As recently as four or five years ago,and for many years before that, I often had a runny nose. I went through boxes and boxes of Kleenex. I carried a handkerchief everywhere and often used it. Not because I had a cold–I almost never got colds. It was different than that. You might say I was mildly allergic to something in the air.
Because of reading an article I will discuss in a moment, I have just noticed that my runny nose has vanished, both in Berkeley (clean air) and Beijing (dirty air). So I don’t think it’s due to the dirty air in Beijing. There was no sharp change but as best I can remember it went away during the period when I started eating lots of fermented foods. Most days I eat about three types — yogurt and two other things, such as kimchi or kombucha. It is plausible that more exposure to bacteria caused my immune system to stop overreacting.
The article, from The Scientist, describes research suggesting that not enough bacteria can cause disease — specifically, sinusitis. Sinusitis, just like ulcers, has been associated with a particular bacterium, but the researcher involved, Susan Lynch of UCSF, has a more sophisticated understanding of causality than those two bacteria-causes-ulcers scientists and the committee that gave them a Nobel Prize. Lynch points out, quite reasonably, that the bacteria associated with sinusitis “have also been detected in the sinuses of healthy individuals . . . “Just because you find these organisms, it does not mean they are driving disease.” (The bacterium that supposedly caused ulcers, C. pylori, turned out to be very common. Almost everyone infected did not have ulcers.)
Lynch and her colleagues discovered
Samples from [sinusitis] patients tended to have less diversity of bacterial species than those of healthy controls. Furthermore the relative abundance of certain species differed between patients and controls. Sinusitis patients’s noses were enriched with a skin bacteria called Corynebacterium tuberculostearicum, for example, while samples from healthy controls were enriched with Lactobacillus bacteria, including L. sakei.
Which you could obviously get from fermented food. Following up this observation, the researchers did a mouse study that found that giving mice the bad bacteria caused sinusitis-like symptoms but giving mice both bad bacteria and good bacteria did not cause the symptoms. The good bacteria were protective.