© Sarah Beesley MHD Hons
This information is not intended to diagnose any condition or to replace the advice of your doctor.
Candida overgrowth can be a serious health issue and I generally recommend you contact me for an appointment if you have a long-standing Candida problem. Many treatments target Candida as “the enemy”, when Candida is actually a normal part of the body flora. An overgrowth occurs when the normal control systems in the body are not functioning well and the Candida, which is an opportunist, has the right conditions in which to overgrow. A persistent Candida infection needs to be seen as a symptom of a broader problem and treated as such. A lot of effort and money can be wasted trying to eradicate Candida if the reasons it got established in the first place are not addressed.
Candida is the name given to a number of strains of a particular type of yeast which can also occur in a fungal form. It is often a factor in Chronic Fatigue, Irritable Bowel, and a number of chronic skin conditions as well as obvious yeast infections such as Athlete’s Foot, Thrush, Dandruff, and Cradle Cap. Less well known is its role in Acne Rosacea, Coeliac Disease, Crohn’s Disease, repeat urinary tract infections, bladder irritation, fatigue, auto-immunity, some cancers and low immunity.
Candida is one of the most common residents of the human mucous membranes such as the gut, urinary tract and vagina. In the small intestine Candida and Lactobacilli are the predominant residents. The most common type of Candida is Candida Albicans but other species are also widely found. There are in fact over 600 strains of Candida organism. In healthy individuals Candida is kept in check by friendly bacteria, a healthy gut environment and a healthy immune response. Here it will remain in the yeast form. Candida is however a “dimorphic” organism which means that it can exist either as a round yeast cell, or as a fungus (mycelial form) with spindly outgrowths called hyphae that can penetrate the body tissue of the host. The fungal form eventually becomes established when conditions are favourable for this change. The Candida then becomes more deeply entrenched.
Anything that causes a reduction in the level of healthy bacteria on or in the body can leave the door open for Candida to proliferate. These include antibiotics, swimming in or drinking chlorinated water, regular use of antacids or antacid medications, the regular use of pain killers, steroid medications both topical and oral, the Oral Contraceptive Pill, weak digestion, a lack of essential minerals, a bad gut infection or food poisoning, a diet that is low in fibre and vegetables and high in sugars and starch, over consumption of alcohol and regular consumption of sugary fizzy drinks.
When the numbers of friendly bacteria are reduced by any of the factors mentioned above, Candida can increase its numbers drastically and become a more dominant member of the “intestinal zoo”. If this happens it can spell trouble for the human (or animal) host. Because Candida is a yeast, it produces alcohol (ethanol) and acetaldehyde (this is the primary chemical responsible for the symptoms of a hangover) as the major products of its metabolism. The production of ethanol and acetaldehyde are the main reasons for the fatigue and brain fog often experienced by Candida-infected people. Where there is an overgrowth of intestinal Candida the levels of alcohol entering the bloodstream usually increase substantially, which can then add a significant burden to the detoxification organs in the body. Having a Candida overgrowth is a bit like having a brewery running inside 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In a study conducted by doctors at Biolab in London, UK, a number of chronically unwell patients were tested for blood ethanol levels an hour after ingesting a sugar solution. The study found the patients consistently had high blood levels of ethanol which the researchers concluded came from small intestinal yeast overgrowth.
When Candida has a foothold, it is free to transform into the fungal form and its branching hyphae can penetrate the intestinal wall. This makes the intestine more permeable (Leaky Gut Syndrome) so more alcohol and acetaldehyde are absorbed into the body from the yeast’s activity. This creates more work for the liver which then requires a higher level of nutrients to carry out the increased work load. Symptoms become worse when the liver can’t keep up and the detoxifiction processes start to become choked. With a highly permeable intestine, the Candida themselves may slip through the gut lining and gain access to the rest of the body, increasing the likelihood of chronic immune reactions like allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Recent research has directly shown that antibiotics and the resulting increased Candida colonization of the intestinal tract can lead to an increase in airborne allergies. One study showed that mice given antibiotics had increased intestinal Candida colonization, which has been shown many times before, but this study also showed a concurrent increase in allergic responses to an airborne mold spore called Aspergillus fumigatus. This was the first time research had shown that an alteration of gut flora with antibiotics can affect the immune response and lead to an increased incidence of allergies.
Other research has linked intestinal Candida to Coeliac disease. Coeliac disease is an autoimmune disease in which a T-cell mediated immune response results in damage to the tissue of the small intestine. This reaction is triggered by the ingestion of gluten, a protein found in certain grains, predominantly wheat, barley and rye. What the research shows is that a protein found in the cell wall of Candida is very similar to gluten. As a result, an immune system that has been exposed to a Candida overgrowth can confuse the gluten found in grains for the cell wall of Candida and mount a response against the gluten, producing a similar symptomology to Coeliac disease.
Signs and Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth
Most people know that drinking too much alcohol makes you feel less than great. Imagine how it would feel if your body was absorbing a level of alcohol a lot higher than normal, constantly, over a period of years. Nutrients become depleted and valuable liver enzymes become depleted, resulting in oxidative stress and cell damage as the body tries to detoxify the by-products of the yeast infection. This is in addition to the direct damage a yeast or fungal infection will cause to multiple body systems.
Here’s a short list of common symptoms:
- Muscle & joint aches
- Feeling of being “hung over”
- Gastrointestinal disturbances – diarrhea, constipation, nausea, bloating after eating
- Psychological disturbances – depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings
- Cognitive dysfunction – poor memory, lack of concentration, brain fog
- Recurrent vaginitis, urinary tract infections, bladder irritation
- Skin irritations/rashes/acne/itching
- Recurrent throat/ear infections
- Dandruff, itching scalp, crusts on the scalp, hair loss
- Fungal foot infections, tinea
- Fungal toenails which show as thickened, deformed, yellowed and/or blackened
- Jock itch
- Vaginal thrush
- Oral thrush
- Many cases of Psoriasis have a fungal infection at their base
In The Self Heal Clinic, we have a specialised program which treats the gut environment and increases the biodiversity of the flora by up to several hundred different species which are one of the key control tools for Candida. The same program simultaneously repairs the damaged gut lining and alters the signalling to the immune system via the gut wall. Clinical trials have shown improvement in allergen tolerance, immune function and a reduction in the severity of auto-immune response with the use of the program. The program uses immunobiotics and specialist prebiotics rather than the usual anti-microbial/probiotic approach.