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20131201_101300 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 (here and here). 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.

 A new study has summarized what we know about fungi that live in and on babies - and yes, we all have fungi both on and within us. It's called the mycobiome. In healthy individuals 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. Or other pathogenic microbes can enter the community, and the person becomes ill.

In healthy adults, approximately 0.1% of the microbes in the adult intestine are fungi, from approximately 60 unique species. Most species live peacefully in the body, and some fungi even have health benefits (e.g., Saccharomyces boulardii prevents gastrointestinal disease). Some fungi that many view as no good and involved with diseases (e.g., Candida and Aspergillus) are also found normally in healthy people. Studies show that normally infants also have fungi. Some fungi that live in the baby's gut (thus detected in fecal samples) are Candida (including C. albicans), Saccharomyces, and Cladosporium. The researchers (from the Univ. of Minnesota) point out that the study of fungi in babies has been neglected and much more research needs to be done.

Whether an infant is born vaginally or through cesarean delivery (C-section) affects the composition of the baby's bacterial communities over the first 6 months of life. And similarly, it looks like when the baby passes through the birth canal, the baby is exposed to the mother's mycobiota (fungi), and then these colonize in the infant's gut. Babies born by C-section have some differences in their fungi, such as being colonized by the mother's skin fungi (such as Malassezia fungi). After birth, a parent kissing and touching the baby (skin to skin contact) also transmits microbes, including fungi, to the baby.

Whether a baby drinks breast milk or formula strongly affects the infant's bacteria within the GI tract. For example, breast-fed infants have more Bifidobacteria and Labctobacilli in their gut compared to formula-fed infants. One study found about 700 species of bacteria in breast milk. Thus, scientists think that human breast milk also influences the infant gut mycobiota (fungi), although this research still needs to be done.

Whether a baby is born prematurely or at term (gestational age) is important. For infants born prematurely, intestinal fungi can cause big problems, such as an overgrowth in the gut. For example, 10% of premature babies get invasive, systemic Candidiasis, and about 20% die. Some factors leading to this are: a naïve immune system, bacterial communities out of whack (dysbiosis) due to antibiotic exposure, and use of parenteral nutrition (because this doesn't contain all the microbes from the mother that are in breast milk). In premature infants, beneficial fungi such as S. boulardii, may help to regulate the growth of opportunistic fungal colonizers such as Candida.

it is clear that whether the baby received antibiotics is important. The bacterial community of infants is altered by exposure to antibiotics in both term and preterm infants. For example, in a lengthy study over the first 3 years of life, infants receiving multiple courses of antibiotics had bacterial community changes following antibiotics and their gut bacterial microbiome became less diverse (fewer species). Although most commonly used antibiotics do not directly act on fungi, anti-bacterial antibiotic exposure is associated with alterations to the mycobiota (fungi) -  such as increased rates of fungal colonization, fungal overgrowth, and changes in the fungal community. For ex., premature infants exposed to cephalosporin antibiotics have an increased risk for invasive Candidiasis (a fungal overgrowth).

Out of whack (dysbiotic) microbial communities, incuding fungi, are found in IBD (intestinal bowel diseases) in children. They have more of some fungi (e.g. Pichia jadinii and Candida parapsilosis) and less of Cladosporium cladosporiodes, and an overall decrease in fungal diversity in the gut, as compared to healthy children.

From BMC Medicine: Infant fungal communities: current knowledge and research opportunities

The microbes colonizing the infant gastrointestinal tract have been implicated in later-life disease states such as allergies and obesity. Recently, the medical research community has begun to realize that very early colonization events may be most impactful on future health, with the presence of key taxa required for proper immune and metabolic development. However, most studies to date have focused on bacterial colonization events and have left out fungi, a clinically important sub-population of the microbiota. A number of recent findings indicate the importance of host-associated fungi (the mycobiota) in adult and infant disease states, including acute infections, allergies, and metabolism, making characterization of early human mycobiota an important frontier of medical research. This review summarizes the current state of knowledge with a focus on factors influencing infant mycobiota development and associations between early fungal exposures and health outcomes. We also propose next steps for infant fungal mycobiome research....

Guess what? Our microbiome (the collection of microbes living within and on us) also normally contains fungi. This is our mycobiome.  Very little is known about the mycobiome. (in contrast, much, much more is known about the bacteria within us) The fungi within us may be as low as 0.1% of the total microbiota (all our microbes). But what is known is because advanced genetic analyses have been done (specifically "next-generation” sequencing") or culturing of the fungi.

In some studies of fungi in healthy adults, nothing at all is known about up to 50% of the species found. And each human has a diversity or variety of fungi living within them, and these seem to vary between different parts of the body. What little is known is that fungi that we may have thought of as pathogenic (or no good) and involved in diseases (think Candida and Aspergillus) are also found normally in healthy individuals. For example, Candida were found in the mouth or oral microbiome of healthy adults as well as the gut of many healthy adults (thus part of a healthy microbial ecosystem). Some studies suggest that our diet influences which fungi species are present in the gut.

Fungi are both part of health and disease. They interact with the other microbes within us. Some fungi appear to prevent disease by competing with pathogenic organisms (bad bugs).They have functions in our body that we know very little about. We don't know much about disruptions to the fungi in our bodies or even how fungi come to live within us. The following excerpts are from a scholarly article summarizing what is known about our fungi or mycobiome. Written by Patrick C. Seed, from the Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Medicine:

The Human Mycobiome

Fungi are fundamental to the human microbiome, the collection of microbes distributed across and within the body... Here, a comprehensive review of current knowledge about the mycobiome, the collective of fungi within the microbiome, highlights methods for its study, diversity between body sites, and dynamics during human development, health, and disease. Early-stage studies show interactions between the mycobiome and other microbes, with host physiology, and in pathogenic and mutualistic phenotypes. Current research portends a vital role for the mycobiome in human health and disease.

In particular, the diversity and dynamics of the so-called mycobiome, the fungi distributed on and within the body, is poorly understood, particularly in light of the considerable association of fungi with infectious diseases and allergy (Walsh and Dixon 1996). Despite being as low as ≤0.1% of the total microbiota (Qin et al. 2010), the fungal constituents of the microbiome may have key roles in maintaining microbial community structure, metabolic function, and immune-priming frontiers, which remain relatively unexplored. Further questions exist as to how fungi interact cooperatively and noncooperatively with nonfungal constituents of the microbiome.

Fungal colonization of the term infant remains poorly characterized. Although it is known that fungi, such as Candida, are prevalent constituents of the vagina through which most infants are delivered, transmission to the newborn is not well documented, and assembly of additional environmental fungi into the microbiome has not been monitored in the otherwise healthy infant.

Although the microbiome of the healthy term infant remains poorly understood, more effort has been placed on understanding fungal colonization of preterm infants. Infants born 8 or more weeks before term and weighing ≤1500 g at birth are at significantly increased risk for invasive fungal disease, primarily with Candida species (spp.) these infants at risk of Candida colonization and infection.

Based on culture-dependent or genus/species-focused culture-independent methods of identification, the fungi of the oral cavity were previously believed to be few and relatively nondiverse. The genera Candida, Saccharomyces, Penicillium,Aspergillus, Scopulariopsis, and Genotrichum were among those previously reported.... In the oral samples from 20 participants, most had ∼15 fungal genera present...To put this level of diversity into context, prior studies have identified more than 50–100 bacterial genera in the healthy oral microbiome.

Of the oral fungal genera noted among each of the healthy subjects from the Ghannoum study (Ghannoum et al. 2010), Candida and Cladosporium were most common, present in 75% and 65% of participants, respectively. Fungal genera associated with local oral and invasive diseases, including Aspergillus,Cryptococcus, Fusarium, and Alternaria were also identified, indicating that these genera are present in the oral microbiome even during a state of health....The discovery of previously unidentified fungi is a reminder that the oral microbiome remains underexplored.

Although the bacterial constituents of the gut-associated microbiome have been intensely studied, the diversity and function of gut-associated fungi is understudied and lags far behind other aspects of microbiome studies.Only recently have larger studies specifically focused on the gut mycobiome been performed. Hoffmann et al. (2013).... from 98 healthy individuals without known gastrointestinal disease. In total, the researchers identified 66 fungal genera with 13 additional taxa for which a genus-level classification was not possible. An estimated 184 species were present in total. Eighty-nine percent of the samples had Saccharomyces present. Candida and Cladosporium were the second and third most prevalent, present in 57% and 42% of samples, respectively. The research was not able to definitively determine whether certain taxa were resident fungal microbota or transient as part of dietary intake.

Mutualism between fungi and humans is generally not well understood and has not been well studied. However, several examples related to the gut microbiome provide evidence of a beneficial relationship. S. boulardii, closely related to Saccharomyces cerevisiae, has been studied in controlled trials for the prevention and mitigation of antibiotic-associated diarrhea, including diarrhea caused by Clostridium difficile...These studies show the potency of fungi to compete with pathogenic organisms, modify intestinal function, and attenuate inflammation, presumably because of an interaction with the intestinal microbiota....A recent retrospective data review suggested an inverse relationship between Candida and C. difficile, pointing to some common impact of yeast on the gut microbiome and the exclusion of C. difficle outgrowth and/or toxin production (Manian and Bryant 2013).

Humans have a lifelong interaction with complex microbial communities distributed across the body, which fundamentally contributes to the development and physiology of the macro-organism. Only recently has the diversity of fungi within the human microbiome begun to be determined, with early studies showing that, although relatively nonabundant, fungi are diverse within the microbiome as a whole. Although still in the early stage, studies suggest complex interactions between fungal and bacterial constituents of the microbiome.

Microscope image of intestinal fungus.     Image: Iliyan Iliev