What is Candida?
Candida is a form of yeast or fungus, which lives in the mouth or intestines. The main role of Candida, when in proper levels, is to aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. However, when there is an overproduction of Candida, it breaks down the wall of the intestines and penetrates into the bloodstream, wherein toxic by-products are released into the body causing a leaky gut. A leaky gut ultimately leads to different health problems.
There are various forms of Candida, but the main species present in the body is called Candida albicans. Candida normally is present in the gastrointestinal tract and few other areas of the body. When there is a disruption in the balance of good and bad bacteria, Candida albicans starts taking over and leads to oral thrush, diaper rash in young babies, and vaginal infections. There is also a risk of developing yeast overgrowth in people who are taking antibiotics.
Candida can grow out of control when the body’s natural pH balance is not working properly. When Candida has grown out of control in the body, the condition is called Candida overgrowth syndrome. Individuals start having intolerance towards certain foods when there is an overgrowth of Candida in the body.
How do people get a Candida overgrowth?
Healthy bacteria in the gut typically keep Candida levels in check. However, there are some factors that can lead to the overgrowth of Candida. They include:
- Excessive Alcohol Intake - Alcohol contains sugar and is fermented, which provides a good feed for the yeast to grow.
- A Diet High in Fermented Foods – Fermented foods often contain yeast, which again contributes to a Candida overgrowth.
- A Diet High in Refined Foods – Refined foods, such as carbohydrates and sugar, act like food for yeast, which ultimately results in Candida overgrowth.
- Cancer Treatment – Candida becomes a serious concern for patients who are undergoing treatment for cancer, such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy. These cancer treatments kill cancer cells and tumors, including healthy bacteria that naturally fight off an overgrowth of Candida.
- Antibiotics – Although antibiotics help in treating various infections, they also come with their own side effects. Along with harmful bacteria, antibiotics also kill good bacteria in the body, which helps fight the overgrowth of Candida.
- Oral Contraceptives – The bacterial balance gets disrupted due to the intake of contraceptive pills. However, these pills alone do not cause the disruption. When women consume a diet high in refined sugar and carbohydrates while taking antibiotics, it is when the contraceptives have an adverse effect on the body.
- Diabetes – Sugar levels in the mouth and mucous membranes are traditionally higher in non-diabetic individuals. Sugar feeds Candida, thus patients suffering from diabetes are at a higher risk of having this overgrowth syndrome.
- Changes in Lifestyle – Lifestyle changes bring along with itself stress and mood swings. Stress in a person can slow down the process of digestion and trigger inflammation.
- Impaired Immune System – An impaired immune system puts you at risk of imbalance in the gut, thereby giving rise to a Candida overgrowth. It affects infants, small children, the elderly, and those living with HIV/AIDS.
Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth
Candida overgrowth varies from person-to-person, thereby making it difficult to diagnose. Due to this variation, each individual would complain of different symptoms. However, some of the common symptoms are:
- Tiredness or Chronic Fatigue – If an individual complains of exhaustion or fatigue, which seems to stay even after resting or sleeping after a number of hours, then the person may be suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome. If Candida has invaded other parts of the body, where it affects this balance, then the nutrient absorption of the individual suffers. Foods that pass through the gut without being broken down properly lose the opportunity to be absorbed by the body. As time passes, this leads to fatigue as the body does not get the much needed fuel to work properly. This condition is often accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain in the joints, memory loss, difficulty concentrating, headaches, sore throat, and muscle pain.
- Brain Fog – Acetaldehyde is one of the many chemicals produced by Candida. This chemical has the greatest effect on our well-being. If a person struggles to remain focused or struggles to concentrate on a particular thing, then you can blame it on this chemical. This chemical leads to a permanently foggy feeling.
- Oral Thrush – Oral thrush is caused by the strains of Candida that affect the mucous membranes, including the vagina. It is often caused by the use of prednisone or other oral corticosteroids. If it is left untreated, then it can pass to other parts of the body, such as the digestive tract, liver, heart valves, or lungs. Newborns can also get thrush during birth.
- Mood Swings – Individuals suffering from a Candida overgrowth often have sudden changes in their behavior. They may experience dramatic mood swings, get irritated very easily, anxiety or panic attacks, or depression. Intestinal Candida overgrowth leads to a decreased production of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that boosts the mood of an individual. Most of the body's serotonin is produced in the gut, so any problem in the gut can suddenly cause an imbalance in its production. An overworked liver also reduces its ability to store and use vitamin B12, which is an important vitamin that helps the brain and nervous system to properly function. Being deficient in this vitamin is often linked to mental illness and depression.
- Urinary Tract Infections – If a person experiences recurring cases of urinary tract infections, then the root cause could be Candida. Women can reduce the risk by wearing breathable cotton underwear or clothing instead of tight-fitting underwear or pants.
- Hormonal Imbalance – An imbalance in the hormones is also one of the causes of a Candida overgrowth. It is important to identify how an infection causes PMS, early menopause, migraine, water retention in the body, and changes in the mood or behaviour of the individual.
- Sinus Infection – Not all chronic infections are caused by bacteria, which was thought so earlier. Short-term sinus infections can be caused by bacteria; however, long-term or chronic sinus infections can be due to fungal infections. Antibiotics are often used as a treatment for sinus infections, but they can also be the cause of a Candida overgrowth. Since antibiotics can kill good bacteria, it allows Candida to grow and multiply.
- Intestinal Distress – An intestinal distress is another sign that a person might be suffering from a Candida infection. Some of its signs and symptoms are constant burping, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. These symptoms are often due to the lack of healthy bacteria in the digestive tract. When Candida overgrowth takes over the intestine, it becomes difficult for the healthy bacteria to fight it off alone.
- Fungal Infection on the Skin and Nails – Yeast infections also affect the skin and nails. Fungus in the toenail and athlete's foot are few of the common infections caused by Candida. If there are continued infections, then it may be a sign that the person is suffering from a systemic Candida infection. Warm and moist areas of the body such as armpits and groins are the most common areas of Candida growth.
Apart from the above-mentioned symptoms, an individual with Candida overgrowth may also experience the following symptoms:
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Memory loss
- Concentration problems
- Cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Rectal infection
- Skin rashes or eczema
- Crying spells
- Cracked tongue
- Itchy anus
- Mucus in stool
- Water retention
- Sensitivity to light
The symptoms of Candida overgrowth are different in each person, thereby making the diagnosis difficult. At times, people who suffer from Candida overgrowth are not even aware of their condition for years until they experience some serious health issues. To complicate things further, there are healthcare providers who fail to consider Candida as the cause of their patient's symptoms. Chronic Candida infections are often misdiagnosed with other diseases, such as chronic fatigue syndrome or inflammatory bowel syndrome.
- Physical Examination - The doctor would initially conduct a physical examination to check for any signs of Candida infection.
- Blood Tests - Certain blood tests can be done to check for Candida antibodies in the blood. If there are high levels of antibodies, then it indicates an overgrowth of Candida is present in the body.
- Complete Blood Count - A complete blood count also provides information if there is a yeast overgrowth in the body. If there is an overgrowth of yeast, the white blood cell count tends to be low. However, CBC counts also point towards a high neutrophil and low lymphocyte count, which are not related to yeast infections.
- Stool Exam - This is an accurate test if one has to check for the presence of Candida infection in the colon or small intestine. However, a comprehensive test for Candida is highly recommended rather than the standard stool test.
The first step in treating a Candida overgrowth is to stop the overgrowth of yeast. A diet high in sugar must be replaced by a low carbohydrate diet. It is important to avoid or limit the intake of sugary foods such as candies, desserts, pastries, and alcohol.
Cut back on complex carbohydrates, such as grains, bread, pasta, and potatoes. Not consuming these foods will prevent Candida from growing and eventually causing it to die. Changes in the diet alone usually take around three to six months for the Candida to return back to normal levels.
Doctors would also recommend antifungal medications, such as nystatin or fluconazole for a month. The antifungals work by attaching to the yeast wall, which forms holes in these walls causing the yeast to leak and eventually die. Azole medications block the production of ergosterol, which is an essential component of the yeast cell wall. Without the presence of ergosterol, the yeast wall becomes leaky and dies.
Foods to Eat for Candida Overgrowth
Although it is important to eliminate certain foods from the diet to stop a Candida overgrowth, it is equally important to add some foods in your diet that have antifungal properties. They include ginger, garlic, coconut oil, cinnamon oil, olive oil, lemon, cloves, and apple cider vinegar.