by Dr. Will Cole
If you pay attention to health trends, you’ve probably been hearing the word “candida” for years, not to mention the many “candida diets” and “candida cleanses” available out here. Sometimes, though, it may seem like “candida” is almost a catchall diagnosis for a wide variety of health problems. Feeling bad? Must be candida! Too bad, because this tends to dilute the perception of what this problem really is and what it can do to your health. Many are now skeptical that candida can actually cause any health problems at all. So, let’s cut through the candida confusion and get the facts.
What Is Candida?
When you hear the word “candida” that is referring to the Candida albicans fungus, which is the most common yeast in the human gastrointestinal system. Ideally it occurs in small amounts and is one part of a healthy microbiome.
However, sometimes conditions are ripe for Candida albicans to grow out of control – often when there is a decrease in beneficial bacteria, such as with a course of antibiotics or due to a poor diet. This allows overgrowths of opportunistic bacteria, parasites, and yeasts like candida, causing dysbiosis, or an unhealthy microbiome. In addition to diet and antibiotics, this can be caused by stress, chronic illness, other medications, or a combination of any of these. Note that candida overgrowth can be just one part of a larger gut problem.
Who Is Susceptible To Candida Overgrowth?
Research has found that people with the following problems are more likely to get candida infections and/or be exacerbated by intestinal candidiasis or yeast overgrowth:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Chronic antibiotic use
- Diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- Weakened immune systems
- High levels of estrogen (oral contraceptives or estrogen replacements)
Symptoms Of Candida Overgrowth
How do you know you have candida overgrowth specifically, or dysbiosis in general? Acute infestations of candida, such as recurring yeast infections, are well documented, but chronic, low-grade candida overgrowths are not as easily detected. However, they do exist and have been shown to be related to an increased permeability of the gut lining or leaky gut syndrome.
Because the microbiome plays a role in virtually every aspect of your health, there are many far-reaching, seemingly unrelated symptoms that could be due at least in part to a chronic overgrowth of candida. These can include:
- Acid reflux
- Autoimmune conditions
- Brain fog
- Fungal Infections of skin or nails
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Low immune system
- Panic attacks
- Thyroid symptoms
- Weight loss resistance
How Do You Test For Candida Overgrowths?
Low-grade overgrowths can be quite subtle, but can be detected with the proper diagnostic testing. I run either a two- or three-day stool collection that analyzes the DNA of the specific pathogens that are in your microbiome and often go undetected on standard labs. Interestingly, instead of finding Candida albicans, I often find abnormal amounts of other types of candida or different fungus species on lab results.
What To Do If You Think You Have Candida Overgrowth
1. Ask your doctor about a comprehensive stool test.
A multiple-day collection provides a more complete look at the microbiome and can uncover fungal, bacterial, or parasitic overgrowth, as well as beneficial bacteria levels. Retesting a few months into care allows for any modification that may be needed.
2. Ask about a test for leaky gut syndrome.
A blood test to assess if anything from the gut is passing into the blood stream can be done to find out if you have leaky gut syndrome.
3. Rule out SIBO
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, is common with candida overgrowth, further complicating treatment. It can be helpful to look for SIBO.
4. Avoid sugar.
Candida eats what you eat, and it especially loves sugar! Avoiding junk foods and excess amounts of fruit, juice, and starchy foods like potatoes is essential to get Candida under control.
5. Hold off on fermented foods.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi are wonderful sources of probiotics, but can also feed candida. Certain probiotic supplements that contain prebiotics can also feed overgrowths. These are all healthful foods, but I generally suggest waiting until after the die-off phase of Candida removal before adding these back in to recolonize the microbiome. This can take anywhere from weeks to months, depending on the severity of the case.
6. Take targeted natural medicines.
Caprylic acid, oregano oil, garlic, and black tea were all shown in the literature to be effective treatments for candida overgrowths. The beneficial yeast S. boulardii was also shown to be effective against candida overgrowth, decreasing both the inflammation from the overgrowth and the spreading of candida in the gut.
7. Try personalized functional medicine care.
Even with natural options, what works for one person may not work for you! Today, lab testing can better inform us which natural medicines would be better for your individual overgrowth or gut infection. This ensures targeted and more effective care. Take advantage of our free evaluation via webcam or phone to get your questions answered and to see if functional medicine is right for you.
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