Why Sinus Issues Are So Often Mistreated and How Vitamin D May Help
By Joseph Mercola, MD •
March 21, 2012
"Nearly all chronic sinusitis is caused by fungi, but blamed on bacteria - then mistreated using antibiotics," writes nutrition specialist Joseph Mercola, MD. And the 'sunshine' vitamin D can play an important role in supporting the body's natural mold/fungus defense.
This information is excerpted with kind permission from Dr. Mercola's educational website (Mercola.com ). It first appeared Mar 12, 2012 and Sep 4, 2010. See footnote* for links to much more.
...Beware: Sinusitis is Often Misdiagnosed
The problem with sinus issues is that they're very easily misdiagnosed. Sinus problems and post-nasal drip can actually be a tip-off that you're being affected by mold or fungi. In fact, research done by the Mayo Clinic in the 1990s strongly suggests that NEARLY ALL chronic sinusitis is caused by fungi, but blamed on bacteria - then mistreated using antibiotics.
The findings were published in 1999 in two peer-reviewed journals, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology and Mayo Clinic Proceedings.(1) Yet most physicians are still unaware of this study, or at least of its significance. A 1999 Mayo Clinic press release(2) stated:
"Mayo Clinic researchers say they have found the cause of most chronic sinus infections - an immune response to fungus."
The Mayo Clinic study suggests that 96% of the people who suffer from chronic sinusitis are "fungal sensitized," meaning they have immune responses triggered by inhaled fungal organisms!
This explains why antibiotics are so ineffective for chronic sinusitis, as they target bacteria, NOT fungi. Antibiotics and steroids can actually worsen fungal-related infections by destroying your body's natural biological terrain, creating an internal incubation ground for further fungal growth.
The bottom line is...
If you have chronic sinusitis, you MUST approach it from the perspective of a fungal infection FIRST, not a bacterial infection, even if it means having to educate your healthcare provider. A good place to start is by sharing the Mayo Clinic study referenced above. The book, Mold: The War Within is also a useful resource.
How to Treat Sinusitis Without Drugs
For chronic sinusitis, please refer to this previous article about types of mold, symptoms of exposure, and how to address sinusitis caused by mold and fungi exposure. The following natural treatments can help you get over an acute sinus infection without the use of antibiotics and unnecessary OTC drugs, by keeping your cilia healthy and functioning, thereby preventing excess mucus build-up in your sinuses.
1. Drink hot liquids, such as tea or hot chicken soup. It will help moisturize your mucous membranes, speeding up the movement of your cilia and thus washing mucus out of your sinuses more quickly.
2. Apply warm compresses to your face, three times a day for five minutes. A small towel soaked in warm water, placed over your face below and between the eyes, will help increase the circulation in your sinuses, which will also help speed up the movement of your cilia.
3. Irrigate your sinuses. In a 2007 study from University of Michigan Health System researchers(3), saline irrigation was found to decrease nasal congestion more effectively than saline sprays. It appears to work by thinning mucus, decreasing swelling in your nasal passages and removing debris, bacteria, allergens and inflammatory substances from your nose, hence decreasing swelling that makes it hard to breathe. (If you've never done this before, see these Nasal Irrigation Guidelines(4) by the University of Michigan.)
To make your own preservative-free saline solution, just add one teaspoon of Himalayan or sea salt to one pint of distilled water. Make sure you use a saline solution that does not contain benzalkonium, a preservative that can impair your nasal function and might sting and burn.
4. Clear your sinuses with an aromatherapy steam bath. To help open up congested nasal passages and sinuses, put a couple of drops of eucalyptus or menthol aromatherapy oil into a bowl of hot water, then breathe the vapors. In lieu of aromatherapy oil, dabbing some Vick's VapoRub on your skin underneath your nose can also be effective.
5. Unclog your sinuses with the right foods. Horseradish, grated on top of a sandwich, or some Japanese wasabi mustard can also help open up congested sinuses.
6. Elevate your head when sleeping.
7. Dust your bedroom. Dust and dust mites can wreak havoc on your mucous membranes, especially when you're asleep and your cilia are at rest. Using a HEPA filter air purifier is also beneficial in keeping your air as free from allergens as possible.
How to Prevent Sinus Infections Before They Start
Poor food quality, excessive exposure to toxic chemicals and a high-stress lifestyle puts you at greater risk for not only sinus infection but all disease. Therefore, maintaining a robust immune system and creating an environment inhospitable to bacterial and fungal proliferation can help prevent sinus problems and infections from occurring in the first place. Here are some of the basic strategies to keep your immune system in top form:
1. Avoid eating sugar or grains, as detailed in my nutrition plan.
2. Take a high-quality animal-based omega-3 supplement such as krill oil, which acts as a potent anti-inflammatory.
3. Optimize your vitamin D levels [much more on this below] by getting appropriate amounts of sun exposure year-round. Alternatively, use a safe tanning bed (one with electronic ballasts rather than magnetic ballasts, to avoid unnecessary exposure to EMF fields. Safe tanning beds also have less of the dangerous UVA than sunlight.) If neither of these are feasible options, then you should take an oral vitamin D3 supplement.
4. Consume organic coconut oil. Coconut oil is rich in lauric acid, which is known for being antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal.
5. Avoid eating these top 10 mycotoxic foods [alcoholic beverages, corn, wheat, cane & beet sugar, sorghum, peanuts, rye, cottonseed, hard cheeses].
6. Get proper sleep.
7. Get regular exercise, especially Peak Fitness type exercises.
...Vitamin D Could Help Prevent Mold Allergies
Research has discovered that vitamin D may be an effective therapeutic agent to treat or prevent allergy to a common mold. Aspergillus fumigatus is one of the most prevalent fungal organisms inhaled by people. In asthmatics and in patients with Cystic Fibrosis,(5) it can cause significant allergic symptoms.
According to Physorg.com (Aug 16, 2010):
“The researchers focused on Th2 cells - the hormonal messengers of T-helper cells that produce an allergic response... The researchers discovered that heightened Th2 reactivity...correlated with a lower average blood level of vitamin D.”
Aspergillus fumigatus is a very common mold in home environments, where it’s known for taking up residence in unsuspecting locations like your bedroom pillows. While ordinarily harmless if you’re healthy, Aspergillus fumigatus can cause a serious allergic reaction called Aspergillosis in people with weakened immune systems, lung disease or asthma.
It’s obviously important to keep excess mold growth under control by controlling moisture levels in your home, especially in your kitchen, bathrooms, and basement, but the truth is it is very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid Aspergillus fumigatus altogether.
This is why this latest study from researchers at LSU Health Sciences Center New Orleans is so valuable: It highlights a simple way for at-risk people to significantly lower their chances of being sickened by this common mold - optimizing vitamin D.
Vitamin D Helps Fight Mold Allergies
In their study, the researchers found that vitamin D not only helped reduce the production of a protein driving the allergic response to mold, it also supported increased production of the proteins that promote tolerance. This means vitamin D may not only help address mold allergy; it may help prevent it as well.
This makes perfect sense when you consider that sufficient vitamin D is also imperative for proper functioning of your immune system, and virtually everyone who is sickened by mold has an immune system that is functioning well below par.
For asthmatics, who are among those most impacted by this particular mold, the benefits are even greater, as optimal vitamin D levels can help lessen asthma severity and symptoms in addition to reducing the risks of an allergic reaction to mold.
As always, vitamin D never ceases to amaze, and research into its impact on non-bone related diseases continues to yield only positive results.
The "Miracle" Nutrient for Your Immune System
As you may know, allergies are caused by your immune system responding inappropriately to substances that are ordinarily harmless. Well, vitamin D can be a very powerful immune modulator. In fact, lower vitamin D levels were associated with increased IgE and eosinophils, which are allergy markers, in children.
Further, one of the ways Aspergillosis causes damage is by leading to infection that can travel from your lungs, where the mold spores are inhaled, to other parts of your body including blood vessels and organs.
One of the reasons that vitamin D may be beneficial in this case is that it helps your body produce over 200 anti-microbial peptides that help fight all sorts of infections.
As an Oregon State University press release stated:
"A new study has concluded that one key part of the immune system, the ability of vitamin D to regulate anti-bactericidal proteins, is so important that it has been conserved through almost 60 million years of evolution and is shared only by primates, including humans – but no other known animal species.
The fact that this vitamin-D mediated immune response has been retained through millions of years of evolutionary selection, and is still found in species ranging from squirrel monkeys to baboons and humans, suggests that it must be critical to their survival, researchers say.
Even though the "cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide" has several different biological activities in addition to killing pathogens, it's not clear which one, or combination of them, makes vitamin D so essential to its regulation.
The research also provides further evidence of the biological importance of adequate levels of vitamin D in humans and other primates, even as some studies and experts suggest that more than 50 percent of the children and adults in the U.S. are deficient in "the sunshine vitamin."
'The existence and importance of this part of our immune response makes it clear that humans and other primates need to maintain sufficient levels of vitamin D,' said Adrian Gombart, an associate professor of biochemistry and a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University."
In simple terms, if you’re vitamin D deficient, your immune system will not activate to do its job. And since vitamin D also modulates (balances) your immune response, it prevents an overreaction in the form of inflammation, which can lead to conditions like asthma.
Your Vitamin D Levels May be Far Too Low
Reaping the health benefits of vitamin D is dose dependent, meaning you need to make sure your levels are within therapeutic range to benefit. And this range is far higher than previously thought.
Vitamin D deficiency is actually very widespread in the United States, where the late winter average vitamin D is only about 15-18 ng/ml - a very serious deficiency state. Meanwhile, it's thought that over 95% of U.S. senior citizens may be deficient, along with 85% of the American public, including all ages from newborns through adulthood.
The best way to get vitamin D is from safe exposure of sun on sufficient amounts of exposed skin. Second best would be to do the same but use a safe tanning bed. If neither of these two approaches are an option for you, then you will certainly want to use oral vitamin D.
Based on the latest research, many experts now agree you need about 35 IU’s of vitamin D per pound of body weight. This recommendation also includes children, the elderly and pregnant women. This is a far cry from the 200-600 IU’s currently recommended by our health agencies and is far closer to 5,000-20,000 units a day for most adults to achieve therapeutic levels.
Remember, however, that vitamin D requirements are highly individual, and the only accurate way to determine your optimal dose is to get your blood tested. Ideally, you’ll want to maintain a vitamin D level of at least 50ng/ml and perhaps as high as 80-90 ng/ml year-round.
For all the latest information on therapeutic vitamin D levels, and vital updates on testing, please review my article: "Test Values and Treatment for Vitamin D Deficiency." It contains everything from recently updated vitamin D ranges and the latest dosing recommendations, to recommendations for safe sun exposure and important guidelines if you opt for oral vitamin D supplementation.
One thing is clear. If you maintain optimal vitamin D levels, your cells will function optimally, which in turn will help prevent all sorts of health ailments and chronic diseases. In fact, researchers have calculated that simply increasing levels of vitamin D3 could prevent diseases that claim nearly 1 million lives throughout the world each year!
For a great overview of the nearly unbelievable health benefits of this vitamin, I strongly recommend you watch my one-hour free vitamin D lecture.
Practical Tips for Mold Allergies
Optimizing your vitamin D levels, eating right, exercising and keeping stress to a minimum will strengthen your immune system, and this is one of the best ways to fight allergies of all kinds. While your immune system is getting back on track:
• You can help to cut down on your exposure to mold in your home by keeping dampness to a minimum. This includes not only promptly repairing leaks but also possibly using a dehumidifier in damp areas like your basement. If you do use a dehumidifier, remember that you must empty the water and clean the unit regularly to prevent mold from forming.
• Proper ventilation and air circulation can also help keep damp areas dry, and using an air purifier can help keep fungal spores out of the air.
• Mold- and spore-proof pillow covers are also available so you don’t have to worry about breathing in mold from your pillow overnight, which is actually a very common route of exposure.
- Joseph Mercola, MD
Note: This information (© 1997-2012 Dr. Joseph Mercola. All Rights Reserved) has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information, based on the research and opinions of Dr. Mercola unless otherwise noted, and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness, or disease. It is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is always very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.
1. "The Diagnosis and Incidence of Allergic Fungal Sinusitis," Mayo Clinic Proceedings, September 1999:74(9);877-84, J.U. Ponikau, et al.
2. "Mayo Clinic Study Implicates Fungus as Cause of Chronic Sinusitis," Science Daily, Sep 10, 1999
3. "Sinus Problems are Treated Well with Safe, Inexpensive Treatment, UMHS Study Finds," University of Michigan Health System, Nov 19, 2007
4. "Saline Nasal Irrigations Instruction Sheet," University of Michigan
5. "Vitamin D3 attenuates Th2 responses to Aspergillus fumigatus mounted by CD4+ cells from cystic fibrosis patients with allergic bronchopulmonary aspergillosis," Journal of Clinical Investigation, Sep 2010