild but ocassionally severe.

    I have been on kimchi juice for a week now and the inflamation has been on a downward trend. The last few days have been no blood or just a blush or two on the swab. I still have some frontal sinus pressure so that might take a little longer to resolve.

    So the idea that kimchi is also anti fungal and that that is important makes sense to me. I bought the others because pure cultures seemed safer, but am now also wondering if the food included to feed the probiotic might also feed the things we are trying to get rid of.

    Of course there is bacterial and fungal food in the kimchi juice too but it is a varied diet not just a great big dose of glucose or whatever it is that is in the B2.

    1. Sima

      Thanks for the feedback. I'm glad you're improving.
      But I do wonder if using fluconazole (anti-fungal) and the zinc (disinfectant) at the same time as a L. sakei product is somehow messing with the results - could it possibly be suppressing the L. sakei?
      We know incredibly little about our sinus microbiomes and how the microbes interact.

  2. Richard

    Yeah this is the problem because n=1 is never really n=1. We are sick people who are trying to get well as fast as we can. We are not test subjects, we are not in laboratory controlled conditions, we are not being observed by people who are a) not ill and b)objective.

    The science and anecdote are things we grab on to and are interested in (interested in both senses) but we are not really doing an experiment.

    1. Sima

      Self-experimentation has a long history in medicine and science. A very famous case was when Barry Marshall drank a petri dish of Helicobacter pylori bacteria (from a patient) and soon developed the symptoms of peptic ulcer - this led to his eventually being awarded the Nobel Prize in 2005.
      Yes, your case is complicated so it's hard to separate out exactly what is working and what isn't, but many others - through self-experimentation - have had amazing results within days of using a L. sakei product (including kimchi) without changing anything else in their lives.

  3. Sandra

    I have the most trouble in the sinuses located in my forehead. The Kimchi helped but just wasn't the miracle cure that others have posted about. Out of desperation, I bought a dropper And started putting more Kimchi juice in my nose and got a better result. I do the same thing with Sausage culture when it gets really bad. Another idea I got was to put my head down to my knees after dropping the culture in my nose; this has been the most effective strategy for me to date.
    Thx for ur posts

  4. Lea

    I scheduled a surgery tomorrow afternoon to remove and wash off the fungi ball inside of the nose.
    I'd like to try the kimchi way, and even wanting to cancel the surgery. Maybe too late to do so....

  5. kim

    Im unsure of what is true or false online these days but Ive seen a lot of posts online stating that chronic sinusitis is actually most likely to be due to fungus.

      1. Sima

        In the 1990s it was suggested by some (especially Mayo Clinic researchers) that fungi were the cause of sinusitis. Candida is a yeast (fungi).
        However, since then with the development of new technology (genetic sequencing) it was discovered that all people (healthy and sick) have microbes (viruses, fungi, bacteria) living in the sinuses and this is normal. Including yeast. Many studies find this, and the 1990s views are no longer accepted.
        The sinus microbial community (sinus microbiome) can become unbalanced after allergies, illnesses, etc.
        Lactobacillus sakei is a bacterial species considered a keystone species (big beneficial effect) which is depleted in people with chronic sinusitis. (original study) It is beloved by the food industry because of its beneficial antimicrobial properties. It is also frequently found in kimchi.
        Nowadays the medical community believes that only a minority of sinus sufferers have fungal sinusitis.
        A focus in the future will be on restoring balance in the sinuses - one way is probiotics such as Lactobacillus sakei..

        1. kim

          Thank you for the info! I believe restoring balance by adding back the good guys is such a promising way back to health. I've been dealing with chronic sinusitis for 6 months now and have tried all kinds of lifestyle changes but the absolute worst were the protocols that focused on killing bad pathogens with antifungals, antimicrobials even in the form of herbs, I made myself so sick trying to get better thinking there was something in me that I needed to kill one of those things being candida. I'm 3 days into kimchi/lanto powder, too soon to tell but I definitely don't feel worse! (beside a bit of burning nostrils haha but definitely would be worth it if this works)

          1. Sima

            Hope it works for you!
            But once you feel better, please stop using kimchi or Lanto Sinus. If more is needed, then can use again.


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