A recent ground-breaking medical study has put forth the surprising conclusion that the overall health of your sinus cavities may be due in part to the microbial balance within the sinus cavities. What this means in practical terms is that it’s not as important which microbes are living in your sinuses, as it is that there’s a balance among all those various microbes.
Findings of the Study
In the study, seven patients with chronic sinusitis (CRS) were compared to seven other patients who were completely healthy, in terms of their sinuses. The first thing that scientists noticed among the CRS patients was a much lower diversity in the types of microorganisms inhabiting the sinus cavity. In particular, one of the most noticeable findings was a significantly lower presence of the bacteria called lactobacilli, which are bacteria thought to be very important for maintaining good health in the digestive tract. At the same time, investigators discovered that there was a much greater presence of a pathogen called Corynebacterium Tuberculostearicum.
These two discoveries are thought to be related, and it has lead scientists to conclude that the overall health of the microbial ecosystem or microbiome, may be dependent upon the delicate ratio of specific microbes with each other. In effect, this means that when the microbiome is in balance, a kind of protective mechanism is formed to prevent harmful pathogens from taking hold and degrading a person’s health.
More Questions About Microbial Balance
The frustrating aspect of this concept is that scientists have been unable to discover exactly how it is that helpful microbes like lactobacilli work to keep harmful pathogens from taking over the sinus cavity, and potentially wreaking havoc. Current speculation suggests that the effectiveness of lactobacilli in fending off pathogens may be attributable to the bacteria’s ability to lower the surrounding pH through the regular manufacture of lactic acid.
By producing tiny amounts of lactic acid in the sinus cavity, it is thought that lactobacilli may exert a strong influence over which microbes can take up residence there, and which are excluded from the environment, e.g. some of the harmful pathogens.
More Investigation is Needed
The results of this study have been extremely intriguing for scientists, but at the same time it is understood that this exploration will require a great deal of follow-up before a real understanding of the microbial ecosystem can be obtained. While the relationship between a strong lactobacilli presence and the corresponding absence of pathogens may still prove to be one of the most powerful factors in contributing to overall sinus health, scientists acknowledge that many other bacteria in the microbiome must be studied as well. Future studies are therefore likely to focus on other bacteria in the microbiome to see what their roles may be in contributing to the delicate microbial balance, and in turn, what their effect on overall sinus health may be.
Traditional Treatment Programs for CRS
One of the reasons that the findings of the study are so important is that the real cause of CRS has always been debated among medical people and scientists, and there has never been a consensus about the best approach. What is not debated is that more than 30 million Americans in any given year have CRS, and that the cost in healthcare each year for treating the chronic condition is in the neighborhood of $2.5 billion.
There have been two primary schools of thought about CRS, one being that it should be treated with anti-inflammatory medications because it’s an autoimmune response, while the other camp holds that it should be treated with antibiotics because it’s an infectious disease.
In the past, it was thought necessary to use antibiotics in order to eradicate all potentially harmful pathogens within the sinus cavity as a means of restoring good health. However, in light of the new study findings, what this may have been accomplishing unintentionally is the destruction of the delicate microbial ecosystem in the sinuses.
Therefore, the theoretical optimal result of treatment with antibiotics would be a temporary success after having destroyed whatever pathogens were resident, with a resumption of those pathogens to be expected when antibiotic treatment lapsed. This in fact, is the very scenario which has seemed to play out in many patients. It seems to resonate with what is now being discovered about the balance of the microbiome being more important than the specific presence of individual microbes.
Future Treatment of CRS
This in turn seems to indicate that a shift in the medical approach to treating CRS should be adopted. Rather than attempting to lay waste to all harmful pathogens resident in the sinus cavity, it may be far more helpful for the long-term health of any CRS patient to restore the microbial balance which prevails in the sinus cavities of completely healthy individuals.
In simplistic terms, medical personnel are now beginning to believe that treatment of CRS should not be centered around destroying what’s there, but on restoring the balance that used to be there. This will allow the sinus cavity microbiome to once again become capable of policing itself, and of maintaining good overall sinus health.