Have you been madly researching Candida overgrowth – in the hope that you’ve finally found a name for your confusing (and seemingly unrelated) symptoms? Like bloating, brain fog, epic fatigue and joint pain – but you’ve no idea how to tackle it? Or perhaps you have known about Candida for a while and did all the right things to clear it – but have your symptoms returned?
If you are confused, you’re in good company.
Candida has been on the Naturopathic radar for a long time now and evidence of this growing problem has been showing up more and more – but still it’s not commonly acknowledged by conventional medical professionals.
Despite the first Candida infections being recorded by Hippocrates in around 400B.C. – we’ve still not got Candida figured out.
What are we missing?
We have many clients presenting with typical Candida overgrowth symptoms that’ve been struggling for years – often disregarded by their doctor.
Wrongly assuming that unless you have external symptoms (like oral or vaginal thrush) that Candida cannot be the cause.
Candida can in fact still be running amuck right under your nose … in your gut.
Hidden from plain sight.
And causing such a variety of symptoms – they seem completely unrelated. Everything from:
- Unexplained fatigue
- Food and chemical sensitivities
- Sugar cravings … and …
- Dandruff and fungal nail infections….
All the way to debilitating complaints like:
The symptoms just don’t seem to be from the same category, right!
In this article, we are going to get to the bottom of this yeast thing and discuss what Candida overgrowth is (and what it isn’t), the symptoms it may express and how it relates to your gut microbiome.
What is Candida?
Candida is one of the many fungal groups commonly found in the gut. It is a polymorphic yeast that naturally lives in your mouth and in the vagina. Polymorphic means that it has many (poly-) morphologies (forms) – making it a particularly clever invader given the opportunity.
It’s name is derived from the Latin candidus meaning white.
And it forms a glossy white colony when flourishing, both in the lab and in our bodies (think white tongue coating and white vaginal discharge seen with thrush).
Candida, like all yeasts, favour sugars as their energy source. And they are very efficient sugar fermenters – producing ample acid and alcohol as part of their natural fermentation process.
The most common Candida species of human concern is Candida albicans. And this is the culprit behind many of the symptoms we will discuss later.
But do remember there are many more that can cause overgrowth e.g., C.parapsilosis, C.krusei, C.tropicalis. C.albicans is simply the most common currently.
In general, bacteria tend to keep yeast and fungi from overgrowing in our bodies. This is especially true with the vaginal Candida population.
Where hormonal fluctuations and other factors may reduce the population of hydrogen peroxide producing Lactobacilli allowing Candida to flourish.
A similar mechanism happens in your gut.
How Candida Affects Your Gut
To illustrate exactly how Candida functions in our gut, we need to get a few science terms out of the way first.
The way that microbes live in any environment is described by the following three terms:
- Mutualism – describes a mutually beneficial arrangement
Where both parties benefit from the arrangement and none are harmed. Probiotics and other lactic acid bacteria fall into this category. We provide them food and their helpful by-products like vitamins, SCFAs and antibacterial compounds help us function optimally and keep the troublemakers at bay.
- Commensalism – where one benefits but the other is unaffected (neither good nor bad)
The majority of our gut microbes that feed each other in our microbiome fall into this category where they neither harm or help us specifically (to our current level of understanding). They live happily fed and housed by us by offering nothing of particular benefit in return. Candida is an example of a commensal.
- Parasitism – describes a situation where the host suffers
Here a typical parasite is a great way to visualise this relationship – where one provides a home and suffers while the other thrives at its expense. Tape worms, pinworms, Giardia and other typical parasites are vivid examples of their namesake.
Any number of our gut microbes who are ordinarily commensals – happily living in our gut, not causing trouble – can seize the opportunity to overgrow.
When this happens, it becomes opportunistic.
And under the right conditions some microbes are more inclined to behave in this way – they have natural virulence mechanisms that enable this.
Remember the poly-morphism characteristic we mentioned earlier, this is one of those mechanisms. Candida can survive in our bodies in both yeast and fungal forms.
Meaning it can also form invasive branching filaments or pseudo-hyphae arms that can quickly grow in search of food and infiltrate/damage tissues.
Candida is definitely opportunistic.
Another mechanism it uses to its advantage (and our detriment) is biofilm production. Where a mucus coating is developed as a safe little enveloped community (with other microbes) – impervious to outside influences.
Biofilms are one of the reasons that Candida can be so hard to eradicate. And part of the efficacy of biofilm formation lies in the fact it adheres to the gut lining.
Does Candida actually cause a leaky gut?
Currently invasive Candida is understood to negatively affect the gut lining including via direct damage through the gut lining cells, adhering to receptors and also through the tight junctions holding the gut lining cells together.
It can definitely produce an inflammatory and leaky situation in the gut.
But does Candida actually CAUSE leaky gut…?
This question is a lot like asking, what came first, the chicken or the egg…
There is little doubt that Candida certainly possesses invasive potential, causes many unfavourable symptoms and ultimately disease conditions.
And it definitely contributes significantly to gut dysbiosis and the eventual cascade damage caused by leaky gut.
But whether it SINGLE HANDEDLY causes leaky gut … definitive evidence is lacking … but from what we do know, it certainly can create ‘holes’, penetrate the gut lining, cause inflammation and perfect autoimmune conditions.
Which includes, allowing yeast, microbes and foregin particles to pass through the gut. Its abundance undoubtedly plays a significant role in leaky gut and gut health in general.
What we do know is …
We are actually making the problem worse.
Overgrowth Layers of Complexity
By indirectly providing the perfect conditions for overgrowth…
In a healthy gut, lactic acid bacteria and a healthy immune system normally keeps Candida under control. But there are many lifestyle factors that are happening so frequently that allow Candida to turn opportunistic.
Some of these include:
- Diet – High-sugar, high-yeast, low-fibre & antibiotic laced animal product consumption. When we eat too much of these foods we are feeding yeast their favourite foods.
- Alcohol – Remember that alcohols are largely yeast fermentation end-products. Alcohol breakdown products (like acetaldehyde) kill brain cells, reduce the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, and interfere with our stress response, insulin, and cortisol secretion.
- Antibiotics – Overuse of antibiotic drugs kill off the bacteria that keep yeast and fungi including Candida under control.
- Stress – Candida and other yeasts thrive in an acidic environment in the body – this can be brought about by stress.
- Birth Control – Hormones play a significant role in modifying our vaginal flora – in particular estrogen and progesterone fluctuations drive bacterial changes in lactic acid bacteria. Thrush (and bloating/flatulence) is more predominant in women on the pill. Candida also binds estrogens and promotes growth.
- Steroid use – Inhaled corticosteroids used in asthma medications actually increase Candida growth.
- Toxin exposure – Many chemicals and toxins mimic estrogens in our bodies. Xenoestrogens in particular encourage Candida growth just like estrogen, e.g., BPA, BPS, PCBs, dioxins, phthalates and many more!
- Microbiome dysbiosis – Disturbances in other bacterial group abundance and diversity which maintain balance and keep Candida in check.
Essentially, our modern lifestyle supports dysbiosis and yeast overgrowth.
And inadvertently driving disease processes like Coeliac disease – which has been found to have its origins with Candida overgrowth!
And unless we address the root cause the symptoms will continue…
How BIG a problem is Candida?
Let’s have a look at the extensive list of symptoms that have been attributed to Candida overgrowth…
…Hold onto your hats…
In addition to those mentioned above, Candida is said to be behind:
- Abdominal bloating and/or flatulence
- Recurrent oral or vaginal thrush or cystitis (urinary tract infections)
- Rectal itching
- Athlete’s foot, tinea
- Poor memory, lack of concentration
- Irritability, spacey feelings
- Weight control difficulty
- Alcohol intolerance
- Abdominal pain
- Sensitivity to perfume, tobacco smoke and household cleaners
- Recurrent sore throats and blocked noses
- Muscle and joint aches
- Numbness and tingling, weak muscles
- Ear aches
- Increased symptoms after eating sugar, yeast or fermented foods
- Mood swings
- Menstrual irregularities
- Burning sensations
> Coeliac disease
> Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
You’ll notice there are two types of symptoms all commingled here. Those that act locally or isolated to external areas (thrush, bloating, constipation etc.) and those that are more widespread or systemic (whole body) like hypoglycemia etc.
Once symptoms spread systemically, excess Candida can cause a myriad of symptoms – hence the huge list above.
This can be caused by the Candida directly interacting with the gut and causing problems but also from one of its by-products, ethanol.
And then ethanol is broken down to acetaldehyde – the toxic and dreaded ‘hangover’ compound left over after your liver processes the ethanol. Acetaldehyde is then further reduced by an enzyme that needs both vitamin B3 and glutathione (the master antioxidant).
All meaning that Candida causes a chronic amount of alcohol needing to be processed by your liver – depleting vital minerals, vitamins, liver enzymes and amino acids along the way.
Eventually leading to chronic deficicenes, inflammation and oxidative stress.
Not to mention the intense sugar cravings that Candida is famous for! Leading to blood sugar irregularities and further pressure on our insulin and cortisol regulation, weight gain, inflammation and oxidative stress.
What a vicious microbe-driven cycle!
Candida and Your Microbiome
Now you may be wondering then, why are so many of the symptoms for Candida similar to those of poor gut health in general, SIBO or dysbiosis…
This is a great question and largely due to the effect that Candida has on the gut lining but also on the other microbes in the gut.
The overabundance of any particular groups of gut microbes often signal a decrease in another group. And the inflammation and by-product symptoms our body expresses are largely similar.
Candida strictly belongs to the human mycobiome – the collection of all the different fungal species inhabiting the body.
Large scale studies in this area have only recently begun but preliminary research suggests that Candida species are one of the most common fungal types we harbour, others include:
- Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast used extensively in bread, beer and wine)
- Cladosporium (widespread in the air)
Interestingly, within the bacterial microbiome there are emerging selected species that co-exist with Candida. There are also groups that allow Candida to flourish when their populations decline.
For example, Candida is often seen thriving alongside Streptococcus species – not only in the gut but also in the vagina.
Prevotella and Candida both thrive on the same carbohydrate rich food and have been shown to be present in elevated numbers together too.
Conversely, a reduced abundance of Bacteroides may indicate that Candida has been allowed to flourish.
And similarly, as we’ve mentioned Lactobacillus and other lactic acid bacteria also work to keep Candida in check.
So keeping our microbiome balanced is absolutely crucial if you are needing to get your sugar cravings under control!
Choosing Candida Balancing Foods
Let’s say that again….the most important factor in keeping Candida in check is loving on your gut microbiome…
… And the single most effective way to do that….is your diet.
What you eat, directly feeds your gut microbes – so it makes sense that you start being very selective about what you feed yourself.
The following foods are a great place to start.
But as always it’s important to work with an experienced health professional who has tested your gut microbiome to know exactly what you are dealing with. Targeted treatments work far more effectively than general guidelines.
Foods to include in your diet to help keep Candida at bay include:
- Pau D’Arco tea
- Garlic and onions
- Turmeric and ginger
- Coconut oil
- Green vegetables
- Manuka honey
- Ground chia and flaxseeds
- Bone broth
- Oregano – herb and oil
There are also many other powerful herbal preparations effective in the removal of both Candida and other microbial imbalances. Working with a practitioner alongside your gut testing results is the best way to determine which supplements and herbs will be most effective for you.
Now to those foods that feed Candida.
Foods to AVOID include:
- White flour
- White sugar and artificial sweeteners
- Yeast and baked goods e.g., bread
- Dried fruits
- Fermented foods
And on that note, there is some contention surrounding fruit, Candida and its contribution to yeast in the body. Many practitioners recommend removing fruit from your diet, at least initially when treating Candida to reduce sugar levels significantly.
Others are less strict and allow low sugar fruits like berries.
Honestly, the jury is well out on this one – consequently, it’s best to consult with a health professional to discuss your case individually.
The Dreaded Die-Off
Another reason to work with a health professional is the darsdely die-off. When you remove the Candida’s food source they invariably begin to die-off along with other species that used the same food sources.
In this process their break-down by-products are released enmasse into your gut often showing worsening symptoms like:
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Headache and dizziness
- Bloating, gas, constipation, nausea
- And generally flu-type symptoms
It may not sound fun, but it is definitely worth the trouble. These symptoms clear up within a week or so and give way to increased focus, energy and symptom relief!
Putting It All Together
So what are our best Candida combating tips?
- Diet is key – include more Candida fighting foods and supplements and eliminate those that are not helpful
- Stress less – try to remove unnecessary stress triggers or seek out ways to manage your lifestyle with stress-busting practices
- Probiotics – include beneficial bacteria in your daily routine – avoid naturally fermented foods initially as many are full of yeast (particularly fermented beverages like kombucha)
- Prebiotics – add more fibre and prebiotic foods into your week to feed beneficial microbes
- Remove toxins – identify and replace any products of chemicals in your home or environment that may be contributing to Candida overgrowth
- Investigate medications – check-in with your doctor about your use of birth control, steroids or antibiotics
- Support your liver – include liver supportive herbs and supplements in your diet – check with your holistic medical professional about which are best for you
- Reevaluate alcohol consumption – sense check your alcohol intake, it might make the world of difference
- Balance your microbiome
- Heal your gut lining
The Long Game
To reduce Candida abundance and keep it at bay you need a balanced and thriving microbiome. You need to eat the foods that maintain this balance. And actively avoid those that you know feed Candida and other less beneficial microbes.
You can go about this in many ways – 10 of the most effective are those we’ve outlined above today.
But if you are looking for fast-tracked results or you want expert guidance to get a head start healing your symptoms, check out our Gut Heal & Nourish Program.