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[PLEASE NOTE THAT AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS POST WITH NEW INFORMATION, INCLUDING NEW PRODUCTS, WAS PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2016: The One Probiotic That Treats SinusitisComments can be posted there.]

We now know that antibiotics, especially repeated courses of antibiotics, kills off bacteria and alters the microbial community in the sinuses (sinus biome). Research by Abreu et al (in 2012) showed that it is Lactobacillus sakei that is missing in chronic sinusitis sufferers, and that Lactobacillus sakei successfully treats sinusitis. From this research it is clear that Lactobacillus sakei is a  beneficial bacteria that can be used as a probiotic to cure sinustis.

It turns out that many brands of live fermented kimchi contain Lactobacillus sakei, and this is what my family used to treat and cure ourselves of chronic sinusitis (and acute sinusitis). So yes, kimchi can be probiotics for sinusitis. It is now over 85 weeks since I've been off all antibiotics and feeling great!

Until now I avoided naming the kimchi brand we used on this site because I believe that many brands of fermented kimchi (with cabbage) contain Lactobacillus sakei, and should be effective in curing sinusitis (this is by dabbing or smearing it in the nostrils - see Sinusitis Treatment Summary link for the METHOD and details).

WHAT BRANDS OR PRODUCTS WITH Lactobacillus sakei WORK?

The brand I use is Sunja's Kimchi (from Vermont). We originally were successful with the Medium Spicy Cabbage Kimchi and when that stopped being fully effective last winter (from overuse? recipe change?), we switched to Sunja's Medium Spicy Cucumber Kimchi (fermented at least 14 days and the jar opened less than 1 week).

Recently I heard from a woman in Nevada who wrote me stating that smearing/dabbing Sinto Gourmet Mild White Napa Cabbage Kimchi into her nostrils was successfully treating her chronic sinusitis (using the method described in the Sinusitis Treatment page)

One person wrote that he successfully cured chronic and acute sinusitis with a fermented sausage starter from Chr. Hansen containing L. sakei and another bacteria. He used it after mixing very small amounts in his  Neti pot - initially used it 1 x per day until cured, and then sparingly only as needed (after a cold) or as a maintenance booster once every 3 or 4 months (see his comment in the Contact page for more details). (UPDATE: one name for this product is Bactoferm F-RM-52, which contains Lactobacillus sakei and Staphylococcus carnosus  . See 1/12/15 post for more, including my experience with it.)

The Korean product Lactopy shows definite promise because they advertise it as L. sakei from kimchi. However, everything on the package is written in Korean, it needs to be refrigerated, and it is shipped from Korea. One person has written that she has been using it for several months and that it is working (she is using it in her "nose bottle" - in the same manner as one would use a neti pot or by swabbing the inside of her nostrils with a Q-tip). However, trying another method of using Lactopy  in a paste with water and then keeping it in the mouth for a while (like a soft lozenge) did not work when my family tried it last winter.

Eating kimchi does not seem to treat sinusitis, even though it may be good for the gut. Only smearing or dabbing it in the nostrils works.

Several people have reported that using sauerkraut has not helped their sinusitis, and scientific studies report that sauerkraut contains minimal L.sakei, if at all.

Others have also mentioned thinking about using lactic acid starter cultures containing L. sakei , whether using it alone or making kimchi with it, but I don't know how it went.

Finally, I would like feedback from you: 1) What brands of kimchi have worked for you in treating or curing sinusitis?     2) What other products containing Lactobacillus sakei have worked successfully for you? And how did you use it?   3) What other bacteria have worked for you in curing sinusitis?

Please let me know by commenting in the comments section or writing me an email. This way I can update this list.  The goal is to find ways to improve the beneficial bacteria in the sinuses and so treat, cure, and eventually prevent sinusitis.   Thanks!

[PLEASE NOTE THAT AN UPDATED VERSION OF THIS POST WITH NEW INFORMATION WAS PUBLISHED IN OCTOBER 2016: The One Probiotic That Treats SinusitisComments can be posted there.]

Even though this study was done in a laboratory, it gives further support for the treatment of sinusitis with bacteria and other microbes. And it could help explain why repeated courses of antibiotics don't "cure"  many chronic infections - because biofilms filled with pathogenic bacteria are signs of microbial communities out-of-whack. Which is why my family's successful chronic sinusitis treatment with kimchi (juice) containing Lactobacillus sakei is all the more impressive. From Science Daily:

Link between antibiotics, bacterial biofilms and chronic infections found

The link between antibiotics and bacterial biofilm formation leading to chronic lung, sinus and ear infections has been found, researchers report. The study results illustrate how bacterial biofilms can actually thrive, rather than decrease, when given low doses of antibiotics. Results of this study may lead to new approach for chronic ear infections in children.

This research addresses the long standing issues surrounding chronic ear infections and why some children experience repeated ear infections even after antibiotic treatment," said Paul Webster, PhD, lead author, senior staff scientist at USC and senior faculty at the Oak Crest Institute of Science. "Once the biofilm forms, it becomes stronger with each treatment of antibiotics."

During the study, non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi) bacteria a common pathogen of humans was exposed to non-lethal doses of ampicillin, a class of antibiotics commonly used to treat respiratory, sinus and ear infections, or other beta-lactam antibiotics. The dose of the antibiotic was not enough to kill the bacteria which allowed the bacteria to react to the antibiotic by producing glycogen, a complex sugar often used by bacteria as a food source, to produce stronger biofilms when grown in the laboratory.

Biofilms are highly structured communities of microorganisms that attach to one another and to surfaces. The microorganisms group together and form a slimy, polysaccharide cover. This layer is highly protective for the organisms within it, and when new bacteria are produced they stay within the slimy layer. With the introduction of antibiotic-produced glycogen, the biofilms have an almost endless food source that can be used once antibiotic exposure has ended.

There are currently no approved treatments for biofilm-related infections. Therefore, bacteria forced into forming stronger biofilms will become more difficult to treat and will cause more severe chronic infections. Adults will suffer protracted lung infections as the bacteria hunker down into their protective slime, and children will have repeated ear infections. What may appear to be antibiotic resistance when an infection does not clear up may actually be biofilms at work.

Webster believes modern medicine needs to find ways of detecting and treating biofilm infections before the bacteria are able to form these protective structures. The difficulties of treating biofilm infections, which can be up to 1,000 times more resistant to antibiotics,have prompted some physicians to propose a gradual move away from traditional antibiotic treatments and toward non-antibiotic therapies.

The bacteria called non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae are a common cause of infection in the upper respiratory tract. By attaching to surfaces in the body the bacteria form a biofilm. Wu et al. have reported that when the bacteria encounter non-lethal amounts of specific antibiotics they are stimulated to form a biofilm, a structure that causes chronic infection and which can be highly resistant to antibiotics.
Credit: Paul Webster, Ph.D

20131201_101300 Several people have recently written to me about kimchi and asked why I originally chose vegan kimchi over kimchi containing a seafood ingredient (typically fish or shrimp sauce) for sinusitis treatment. I have also been asked whether vegan kimchi has enough Lactobacillus sakei bacteria in it as compared to kimchi made with a seafood seasoning. (see Sinusitis Treatment Summary page and/or Sinusitis posts for in-depth discussions of Lactobacillus sakei in successful sinusitis treatment).

Korean kimchi is a fermented food typically made with cabbage and other vegetables and seasonings, and can contain some seafood (perhaps fish or shrimp sauce) as a seasoning, or just be vegan (no seafood ingredients). It can also be made using a starter culture.

These questions arose because Lactobacillus sakei (L.sakei) is commonly found on meat and fish, and plays a role in the fermentation and preservation of meat. L.sakei "outcompetes other spoilage- or disease-causing microorganisms" and so prevents them from growing. Thus it is considered beneficial and is used commercially in lactic acid starter cultures (for example, in making European salami and sausages).

L. sakei was originally isolated from sake or rice wine (thus plant origin), is found in very low levels in some fermented sauerkraut, and according to the studies I looked at, is found during fermentation in most brands of Korean kimchi.

Currently there are over 230 different strains of L.sakei isolated from meat, seafood, or vegetables from all over the world (from S. Chaillou et al 2013 study looking at population genetics of L.sakei). So this bacteria, which is found by using state of the art genetic analysis, turns out to be quite common.

So why did I only use vegan kimchi and only mention vegan kimchi in our Sinusitis Treatment method?

It's because when I first started dabbing kimchi juice in my nose about 1 1/2 years ago, I was in uncharted territory. I was desperate for something with L.sakei in it, and from my reading I found kimchi. However, putting (by dabbing or smearing) a live fermented product in my nostrils was a big unknown. When I first opened some jars, the kimchi juice would bubble and sometimes overflow and run down the sides of the jar. Would the microbes in kimchi harm or benefit me? Obviously I was conducting an experiment with unknown results.

I settled on vegan (no seafood) kimchi because a totally plant-based product sounded safer to me. I wondered what other microbes are in the kimchi with seafood. Could any of them be harmful?  And my choice of vegan kimchi turned out great.

Our experiences with kimchi are that it works amazingly well in treating sinusitis and causes no harm (as far as we can tell). This is the best I've felt in many, many years - back to normal!

But I don't know if other brands of vegan kimchi, with different recipes and ingredients and thus different microbial communities, would have worked out so well. The levels of L.sakei and other beneficial microbes in the many kimchi brands are unknown.

So now I wonder- if L. sakei is so pervasive on meat and seafood, perhaps kimchi with a seafood ingredient in it would be even better, with consistently higher amounts of L. sakei. Or maybe there is no difference between the two kinds of kimchi. Only the very expensive state-of-art genetic testing would give me the answer to that question.

Based on my successful 1 1/2 years of vegan kimchi experience, I may be willing to experiment further and try non-vegan kimchi. Or maybe not. Perhaps it is better. But I'm very cautious.... 

Yesterday I read and reread a very interesting journal review paper from Sept. 2013 that discussed recent studies about probiotics and treatment of respiratory ailments, including sinusitis. Two of the authors are those from the Abreu et al sinusitis study from 2012 (that I've frequently mentioned and that guided our own Sinusitis Treatment) that found that Lactobacillus sakei protects against sinusitis and treats sinusitis. Some of the things this paper discussed are: microbial communities in the airways and sinuses vary between healthy and non-healthy individuals (and each area or niche seems to have distinct communities), that lactic acid bacteria (including Lactobacillus sakei) are generally considered the "good guys" in our sinus microbiomes (the communities of microbes living in our sinuses), and that treatments of the future could consist of "direct localized administration of microbial species" (for example, getting the bacteria directly into the sinuses through the nasal passages with a nasal spray, or dabbing fermented kimchi juice like I did). They also mentioned that maybe one could also get probiotics to the GI tract (e.g., by eating probiotics) and maybe this would have some benefits. So far it seems that administering something containing L.sakei directly (by nasal spray or dabbing kimchi juice - as I did) seems to work best for treating sinusistis.

They also discussed that lactic acid bacteria are found in healthy mucosal surfaces in the respiratory, GI, and vaginal tract. They then proposed that lactic acid bacteria (including L.sakei) act as pioneer, or keystone species, and that they act to shape mucosal ecosystems (the microbiomes), and permit other species to live there that share similar attributes, and so promote "mucosal homeostasis". It appears that having a healthy sinus microbiome protects against pathogenic species.

So yeah - the bottom line is that microbial supplementation of beneficial bacteria seems very promising in the treatment of respiratory ailments. And for long-term successful sinusitis treatment, one would need to improve the entire sinus microbial community (with a "mixed species supplement"), not just one bacteria species. (By the way, maybe that is also why using kimchi in our successful Sinusitis Treatment works - it is an entire microbial community with several lactic acid species, including the all important Lactobacillus sakei. (NOTE: See Sinusitis Treatment Summary page and The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis for some easy methods  using various probiotics to treat chronic sinusitis. These articles get updated frequently.) From Trends in Microbiology:

Probiotic strategies for treatment of respiratory diseases.

More recently, Abreu et al. profiled the sinus microbiome of CRS (chronic rhinosinusitis) patients and healthy controls at high resolution [2]. Microbial burden was not significantly different between healthy subject and CRS patient sinuses. Moreover, known bacterial pathogens such as H. influenza, P. aeruginosa, and S. aureus were detected in both healthy and CRS sinuses; however, the sinus microbiome of CRS patients exhibited characteristics of community collapse, in other words many microbial species associated with healthy individuals, in particular lactic acid bacteria, were significantly reduced in relative abundance in CRS patients. In this state of microbiome depletion, the species C. tuberculostearicum was significantly enriched. This indicates that composition of the microbiome is associated with disease status and appears to influence the activity of pathogens within these assemblages.

Although sinusitis patients in the Abreu study exhibited hallmark characteristics of community collapse, the comparator group – healthy individuals – represented an opportunity to mine microbiome data and identify those bacterial species specific to the sinus niche that putatively protect this site. The authors demonstrated that a relatively diverse group of phylogenetically distinct lactic acid bacteria were enriched in the healthy sinus microbiota [2]. As proof of principle that the sinonasal microbiome itself or indeed specific members of these consortia protect the mucosal surface from pathogenic effects, a series of murine studies were undertaken. These demonstrated that a replete, unperturbed sinus microbiome prevented C. tuberculostearicum pathogenesis. Moreover, even in the context of an antimicrobial-depleted microbiome, Lactobacillus sakei when co-instilled with C. tuberculostearicum into the nares of mice afforded complete mucosal protection against the pathogenic species. Although this is encouraging, it is unlikely that a single species can confer long-term protection in a system that is inherently multi-species and constantly exposed to the environment. Indeed, previous studies and ecological theory supports the hypothesis that multi-species consortia represent more robust assemblages, and tend to afford improved efficacy with respect to disease or infection outcomes [44,45]. This study therefore provides a basis for the identification of what may be termed a minimal microbial population (MMP) composed of multiple phylogenetically distinct lactic acid bacteria, including L. sakei. Such a mixed species assemblage would form the foundation of a rationally designed, sinus-specific bacterial supplement to combat established chronic diseases or, indeed, be used prophylactically to protect mucosal surfaces against acute infection.

Therefore, although site-specific diseases such as chronic sinusitis may well be confined to the sinus niche and be resolved simply by localized microbe-restoration approaches, it is also entirely plausible that an adjuvant oral microbe-supplementation strategy and dietary intervention (to sustain colonization by the introduced species) may increase efficacy and ultimately improve long-term patient outcomes. This two-pronged approach may be particularly efficacious for patients who have lost protective GI microbial species due to
administration of multiple courses of oral antimicrobials to manage their sinus disease.

Although it is impossible to define the precise strains or species that will be used in future microbial supplementation strategies to treat chronic inflammatory diseases, there is a convergence of evidence indicating that healthy mucosal surfaces in the respiratory, GI, and vaginal tract are colonized by lactic acid bacteria. We would venture that members of this group act as pioneer, keystone species that, through their multitude of functions (including bacteriocin production, competitive colonization, lactate and fatty acid production), can shape mucosal ecosystems, thereby permitting co-colonization by phylogenetically distinct
species that share functionally similar attributes. Together, these subcommunities promote mucosal homeostasis and represent the most promising species for future microbe-supplementation strategies.

It is now more than 69 weeks since I first successfully started using kimchi to treat the chronic sinusitis that had plagued me (and my family) for so many years. I originally reported on the Sinusitis Treatment on Dec. 6, 2013 (the method is described there) and followed up on Feb. 21, 2014.

Based on the sinus microbiome research of N. Abreu et al (from Sept. 2012 in Sci.Transl.Med.) that discussed Lactobacillus sakei as a sinusitis treatment, I had looked for a natural source of L.sakei and found it in kimchi. Since dabbing the kimchi juice in our nostrils as needed, all 4 of us are still free of chronic sinusitis and off all antibiotics at close to a year and a half (I'm optimistic). So how is year two shaping up?

Well, it is different and even better than year one. Much of the first year seemed to be about needing to build up our beneficial bacteria sinus community (sinus microbiome) through kimchi treatments, eating fermented foods (such as kimchi, kefir, yogurt), whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. And of course not having to take antibiotics helped our sinus microbial community.

But now in year two we notice that we absolutely don't need or want frequent kimchi treatments - even when sick. Daily kimchi treatments, even during acute sinusitis (after a cold), actually seems to be too much and makes us feel worse (for ex., the throat becomes so dry, almost like a sore throat). But one treatment every 2 or 3 days while sick is good. In fact, this year we have done so few treatments, that even when ill, each time the sick person stopped doing kimchi treatments before he/she was fully recovered, and any sinusitis symptoms kept improving on their own until full recovery! Amazing!

To us, this is a sign that all of us have much improved sinus microbiomes from a year ago. And interestingly, we are getting fewer colds/viruses than ever.  Our guiding principle this year is: "Less is more." In other words, at this point only do a kimchi sinus treatment when absolutely needed, and then only do it sparingly. Looking back, we think we should have adopted the "less is more" last year after the first 6 months of kimchi treatments.

The other thing we've done is cut back on daily saline nasal irrigation, especially when ill and doing kimchi treatments. We've started thinking that the saline irrigation also flushes out beneficial bacteria.

The conclusion is: YES, a person's microbiome can improve, even after years or decades of chronic sinusitis. It is truly amazing and wonderful to not struggle with it, and to feel normal.

(UPDATE: See Sinusitis Treatment Summary page and The One Probiotic That Treats Sinusitis for more information, more probiotics one can use, and more L. sakei treatment information.)

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SUMMARY OF TREATMENT METHOD

The following is a quick summary of the method we use (from the Dec.6, 2013 post - Sinus Treatment page).   Please read the original post for complete descriptions and explanations. We use live (fermented and not pasteurized) vegan (no seafood added) kimchi. Choosing vegan (no seafood added) kimchi is a personal preference. Lactobacillus sakei is found in meat, seafood, and some vegetables.

Treatment Method: 1) Wash hands, and then use a clean teaspoon to put a little juice from the kimchi jar into a small clean bowl. 2) Dip finger in the kimchi juice and dab it or smear it along the insides of one nostril (about 1/2" into the nostril). 3) Dip finger in kimchi juice again and repeat in other nostril. 4) Do this several times. If I needed to blow my nose at this point I would, and afterwards I would put more kimchi juice up each nostril (again repeating the procedure) and then not blow my nose for at least an hour (or more). 5) Afterwards, any unused kimchi in the little bowl was thrown out and not replaced in the main kimchi jar. (Note: Put the main kimchi jar back in the refrigerator. Also, once opened, take kimchi juice from it for no more than 6 days.)

My rationale was that I was inhaling the bacteria this way and that it would travel up the nasal passages on their own to my sinuses. I did this regimen once or twice a day initially until I started feeling better, then started doing it less frequently, and eventually only as needed.

I spent time this past week searching the medical literature (US National Library of Medicine - Medline/PubMed) for the latest in sinusitis research. I wish I could tell you that amazing research has been happening recently, especially with the sinus microbiome (which could mean treating sinusitis with microbes), but I was disappointed. Really disappointed.

I did four searches: one for "sinusitis" (looked at 600+ studies dating back to summer 2013), then "chronic sinusitis" (going back to fall 2012), then "sinusitis, probiotics", and finally "sinusitis, microbiome". The "sinusitis, probiotics" search turned up 10 studies dating back to 2002. The "sinusitis, microbiome" search turned up a grand total of 13 studies, with the oldest dating back to 2004. Of course the sinus microbiome research by Abreu et al from September 2012  discussing Lactobacillus sakei and which I based my personal (and successful) kimchi sinusitis treatment was on the list (see my Dec. 5 post for a discussion of their research). But none of the other studies looked at Lactobacillus sakei (which is in kimchi).

Some of the findings among the many chronic sinusitis studies: microbial diversity is lower in antibiotic treated chronic sinusitis sufferers (than in healthy controls) and the microbial communities more uneven (meaning some microbes dominated over others), and greater Staphylococcus aureus populations among those with chronic sinusitis. After antibiotic treatment patients typically became colonized by microbes that are less susceptible to the prescribed antibiotics. One study found that Staphylococcus epidermidis (SE) may have some effectiveness against Staphylococcus aureus (SA) in the sinusitis microbiome in mice. Lactobacillus rhamnosus was not found to be effective against sinusitis. A number of studies reported biofilms in the sinuses which are highly resistant to medicines. Some studies found that smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke is linked to chronic sinusitis. (June 2016 UPDATE: I should have said that Lactobacillus rhamnosus (R0011 strain) was not effective against sinusitis when taken orally (a tablet) twice a day for 4 weeks in the study. There have been no further studies since then looking at L. rhamnosus for sinusitis treatment. It is unknown whether spraying or smearing/dabbing L. rhamnosus directly into the nostrils would have a positive effect)

Everyone agreed that state of the art genetic analyses found many more microbial species than older methods (the least effective was the traditional culture method). Several studies suggested that perhaps chronic sinusitis is due to immunological defects and one suggested that it was due to "immune hyperresponsiveness" to organisms in the sinuses. Surprisingly, some studies reported that there are more microbes or microbial species in chronic sinusitis patients than in control patients and that Staphylococcus aureus may be dominant (NOTE: These results may be due to not having been done with state of the art genetic analyses which would have picked up more microbial diversity. Another issue is where in the respiratory tract the samples were taken from, because it seems that the different areas have different microbial communities).

There was frequent mention that chronic sinusitis affects millions of people each year in the US, that little is known about its exact cause, and that there is controversy over appropriate treatment. Originally doctors thought that healthy sinuses were sterile, and it has taken a while to realize that is untrue. It is clear that researchers are only now trying to discover what microbial communities live in healthy individuals compared to those with chronic sinusitis.

But it appeared to me that the majority of the studies from the last 2 years indicated that treatment of chronic sinusitis is still: first try antibiotics, then antibiotics plus inhaled corticosteroids and perhaps nasal saline irrigation, then followed by endoscopic sinus surgery (or sometimes balloon dilation), then perhaps steroid drip implants (steroid-eluting sinus implants), and then there may be revision surgeries.

So I'm sticking with my easy-to-do, inexpensive, and fantastically successful kimchi (Lactobacillus sakei) sinusitis treatment. Of course! (see my Dec. 6, 2013 and Feb. 21, 2014 posts or click on the Sinusitis Treatment link for further information).

It is now over a year since I successfully started treating chronic sinusitis with kimchi, and almost a year for the other 3 family members. The kimchi treatment continues to be amazingly effective. We all continue to feel great and we have not taken any antibiotics in all this time. (See my December 6, 2013 post or the Sinusitis Treatment Summary page for details on how we do various easy Sinusitis Treatments.)

No more symptoms of acute or chronic sinusitis! We have made some recent changes though. We decided to stop doing frequent kimchi "booster" or "maintenance" treatments. Instead, we decided to only use kimchi when there is a definite need, for example after a cold or other virus when we have gone into acute sinusitis, or when our sinuses don't feel right for several days. Since adopting this policy we haven't done a kimchi treatment in over a month and continue to feel great. (Our new motto: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.)

We came to this decision because in December two of us noticed we were only getting a partial response to the brand of kimchi we had been using for almost a year, but when we switched to a new kind of kimchi (but again vegan) we once again felt fantastic. Why did this occur? I have two possible hypotheses: 1) Since kimchi contains so many types of bacteria, perhaps frequent "booster applications" also increased other bacteria in the sinuses that competed with the Lactobacillus sakei, and switching to a new kind of kimchi corrected this problem. OR 2) Perhaps the kimchi company changed their kimchi recipe or ingredients, and thus the Lactobacillus sakei numbers went way down.

We think that since we still get acute sinusitis after a cold or flu-type virus means that our sinus bacterial communities (sinus microbiome) are still not quite right, even thought they must be better than they've been in years (after all, we feel great and not ill, and have not taken antibiotics in over a year). Thus we are making every effort to eat fermented and pickled foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, raw cheeses, and kefir to naturally increase our beneficial bacteria numbers. We are not taking probiotics because no brand of probiotics currently available contains Lactobacillus sakei. We are also planning to test other brands of kimchi to see what brands are effective. And, of course, I'm always looking for new sources of Lactobacillus sakei and other effective natural sinusitis treatments.

This is the story of my family's successful Sinusitis Treatment using an all natural, easy home remedy. (UPDATE: The treatment worked so well that we all have been cured of chronic sinusitis, and we have been off all antibiotics for over 3 years.)

Ten months ago my family was struggling with chronic sinusitis that no longer responded well to antibiotics. My oldest son had just been told to get another CAT scan and to prepare for ENT surgery to "open up the sinuses more". We were desperate for something that would help us that didn't involve antibiotics or surgery.

Background: This story started many years ago when we (husband, myself, 2 sons) moved into a house with an incorrectly installed central air conditioning system. We all developed mold allergies and repeated bouts of acute sinusitis, which then led to chronic sinusitis. Eventually we discovered the problem, ripped out and replaced the air conditioning system and all ductwork, but by then the damage was done. Even though antibiotics helped acute sinusitis symptoms which occurred after every cold and sore throat, we always felt like we had chronic sinusitis. Over the years we tried everything we could think of, including antibiotics, decongestants, allergy pills, nasal sprays, daily sinus rinsing with salt water, vitamins, steam inhalation, etc. Both sons even had balloon sinuplasties, which had helped for a short while, but no longer. We had avoided sinus surgeries because we didn't know of anyone who had been "cured" going that route, even with repeat surgeries.

The research:  But then last winter I read with great interest all the latest research about bacteria and how all of us have hundreds of species of microorganisms (our microbiome), and how they may play a role in our health.  In fact we are more microbes than cells!

Especially exciting was a small study published in September 2012 which looked at 20 patients about to undergo nasal surgery - 10 healthy patients (the controls) and 10 chronic rhinosinusitis (sinusitis) patients. The researchers found that the chronic rhinosinusitis sufferers had reduced bacterial diversity in their sinuses, especially depletion of lactic acid bacteria (including Lactobacillus sakei) and an increase in Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum (which is normally considered a harmless skin bacteria). They then did a second study in mice which found that Lactobacillus sakei  bacteria protected against sinusitis, even in the presence of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum. The researchers were going forward with more research in this area with the hope, that if all goes well, of developing a nasal spray with the beneficial bacteria, but that was a few years away. (Source: Nicole A. Abreu et al - Sinus Microbiome Diversity Depletion and Corynebacteriumt uberculostearicum Enrichment Mediates Rhinosinusitis. Science Translational Medicine, September 12, 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22972842 )

But we were desperate now and didn't want to wait. What to do? 

The Experiment: I thought that the answer lay with Lactobacillus sakei (or L.sakei) and I read everything I could find on it. I tried to find a natural and safe source for it, and eventually decided on kimchi. Kimchi is a Korean fermented vegetable product which can be made with varying ingredients, usually with cabbage. According to studies done in Korea, many (but not all) brands of traditionally made kimchi contain L. sakei  (as well as many other species of bacteria) after fermentation. It seemed to me that my best bet was to try an all natural kimchi made with cabbage, without any additives, preservatives, and no fish or seafood in it (this last was personal preference). The kimchi brands I bought had to be refrigerated before and after opening. They could not be pasteurized because it was bacteria that I wanted, lots of bacteria. Kimchi fermentation is carried out by the various microorganisms in the kimchi ingredients, and among the bacteria formed are the lactic acid bacteria, one of which can be L. sakei.

In February of 2013 I was off all antibiotics, but feeling sicker (with sinusitis) each day, when I decided to go ahead with the Sinusitis Experiment and purchased several brands of cabbage kimchi (all natural, vegan). Over the next  2 weeks I tried two brands, one after another. Not only did I eat a little bit every day , but I also smeared a little bit of the kimchi juice in my nose, going up about 1/2" in each nostril - as if I were an extremely messy eater. I did this once or twice a day initially. And yes, I was nervous about what I was doing for this was absolutely NOT medically approved. Obviously I did not discuss this with any doctor.

What if harmful bacteria got up in my sinuses and overwhelmed my system?  What if the microbes in the kimchi did harm, even permanent harm?  What really was in the kimchi? Even if the kimchi contained L. sakei, it also contained many other species of bacteria. The studies said that the bacteria in kimchi varied depending on kimchi ingredients (and each brand was different), length of fermentation, and temperature of fermentation.  L.sakei is found in meat (and used in preserving meat), seafood, and some vegetables, but I was nervous about other microbes found in sea food. This was a major reason I avoided any kimchi with seafood in it. After all, the labels on the kimchi I purchased said it was a "live product" (fermentation). When I opened the jars sometimes the liquid inside was bubbling and sometimes even overflowed down the sides of the jar. It takes a leap of faith to put a bubbling strong smelling liquid in the nose!

Results of the Sinusitis Experiment: By the end of the week I found that the one brand worked and it truly felt like a miracle!  Within 24 hours of first applying it I was feeling better, and day by day my sinusitis improved. All the problematic sinusitis symptoms (yellow mucus, constant sore throat from postnasal drip, aching teeth, etc.) slowly went away and within about 2 to 3 weeks I felt great - the sinusitis was gone. After a few weeks the rest of the family followed, one by one, in the Sinusitis Experiment. All improved to the point of feeling great (healthy) and have been off all antibiotics since then. All four of us feel we no longer have chronic sinusitis. We are very, very pleased with the results.

To continue reading the story...

Last year a small study by Abreu et al raised the exciting possibility that the sinus microbiome (the microbial community in our sinuses) being seriously out of whack could be behind chronic sinusitis. Which some day could result in sinusitis treatment being the restoration of beneficial microorganisms that should be there, perhaps with a nasal spray. From Science Daily, September 12, 2012:

Sinusitis Linked to Microbial Diversity

A common bacteria ever-present on the human skin and previously considered harmless, may, in fact, be the culprit behind chronic sinusitis, a painful, recurring swelling of the sinuses that strikes more than one in ten Americans each year, according to a study by scientists at the University of California, San Francisco.

The team reports this week in the journal Science Translational Medicine that sinusitis may be linked to the loss of normal microbial diversity within the sinuses following an infection and the subsequent colonization of the sinuses by the culprit bacterium, which is called Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum.

In their study, the researchers compared the microbial communities in samples from the sinuses of 10 patients with sinusitis and from 10 healthy people, and showed that the sinusitis patients lacked a slew of bacteria that were present in the healthy individuals. The patients also had large increases in the amount of Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum in their sinuses, which are located in the forehead, cheeks and eyes.

The team also identified a common bacterium found within the sinuses of healthy people called Lactobacillus sakei that seems to help the body naturally ward off sinusitis. In laboratory experiments, inoculating mice with this one bacterium defended them against the condition. 

"Presumably these are sinus-protective species," said Susan Lynch, PhD, an associate professor of medicine and director of the Colitis and Crohn's Disease Microbiome Research Core at UCSF. What it all suggests, she added, is that the sinuses are home to a diverse "microbiome" that includes protective bacteria. These "microbial shields" are lost during chronic sinusitis, she said, and restoring the natural microbial ecology may be a way of mitigating this common condition.

Though the sinuses' underlying purpose is still unclear, they are all too familiar to American doctors and their patients because of what happens when the thin tissues lining them become inflamed, as occurs in chronic sinusitis -- one of the most common reasons why people go to the doctor in the United States. There are about 30 million cases each year, and the cost to the healthcare system is an estimated $2.4 billion dollars annually.

The pain of sinusitis can last for months. Doctors typically prescribe bacteria-killing antibiotics and, in more severe and long-lasting cases, conduct sinus surgeries. However, said Andrew Goldberg, MSCE, MD, the director of rhinology and sinus surgery at UCSF and a co-author on the paper, "the premise for our understanding of chronic sinusitis and therapeutic treatment appears to be wrong, and a different therapeutic strategy seems appropriate."