Updated: Mar 5, 2019
Are you fed up with feeling tired, foggy-headed, nauseous, bloated, moody and always hungry for the wrong foods?
It could be that there's a simple problem underlying all of your symptoms, and that problem may be a yeast overgrowth, known as Candidiasis. But the good news is you can do something about it! Read on to find out all about this common imbalance, why it happens and what you can do about it.
What is a Candida?
The term ‘Candida’ is usually used to refer to the species, Candida Albicans, although there are many other types of Candida within the GI tract. Candida Albicans is a single cell yeast-like organism, which lives in the lining, or mucosa, of the gut. When gut bacteria is balanced, harmful yeasts are controlled so that they remain dormant and harmless. Problems can occur when the bacterial balance is upset (dysbiosis) and then Candida is allowed to overgrow.
What causes Candida to overgrow?
The most common cause of Candida overgrowth is the prolonged or regular use of antibiotics. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria, and are therefore prescribed when a bacterial infection is suspected. The trouble here is two-fold. Firstly, doctors often prescribe antibiotics regularly and routinely, even as a precaution when there is a possibility a patient has a virus instead (despite the fact that antibiotics cannot kill viruses). Antibiotics are also a very blunt tool - they can’t discriminate between good and bad bacteria, they just wipe them all out. Once the good bacteria have been wiped out, the GI tract is then vulnerable to the overgrowth of unhealthy bacterial species, parasites and yeasts such as Candida Albicans. Candida is a very opportunistic organism and will proliferate if allowed to do so.
Ideally patients would be advised to take a course of quality probiotics (not from yoghurt drinks) during and after taking antibiotics to help rebalance the bowel, but in reality this rarely happens. It’s very common for women to suffer from vaginal thrush after taking a course of antibiotics for this reason, and some women see-saw between cystitis and thrush due to the antibiotics they are routinely taking, then failing to restore balance within the GI tract afterwards. Situations like that can create a dependency upon antibiotics which is hard to break.
Other common underlying causes that can contribute to the onset of Candidiasis
Stress - because of the effect this has on the GI tract including underproduction of stomach acid, increased bowel transit time, and lower levels of immunoglobulins which form the first line of defence in our gut’s immune system.
Taking corticosteroid medication - oral or topical steroids, for example for eczema, asthma, autoimmune disease or arthritis, suppress the immune system and make the host more susceptible to Candida overgrowth.
Taking the pill or HRT - they upset the delicate balance of cycles of oestrogen and progesterone. Female hormone balance is closely linked to Candida overgrowth which is why over 60% of Candida sufferers are women, and why the most common time for a woman to suffer from thrush is the week before her period and during pregnancy when progesterone levels are high.
The use of Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) - the common name for this is Ibuprofen, and it promotes irritation and inflammation of the gut lining which makes it much easier for yeasts to take hold and cause leaky gut (more on that later).
A diet that is high in sugar, refined carbohydrates and processed foods and low in fresh, whole foods - this encourages Candida overgrowth in lots of ways, including providing a food source for the Candida (yeast thrives on sugar); putting a strain on the hormonal and digestive system which encourages yeast to take hold; and failing to deliver the nutrients and fibre needed by the GI tract and immune system to remain healthy.
Alcohol excess - it is prime food for the yeast cells to thrive on because it raises blood sugar so very much, and added to that it encourages damage to the lining of the GI tract and also depletes our levels of immune-enhancing vitamins and minerals.
Diabetes - sufferers are known to be more at risk of suffering from Candida overgrowth, particularly within the mouth and vagina, because they are liable to having higher levels of sugar in their bloodsteam and urine.
Not being breastfed and/or being fed a diet high in sugar during babyhood and childhood - this predisposes an individual to Candida overgrowth, due to the failure of the bowel to be colonised with healthy bacteria, which can lead to a suppressed immune system, recurrent infections and the likelihood of more regular antibiotic use during childhood.
Ageing - the immune and digestive systems become less efficient and more fragile generally.
What are the symptoms of Candida overgrowth?
The list of symptoms is very long and diverse, reflecting the fact that when the digestive microbiome is out of balance, the effects are far reaching and involve the hormonal, immune, nervous and detoxification systems. Also, once yeast is able to penetrate through the lining of the digestive tract, it can travel throughout the body in the bloodstream. The diversity of symptoms and lack of clear patterns can make diagnosis difficult meaning many sufferers are forced to put up with miserable symptoms for years.
If you have an overgrowth of Candida in your body, you may experience...
· IBS symptoms, including bloating, nausea, flatulence, diarrhea or constipation, cramping, heart burn.
· Frequent cystitis or bladder infections
· Rectal itching
· Fatigue, even after a good nights sleep
· Loss of libido
· Eczema and psoriasis
· Fungal skin complaints such as ringworm or athlete’s foot
· Chronic back and neck pain
· Weight gain and inability to lose weight
· Water retention and general puffiness
· Memory lapses and poor concentration
· Foggy/fuzzy thinking
· ME (chronic fatigue syndrome)
· Recurrent infections in children
· Behavioural problems, such as hyperactivity or attention deficit disorder
· Food cravings, especially for sugar, bread, alcohol and chocolate
· Multiple food intolerance, allergies or chemical sensitivities
· Pronounced dark circles under the eyes
It should be noted that many of the above symptoms can be attributed to other health conditions, including other pathogenic bacterial or parasite overgrowth, among others.
When Candida is given the opportunity to overgrow and claim the territory of the lining of the gut, it can change from a yeast to a fungus, which is its more invasive form. It then grows microscopic whiskers, a bit like mould on bread, putting down roots through the gut lining and into the tissues. What this means is that its poisonous waste products, as well as other microbes and incompletely digested particles of food can pass into the bloodstream where they are recognised by our immune systems as a foreign invader, triggering an inappropriate immune reaction, causing inflammation. Once the gut has become leaky, the yeast infection can become systemic and capable of invading organs beyond the GI tract. Its toxic waste products, or mycotoxins, can enter the bloodstream and even cross the blood-brain barrier, accounting for the neurological symptoms listed above.
How do I know if I have a Candida overgrowth?
You may want to start by filling out a questionnaire to see whether or not you think you could be suffering from an overgrowth of Candida – this questionnaire is very comprehensive and may be a good place to start http://www.yeastconnection.com/pdf/yeastfullsurv.pdf. Then, the simple answer is, get tested. Candida self-diagnosis is definitely on the up, and it’s actually really important not to assume you have Candida overgrowth based on symptoms alone. There are many conditions that can produce similar symptoms including overgrowth of pathogenic bacterial strains in the colon, overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), as well as the presence of parasites, such as Giardia, Cryptosporidium and Blastocystis Hominis, to name but a few. There are various ways to test for Candida overgrowth, and this includes looking for the breakdown products of Candida in the urine, checking for Candida antibodies in the saliva, and finally checking for the presence of yeasts in the bowel using a comprehensive stool analysis test.
Using careful diagnostic questioning, and laboratory tests if necessary, Emma can identify whether Candida overgrowth is relevant for you.
Candida overgrowth, the presenting symptoms, as well as treatment length can vary considerably from person to person. Treatment takes time and involves...
Eradicating the excess yeast through dietary modifications
Taking supplements to kill off the excess yeast and restore depleted nutrients
Lifestyle measures to help you manage your stress levels
Building up the weakened host defences and immunity to prevent the Candida overgrowing again.
The anti-Candida programme is complicated and needs to be managed carefully, because when yeast cells die, the toxins they release can result in uncomfortable detoxification symptoms, known as ‘die-off’. It's therefore recommended that you work with a qualified practitioner who can guide you through the process.