What is Candida?
As we should know by now, our bodies are host to a variety of yeasts and bacteria. Some of them healthy and some not so healthy. Candida is one of those yeasts—or fungus that normally lives in our bodies. The most common form of candida is candida albicans.
Candida is the most common types of fungus in the human body. Certain health conditions can cause the yeast to grow out of control and at that point, candida can cause a variety of unwanted symptoms. It’s generally harmless, but an overgrowth of this fungus can lead to a yeast infection.
Candida lives primarily in areas like the mouth, skin, fingernails, digestive tract, toenails, rectum and vagina. When candida grows out of control in these areas, it is called “candidiasis”. Overgrowth in the mouth can cause a condition called “thrush”. Overgrowth in the vaginal tract is generally called “vaginal candidiasis”.
Rarely, for some people with compromised immune function, candida can grow out of control and become systemic.
What Causes Yeast Infections?
Yeasts like candida, generally kept in check by our immune system and by healthy bacteria in our bodies. However, antibiotics can kill off all the beneficial bacteria that would hold candida back, opening the door for unregulated candida growth. Candida is a very opportunistic fungus, so it grows where the environment is best for it. That includes the mouth, the vagina, and the digestive tract where it is warm, moist, and dark.
Other things that can contribute to the unchecked growth of candida include high blood sugar—as in people with diabetes, people with suppressed immune function—as in those who may be undergoing chemo for cancer treatments, and even high estrogen levels. People with celiac disease or types of gluten sensitivity and food allergies often suffer from an overgrowth in their digestive systems as well, as the gut microbiome is often ‘off’.
The most common cause of yeast overgrowth is a diet high in sugar and carbohydrates and low in healthy fiber and vegetables. This contributes to higher than normal blood sugar levels, which actually feed candida. Higher blood sugar contributes to an overgrowth in the digestive system, leading to a condition called “dysbiosis”. An overgrowth in the digestive system can actually cause cravings for more carbs and sugar, leading to the theory that the candida organisms themselves can actually control our cravings.
This study shows that cutting back on sugar and refined carbohydrates can actually help lower the chances of yeast infections in women.
Several other health and lifestyle practices can lead to an increased incidence of yeast infections.
• Taking antibiotics
• Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs
• High alcohol intake
• A weakened immune system
• Dysbiosis (overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeasts) in digestive system
• Food allergies and gluten sensitivity
• Taking oral contraceptives
• High stress levels
How Would I Know if I Have a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are pretty obvious, and you will have a feeling of fatigue, brain fog and just general malaise. There are also some claims that yeast infections can lead to joint aches, increased food allergies due to intestinal permeability, migraines, and food cravings, but these claims have not been scientifically researched.
Let’s take a look at some of the other signs of candida overgrowth:
1. Fatigue and Brain Fog
One of the most common symptoms of candida overgrowth is brain fog and fatigue. Brain fog and fatigue can be attributed to a variety of causes, including food allergies, environmental allergies, not enough sleep, high blood sugar and several other health issues.
But when tied with any of the above risk factors, like antibiotic use, brain fog and fatigue may be attributable to candida. Overgrowth of candida can also create nutritional deficiencies and malabsorption of important nutrients, including vitamin B6, which is essential to the creation of energy. Other deficiencies caused by overgrowth of candida include magnesium and essential fatty acids. Prolonged candidiasis can lead to other issues with fatigue including chronic fatigue syndrome. This study shows a possible connection of yeast to chronic fatigue syndrome.
2. Recurring Vaginal, Genital or Urinary Tract Infections
It is true that candida is normally found in most women’s vaginal tracts, but in some, it grows out of control. It is estimated that at least 75% of all women will have at least one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime, and most of those have more than one recurrence.
Yeast infections don’t just happen to women, they can also occur in men, and get transferred back and forth from sexual partners.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include redness and itching, along with a thick, white or yellowish, cheesy discharge from the vagina. In men, there are little to no symptoms. Candida infections can also cause painful intercourse, and vaginal candidiasis can worsen with intercourse, as seminal fluid contains nutrients that candida feed on.
Candida can also cause urinary tract infections as well, especially with a prolonged or recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Candida infections can also be very common for those with indwelling catheters.
3. Oral Thrush
Since candida is an opportunistic organism and likes warm, moist areas of the body like mucous membranes, it can grow out of control in the mouth and throat as well. This is called “thrush.”
Thrush generally occurs in newborns, the elderly, and those with weakened immune system, such as people undergoing chemotherapy or radiation. People with certain types of dental work or dentures can also get thrush more easily.
Thrush looks like reddened, sore areas with bumpy white patches on the tongue, inside the cheeks, on the gums, tonsils or the throat. The mouth may be sensitive and sore and can bleed easily. Often the tongue can be red and swollen as well with a thick white coating. In particularly bad cases, the thrush can spread down the throat making swallowing and even breathing difficult.
4. Digestive Issues and Intestinal Permeability
Healthy gut bacteria and a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut is massively important to our health overall, and the health of our digestive system. Gut bacteria also play a role in digesting and breaking down foods including starches, fiber, and some sugar.
An imbalance of gut bacteria and an overgrowth of harmful bacteria and yeasts can create unhealthy issues within the digestive system. When yeasts and bacteria in your gut become unbalanced, you can experience digestive issues, including constipation, diarrhea, nausea, gas, cramps and bloating.
Some studies have shown that overgrowth of candida in the digestive tract may be associated with chronic diseases such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and IBD (Irritable Bowel Disease).
Severe candida overgrowth in the intestines can also cause increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut syndrome), an increase in food allergies, and even systemic candida infections as the micro-holes in the gut can allow candida to escape into the bloodstream.
Many adults have chronically inflamed sinuses. This can be due to ongoing allergies either in the environment or the diet, but also can be due to candida. The nasal passages and sinuses are another warm, moist mucous membrane area of the body that can allow candida to grow out of control, given the proper circumstances. Common symptoms include a runny nose, nasal congestion, loss of smell and headaches.
Most sinus infections are short lived and caused by either a bacterial or viral infection, and often clear up with medication, but many long-term sinus issues are believed to be fungal infections.
This study by the Mayo Clinic looked at a group of 210 individuals with chronic sinus infections and found that 96% of them actually had fungi in their mucus. While antibiotics are the usual line of treatment for acute sinus infections, they would most certainly make a chronic fungal infection worse. If you have recurring sinus infections or an infection that lasts longer than a month, you may have a candida infection.
6. Skin and Nail Infections
Bacteria on the skin and nails also help to keep candida from growing out of control. But certain conditions can make it more conducive for candida to grow on the skin or nails. Candida yeasts also like to grow on the skin and nails in warmer, moist conditions, which is why a yeast infection can often occur on the feet, between the toes. Armpits and the groin can also foster yeasts readily as well.
In men, it is called “jock itch”, in babies, it is diaper rash. On the feet it is often called “athlete’s foot”. Candida can also grow in the folds of skin of obese people and babies.
Antibacterial soaps can encourage the growth of yeast infections, as do warm, moist, dark areas of the skin. Candida can also contribute to ringworm and toenail fungus as well.
Babies who may be taking antibiotics for an ear infection or other illness, may experience a candida diaper rash.
Candida infections on the skin result in itchy, blotchy red areas, while candida infections in the nails can cause the nail to pull away from the bed of the nail, look white, gray or yellow. The nail itself becomes crumbly and loses its integrity.
How to Treat Candidiasis
The standard medical treatment for candida overgrowth is antifungals. Antifungals can be topical for the skin and nails, suppositories for vaginitis, or taken internally for severe digestive overgrowth or systemic candida infections. Many conventional medications for candida can be especially harsh, with unwelcome side effects, including liver dysfunction and have to be monitored carefully.
Candidiasis is generally not considered life threatening, unless the immune system is severely compromised as it is in people who are on cancer treatments, or those with immune disorders such as AIDS.
A better, more gentle treatment is to try an anti-candida diet to treat the underlying cause in the gut. Eliminating all sugars, grain-based carbohydrates and fruit is a good start. In addition, it is recommended to avoid lactose in dairy products, fruit, and any foods you may be sensitive or allergic to. For those who are gluten sensitive, candida overgrowth is fairly easy to treat by eliminating gluten and slowing the inflammation and immune reaction in the digestive system.
By eliminating grain based carbohydrates, all added sugars, fruits and fruit juice—as well as high yeast drinks such as beer and wine, you help to starve the candida yeasts.
Certain foods and drinks actually are proven to encourage growth of beneficial bacteria and kill off candida, including:
• Taheebo or Pau d’arco tea–Pau d’arco actually contains two primary active ingredients, lapachol and beta-lapachone. These two natural chemicals are what make it effective against bacteria, fungi, yeasts, viruses and even parasites. Lapachol is known to not only kill many different types of fungi, bacteria and yeasts—like candida, but it also lowers inflammation.
• Garlic—Garlic contains the powerful substance, allicin, which is an antifungal. It has been shown to be active against candida yeasts in animal and test tube studies.
• Coconut oil—Coconut oil contains a substance called lauric acid which is toxic to candida cells.
• Turmeric and Curcumin—curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric can kill or reduce candida growth as well as reduce any accompanying inflammation that may occur with a yeast infection.
• Aloe vera—Aloe vera gel is effective for use against oral thrush, inhibiting the growth of candida and soothing sore inflamed oral tissue as well.
• Pomegranate—Plant compounds in pomegranate peel are beneficial against candida yeasts as well but care must exercised as most pomegranate juice you purchase in the store may have added sugars or other fruit juices, helping to encourage candida growth.
• Kombucha tea—Rich in tea antioxidants, acetic acid and a plethora of beneficial bacteria, kombucha makes an excellent drink to encourage growth of helpful bacteria, as well as working to kill off candida.
• Apple Cider Vinegar— ACV works as both an antibacterial and antifungal agent. A very recent study found that undiluted ACV can prevent the growth of candida. It appears this opportunistic fungus does not get along well with ACV, but more research is necessary to determine if it is because it makes the body less receptive to candida or that it actually kills the candida.
Unfortunately, dietary changes may not always do the trick, in which case conventional antifungal medications often seem to be the only other choice. However, there are several natural antifungal treatments that work well against candida—without the harmful side effects.
Some of the most effective natural treatments include grapefruit seed extract, oregano oil capsules and clove oil. One of my favorite supplements that not only kills off candida, but also other harmful parasites is a product called Intestibal, which contains oregano oil, clove, ginger, wormwood and evening primrose oils.
It’s important to keep in mind, when combating candida, there can be a candida ‘die-off’ reaction as the candida cells break open and release a toxin which can sometimes make you feel worse for a short time.
Sticking to a low carb diet of unprocessed foods, avoiding grains, gluten and dairy and steering far away from any foods containing sugar will go a long way to helping you avoid annoying candida overgrowth. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplements to be sure they do not interfere with any other medications or health conditions.