There are many kinds of fungus that live in the human body, normally without causing any issues, and often helping it to function. But, there are times when these fungi can begin to cause problems.
In this article I’m going to focus on one of these fungi – Candida. Discover what happens when it begins to grow out of control, and what you can do if it does.
What is Candida?
Candida normally lives in small amounts in places like your mouth, your belly and vagina, or on your skin without causing any problems. 99% percent of the time, when you hear ‘Candida’, it refers to Candida albicans, the most common form.
We all have Candida. It is a beneficial fungus that resides in the intestinal tract, aiding food digestion and absorption. In fact, it’s possible to be virtually riddled with Candida and yet be perfectly healthy. There are people with extremely high levels of it who eat and drink whatever they want without a hint of fatigue or stomach upset.
Candida by itself is typically harmless. For most people, it’s just part of a healthy microbiome.
But when the environment is right, the yeast can multiply and grow out of control – into candidiasis, or Candida overgrowth. And that can trigger a host of seemingly unrelated health issues, from skin rashes to yeast infections.
What is Candida Overgrowth?
An overgrowth can affect both the mouth and the throat, in which case it is commonly referred to as oral thrush. But, by far the most common location for candidiasis is the vagina, where it can cause an itchy yeast infection. Both instances are usually treated with oral and/or vaginal antifungals.
Candida can also overgrow on your skin, including around your nails and hairline, and cause a rash.
In rare cases, it can move into your bloodstream and affect your internal organs. At that point, the fungal infection is called systemic candidiasis. This can develop into a very serious, life-threatening medical condition, particularly for people with compromised immune systems, such as people with AIDS and those undergoing chemotherapy.
One of the main reasons for a Candida overgrowth is an imbalance in the beneficial bacteria strains that would usually keep levels of other species, such as Candida, in check.
If the beneficial bacteria in the gut have been wiped out from taking antibiotics, for example, then the less beneficial strains can overgrow to a level which makes them problematic throughout the body. This can occur not only in the gut, but also in the other bacterial microbiomes in the body, such as the skin and the mouth, etc.
How is candidiasis diagnosed?
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will examine the affected area, ask about your symptoms and recent use of antibiotics or medications that can weaken the immune system. The doctor will also take into consideration any history of diabetes, cancer, HIV, or other chronic diseases.
Candidiasis is easy to identify. The yeast can be seen under the microscope after being scraped off the affected area.
However, since yeast is normally there anyway, your doctor will want to be sure that it’s Candida causing the problem and not something else. The appearance of the rash may be enough.
The most common Candida symptoms
- Skin and nail fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, toenail fungus; dandruff
- Feeling tired and worn down, or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhoea
- Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching, vaginal itching
- Seasonal allergies or itchy ears
- Strong sugar and carbohydrate cravings
- Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus, psoriasis, scleroderma, or multiple sclerosis
- Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD, and/or brain fog
- Skin issues including eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
- Bad breath and white coated tongue
- Nasal congestion and an unexplained cough
Risk factors for developing Candida
- Antibiotic usage
- Gut dysbiosis
- Weak immune system
- Oral contraceptive pill
- Diet high in sugar
- Excess alcohol consumption
- Chronic stress
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Hormonal imbalances such as high oestrogen (Candida thrives in a high oestrogen state)
- SIBO often co-exists alongside Candida infections
- Toxic heavy metals and chemicals which weaken the immune system
- Genetic disorders such as hemochromatosis can cause a Candida overgrowth
Candida and leaky gut – what’s the link?
Leaky gut, or to give it its medical name ‘gut hyperpermeability’, can occur for a number of reasons. This includes Candida overgrowth or some other form of gut dysbiosis or gut inflammation.
When Candida cells adopt their fungal form and begin to grow hyphae – the long branches that grow out of the fungus – they can wreak havoc on the gut.
These branches can invade the cells in your intestinal lining, creating inflammation and permeating the membrane that prevents harmful substances from leaking out. If the openings in the membrane become sufficiently large, they allow all kinds of endotoxins, including yeasts, bacteria, viruses and undigested food particles, to pass from your gut and into your bloodstream.
The immune cells in your blood quickly identify these particles as foreign substances – simply because they’re not meant to be there!
If your gut remains leaky, your immune system will continue sending out wave after wave of inflammation. Plus it will get stressed and begin firing less accurately. When this happens, your own body’s tissues can end up in the firing line of your immune system. Over time, this can lead to the development of a full-blown autoimmune disease.
Test – don’t guess!
To make sure you are treating the right thing and using a correct protocol for your symptoms, testing is advised.
I recommend a three-day stool collection (GI Effects) that analyses the DNA of the specific pathogens that are in your microbiome and often go undetected on standard labs. These tests will detect many different strains of Candida, not just the standard Candida albicans.
Candida can also be detected via organic acids testing which identifies certain by-products of Candida, detected in the urine.
Solutions to Candida overgrowth
If you test positive for SIBO, then your practitioner or Nutritional Therapist will guide you through the following stages:
- Starve the yeast of its preferred source of fuel (sugars), especially processed sugars
- Kill the yeast using herbal anti-microbials. (If you have done the 3-day stool test, then the test will include which herbs will kill the Candida most effectively based on the strain that you have).
- Try a 30 day course of our high-strength, ‘aged’ natural anti-microbial Garlic tablets, one twice daily with meals to help eradicate the pathogenic microbials and to support your immune system.
- Restore levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut with specific probiotic capsules, one before breakfast and one before bed. These will help to ‘crowd’ out pathogens and, at the same time, just like the Garlic tablets, offer immune support, so important in these post-Covid times.
- If you have vaginal thrush, check out our probiotic pessary recipe that you can make at home. Free download here.
- Heal leaky gut by ideally working with a qualified natural health practitioner, well versed in leaky gut healing protocols. If you need help sourcing a practitioner, email the Tummy Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Correct the underlying imbalances, such as strengthening the immune system and addressing stress levels
If you think you may have an overgrowth of candida and would like to get tested, contact the Tummy Team and we will sign-post you to someone who can help you get properly tested via a reputable lab on email@example.com.
To learn more about how to take care of your digestive, gut, immune system and overall health and wellbeing, you can sign up to receive my informative newsletters here and join the UK’s fastest growing digestive and gut health Facebook community, Tummy Talk, here.