By Erik Galuppo - July 18, 2019
Are you struggling with sinus infections? You are not alone. Inflammation of the sinuses (also known as a sinus infection or sinusitis) is more common than one might expect as it affects more than 30 million in the US alone. For many decades, the mainstream treatments of sinus infections have been over-the-counter medications (i.e., allergy pills, decongestants), steroids, nasal steroid sprays (e.g., Flonase), sinus irrigation with salt water solution, and pharmaceutical antibiotics. Unfortunately all of these treatments only deliver a temporary solution to the problem. And lastly, if none of these solutions work, doctors often recommend sinus operations.
These mainstream treatments often fail to address the actual causes of the underlying condition and instead may only provide short term symptom relief. This is why many researchers are rethinking the actual cause of sinusitis and how to treat it.
What Is Sinusitis?
In simple terms, sinusitis is the inflammation of the sinus lining. When symptoms occur occasionally and last for a short while, this is called acute sinusitis. If the symptoms last many weeks, it is referred to as chronic sinusitis or chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS). Among the most common symptoms of chronic sinusitis are:
- Post nasal drip (mucus that drips down the throat)
- Thick nasal mucus
- Facial pain
- Stuffy nose
- Loss of the sense of smell
- Aching teeth
- Clogged ears
- Feeling of sickness
- Sore throat
To help stop fatigue, congestion, pain, pressure, and other sinus infection-related symptoms, it is vital to identify what really causes the infection in the first place. When it comes to the triggers behind sinusitis, there are two views:
- The traditional medical view of sinusitis - The sinuses are sterile environments (this idea has been disproven by modern research), so when harmful bacteria invade, sinusitis develops. In this case, doctors prescribe antibiotics to help kill these bacteria (i.e., Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Haemophilus Influenza). When sinus infections keep recurring, healthcare professionals often assume the problem is related to the patient’s immune system, and prescribe additional antibiotics. Unfortunately over time, bacteria can become antibiotic-resistant,, and a greater dosage of antibiotics or different antibiotics are needed in order to treat the same symptoms over and over again. This cycle leads to an imbalance of normal bacteria in our sinuses and increases the likelihood of sinusitis, which can be triggered simply from a common cold or sore throat. Furthermore, doctors recommend sinus operations once it appears that antibiotics are not working effectively anymore in treating the infections.
- The new medical view of sinusitis - Groundbreaking studies and new cutting-edge technology, such as genetic sequencing, have shown that sinusitis is the outcome of an imbalanced sinus microbiome and can be treated with the right probiotic, such as Lactobacillus sakei (more details below). Hundreds of bacteria, fungi, and virus species make up the microbial community. A surprising finding is that healthy people have communities of microbes that include both harmful (pathogenic) and also beneficial microbes living in harmony together throughout the body. Problems start to arise when the sinus microbiome becomes imbalanced and pathogenic bacteria begin to overpower the beneficial bacteria, leading to sinus infections.
Other sinusitis-causing factors: Besides antibiotics, viral infections (e.g., sore throat), allergies, environmental toxins (i.e., high levels of mold, air pollution, formaldehyde, cigarette smoke), nasal polyps, pathogenic biofilms, an immune system disease, and a deviated nasal septum, can inflame the sinuses and cause the onset of sinusitis. Hence, sinus infections can be triggered by anything that can make the nasal passages swell and become inflamed.
The Critical Role of The Microbiome & Lactobacillus sakei
The body is a fantastic system that comprises of an impressive variety of subsystems which work in unison to keep us healthy. Interestingly, every single part of the body has a microbiome, from the skin to the gut to the mouth, the eyes, the vagina, the sinuses, and between the toes. Everyone has a unique microbiome and microbial communities vary per person.
For instance, a healthy skin, mouth, and gut have different microbes than a skin with acne, a mouth with gingivitis, and intestines with an inflammatory bowel disease. It has been proven that in people with a health condition or illness, the microbiomes are imbalanced or out of whack (dysbiosis). This includes the sinus microbiome, which researchers at the University of California have found to be overpopulated by some bacteria, such as Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum (normally harmless skin bacteria). They also demonstrated that chronic sinusitis sufferers have less Lactobacillus sakei and lack the sinus bacteria diversity that healthy individuals possess. To deal with this bacteria imbalance, they thought that Lactobacillus sakei could help protect a majority of people against pathogenic bacteria, and so promote sinus health.
How the Sinus & Gut Microbiome Relate
The gut is often referred to as the body’s second brain, which implies that keeping a healthy gut is extremely important for our health and our immune system. The stronger our immune system is, the more chances we have to fight off viral infections that can result in sinusitis. Again, the gut microbiome is home to hundreds of microbial species that perform a wide range of tasks to maintain normal immune and digestive functions. According to scientific evidence, chronic diseases, inflammation, and even the formation of cancer are associated with the presence of certain bacteria that live in the gut. At the same time, other microbes that also live in the intestines are health-promoting and disease-preventing.
Luckily, we can control which microbes live and thrive in our gut through our food and lifestyle choices. Unfortunately, the Western lifestyle is characterized by diets that include a plethora of unhealthy processed foods, fast foods, lots of red meat, foods low in fiber, sweets, and the frequent use of antibiotics, alongside lack of sufficient sleep, no exercise, too much alcohol, and smoking. This way of life does not promote a balanced microbiome and feeds the harmful bacteria. Over time the beneficial bacteria get depleted, allowing the harmful ones to take over and cause a variety of diseases, including respiratory health conditions that lead to sinusitis.
Although what we eat does not prevent or treat sinusitis, feeding the gut microbes with probiotics or healthy foods can indeed strengthen our immune system; thus making us less prone to respiratory infections. Nevertheless, the most efficient way to treat a microbial imbalance and sinusitis is by getting the right microbes into the sinuses, such as Lactobacillus sakei.
Which Probiotic Should You Choose?
The possibility of using probiotics as a successful treatment for sinusitis excites researchers (see the article published in Science Translational Medicine magazine), who are focusing on the Lactobacillus bacteria (and its many strains) to help improve the sinus microbiome and reduce the number of pathogenic bacteria to bring balance to the microbiome.
Some promising studies are already suggesting that transplanting an entire microbial community from a healthy donor into a patient’s nasal passages (a snot transplant) could contribute to the treatment of chronic sinus infections, but this method is still in the future.
Current available methods include experimenting with fermented kimchi or using a probiotic supplement such as Lanto Sinus, which contains kimchi derived Lactobacillus sakei. Although Lanto Sinus is taken orally, the beneficial bacteria naturally travel throughout the mouth and sinuses because the bacteria are alive and the respiratory system is interconnected. Anecdotal evidence suggests that swishing probiotic powder (containing Lactobacillus sakei) in the mouth or mixing with water and dabbing or smearing in the nasal passages can be extremely effective for people with chronic and acute sinusitis.
Other probiotic Lactobacillus species have been under the microscope as well, but in general they have not managed to produce positive results, and have helped only a few individuals with sinus infection issues.
Lactobacillus Sakei & Sinusitis
For more than six years, Dr. Mara Silgailis, who is the author of the popular website Lacto Bacto - Health, Microbes, and More, has been reporting on results from 100s of individuals and her own experiences with various Lactobacillus sakei products. It all started in 2013 when she came across the milestone research of Abreu et al., which piqued her interest in trying Lactobacillus sakei for her sinusitis. At the time, there were no Lactobacillus sakei probiotics available, so she turned to kimchi, which she found may contain Lactobacillus sakei. She used the kimchi juice and dabbed it in her nostrils, and found that she had indeed managed to treat her chronic sinusitis successfully. When she used the same method with her family members, the results were consistent and antibiotics were no longer needed in order to recover from sinusitis.
Dr. Silgailis then went on to experiment with starter cultures. And recently, for the last few years she has been testing and using the product Lanto Sinus successfully, by swishing the product in the mouth as needed. (Note: Dr. Silgailis served as a consultant for Lanto Health).
The Future of Health Probiotics
The field of using probiotics as a medical treatment for many diseases and conditions is only in its infancy. It is a very exciting time with constant developments and new research. Using Lactobacillus sakei for sinus health is a great step forward in understanding the sinus microbiome. The future for healthcare and sinus health has never looked brighter.