Nutrition, nose, sinuses, sinus infection, cold, kimchi, nutrient-dense, microbiome, gut, health, net pots, essential oils, antibiotics, diet, lactobacillus, lactobacillus sakei

Nutrition for your Nose: Treating Sinus Infections with….Kimchi?

Ever had a sinus infection? If so, you recognize that familiar, dreaded sensation that your face is on fire. It seems to be a special kind of torture, leaving me wondering each time what I have done to deserve this pain. (If you haven’t had a sinus infection, I hope you never get one!) Sinus infections can be a major, recurring problem for some people, and they aren’t always easy to cure. In part because their causes are not well understood, it has been difficult for conventional medicine to determine the best treatments for sinus infections. This story is my journey toward finding a cure for my own sinus problems.

My sinus infections

After the birth of my second child, a pregnancy which was complicated by a frightening bout of pneumonia and multiple rounds of antibiotics, I started to get sinus infections. Every time I got a cold it would inevitably turn into a sinus infection. Every. Time. At first, I tried just ignoring them, which was the most convenient thing to do. I had two children under age 2 and was a full-time graduate student. Why would I want to wait around at the doctor’s office? (Current medical advice actually encourages this approach, stating that 70% of sinus infections go away on their own within 2 weeks without treatment.)

This did not work for me. After four weeks, my symptoms not only weren’t gone, but were much worse. Reluctantly, I finally trundled off to the doctor for antibiotics. As the years went on, I continued to get sinus infections after every cold, but they became more sinister. Instead of being something I could live with for weeks, they came on with such ferocity and intensity that within hours I was feverish and in so much pain I couldn’t sleep or eat.

Antibiotics-the unintended consequences

Antibiotics, lifesavers in some circumstances, have the unintended consequence of killing off good bugs in our microbiome. (The microbiome is the community of trillions of microbes and their genes that inhabit our bodies-especially our intestines). And the health of the microbiome affects every cell in the body. As I started to learn about functional medicine and the microbiome  I became determined to cure my frequent sinus infections without antibiotics. You name it, I tried it. Neti pots, essential oils, probiotics, probiotics IN neti pots, vast quantities of raw garlic that made my stomach ache…none of it helped. I still ended up on antibiotics every time.

After a particularly nasty sinus infection early in 2015, I found the blog The author of the blog, Mara Silgailis, had been experimenting for several years with using kimchi juice to treat recurring sinus infections. Let me be clear-not eating the kimchi, but dabbing kimchi juice UP HER NOSE. And it worked for her. I got a chance to try it myself a few weeks later after a cold left me with the familiar face-on-fire sensation in my sinuses. Praise be, it worked. And it worked again two months later while I was traveling and thankfully found kimchi at the local store. Since then I have stopped several more sinus infections in the same way. I have not had to take antibiotics for a sinus infection for two years now.

Lest you quickly decide this is just too weird to be true (believe me, I initially thought so!), there is some science behind this approach. Many sinus infections are now thought to occur due to a lack of microbial diversity in the sinuses, rather than simply from an overgrowth of a specific pathogen. There seem to be one or more “keystone” species in the sinuses that direct the growth of other organisms, essentially deciding which ones can set up housekeeping there and which are kicked out. Lactobacillus sakei seems to be a keystone species in the sinuses. And during the fermentation process in making kimchi, one of the microbes that grows is Lactobacillus sakei.  So adding this organism back to the sinuses (after multiple rounds of antibiotics have probably killed it off) makes sense.

How to use kimchi

There are detailed instructions on Mara’s blog on how to use the kimchi juice, and I encourage you to read them if you want to try this yourself. I find that just dipping a cotton swab into the kimchi juice (fermented kimchi with live cultures, not canned) and swabbing the entire inside of my nostrils, then inhaling deeply through my nose for 5 or 6 breaths is the most useful. (You don’t want to actually inhale the kimchi liquid-that would be bad for your lungs! You are just trying to get the bacteria to migrate into your sinuses.)  I do this 4-6 times a day towards the end of a cold, when I am most likely to get a sinus infection. And I also have found that taking an oral anti-inflammatory to reduce swelling in my nose is helpful. I have used ibuprofen in the past, but will be trying curcumin and quercetin next time.

Immune system health is important

Obviously other factors impact whether we get sinus infections and even how often we catch colds. One of the most important is what we eat and our nutritional status. Every person has unique nutritional needs. When you meet those needs, your immune system and overall health can really improve. I have found that eating a nutrient-dense diet and taking a few supplements carefully selected for my specific health issues is critically important for me to avoid colds and sinus infections. I love helping people optimize nutrition for good immune health-feel free to contact me if I can help you!

Hopefully in the future a nasal spray using not only Lactobacillus sakei, but other beneficial nasal probiotics will be available. Until then, I will make sure I know which stores carry fermented kimchi!


LactoBacto blog by Mara Silgailis

Abreu NA1, Nagalingam NA, Song Y, Roediger FC, Pletcher SD, Goldberg AN, Lynch SV. Sci Transl Med. 2012 Sep 12;4(151):151-124. Sinus microbiome diversity depletion and Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum enrichment mediates rhinosinusitis.

Lisa Scranton, MS, RDN, LD

Nutritionist. The Center for Medicine and Healing Arts

610 Eastbury Dr. Suite 5 Iowa City Iowa 52245

P. 319-358-9510 F. 319-358-9524  E. [email protected]

Karyn Shanks MD


Karyn Shanks, MD, is a physician who lives and practices in Iowa City. Her work is inspired by the revolutionary science of Functional Medicine, body-mind wisdom, and the transformational journeys of thousands of clients over her twenty-eight year career. She believes that the bones of healing are in what we do for ourselves.


    Hello, due to the news of ameaoba in tap water, and even in filtered water, without using boiled or distilled water
    People are at risk for the brain eating ameaoba.

    My question is, because we don’t know the precautions or measures that these Kim chee companies use for their product, putting this up your nose may be also risky to do? Or this does not pose a concern, as the bacteria l. Casei would kill any ameaoba that would be in the water used for the Kim chee process and final product?

    I have been suffering with this sinus infection for over 2 months and do not want to take antibiotics because of all the side effects and allergies that I have from them. I have been off and on but still frequent very painful headaches. So I am in desperate mode to find a relief and cure for this sinus infection….


    That sounds miserable!

    First, there are many considerations for healing and preventing further sinus infections. Work with a Functional Medicine doctor who will be able to help you assess and treat those many considerations. Conventional medicine’s protocols of antibiotics and drugs are not a long term solution and can cause many problems of their own.

    Second, if you think about it, people put way more contaminated things into their guts besides fermented foods. And we breathe in unacceptable levels of toxicity from our environments every day. Putting fluid from fermented Kim Chee in your nose is not toxic and is filled with the microorganisms that we need to re-colonize the sinus cavity with healthy bacteria. It may not be the solution for you, but it certainly won’t hurt you.

    Good luck!


    Hello, So I was diganosed about 2 years ago with MARCONS and have tried all the conventional and holistic options with not much success. About 2 months ago I started with snorting L. Sakei every night. Everything was fine up until about 2 weeks ago when my right ear got clogged up and then went into a full blown and extremely painful ear infection! How could this happen when snorting L Sakei every night? All I can think is that since I also do 2-3 neti-washes a day…….the neti in combination with blowing my nose pushed some of the marcons into my eustacian tube……hence the infection. However, you would think it would not have happened with the L Sakei present?? I have now been on 9 days of Ciprodex and even though most of the pain is gone…….my ear is still clogged. I stopped the L Sakei 4 days ago wondering if it could have gone pathogenic due to snorting it for 2 months on a daily basis?



    Hi Mark,
    Sorry to hear that! Of course, I can’t assess and comment specifically about your situation without
    knowing a whole lot more about you. However, MARCONS is part of a microbiome imbalance syndrome that can
    get complicated in some folks. It’s important to consider biofilms and treat those aggressively as potential
    “hideout” locations for the troublemaking organisms. But don’t think of this as “search and destroy” but rather
    about balance. Ultimatly, MARCONS is only a problem when the immune system is challenged for other reasons. I wish
    you the best!


    What brands of Kim Chi have you discovered to be most effective?


    We get whatever’s fresh at our local natural food co-op. Can’t
    go wrong if you have such a place in your community. They tend to
    vet vendors for quality and freshness.


    Unfortunately we do not have a similar place. I have access to a local health food store and of course Amazon here in rural Pennsylvania. I was curious though, based on your knowledge or experience, what sources of Kim Chi on the market were helpful. Thank you.


    I have been experiencing recurring sinus infections since the spring of 2016. When they develop, they sure are nasty! I can attest to the validity of using kimchi as an incredible remedy for the pain and displeasure that accompany these ailments. As Karyn advises, simply dip a cotton swab in some kimchi juice and apply it to the inside of your nostrils! Breath deeply and stay positive! On particularly bad days, I have applied the kimchi up to ten times throughout the day, only to wake up feeling much better! Sure beats waiting for an antibiotic prescription!


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