Updated: Mar 27, 2019
Living in and on our bodies are numerous bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi and yeasts. Most are harmless and many are beneficial. Some play an important role in vitamin manufacture, immune function, nutrient absorption and more.
However an overgrowth of certain bugs can occur when our immune system or gut health is compromised. A poor diet, stress, excess alcohol consumption and medications such as antibiotic or oral contraceptive use are just some of the ways the body can get out of balance.
One common imbalance is with a fungus or yeast known as Candida albicans. Most of us have heard of thrush. However thrush is just one symptom of a candida overgrowth and does not need to be present for you to be suffering from Candidiasis. An over population of this fungus can have a detrimental impact on your health and well-being in many ways.
What are some of the common symptoms of a candida overgrowth?
Poor memory and/or concentration
Mood swings / Irritability / Quick to anger
Low mood / depression / anxiety
Recurring fungal infections eg. thrush, athlete's foot
Sensitivity to smells
Chronic joint pain
Irritable bowel symptoms
Weight gain, obesity
High carb, sugar and alcohol cravings
Headaches / Migraines
Cold hands and feet
Food intolerance's / Allergies
Vaginal or oral thrush
Eczema / Acne / Dandruff
Low sex drive / impotence / painful intercourse
When an overgrowth of Candida albicans occurs (Candidiasis) it can weaken the intestinal wall, allowing it to penetrate through and enter the bloodstream. Its toxic byproducts are then released throughout the body.
As they spread, these toxic byproducts cause damage to your body tissues and organs, wreaking havoc on your immune system. The major waste product of yeast cell activity is acetaldehyde, a poisonous toxin that promotes free radical activity in the body. Acetaldehyde is also converted by the liver into ethanol (drinking alcohol). Some people even report feeling drunk or hungover along with debilitating fatigue from the high amounts of ethanol in their system.
Candida albicans prefers warm, moist environments like the gastrointestinal tract, mouth and genitalia. It also thrives on carbohydrates and processed foods, which convert to sugar.
How can I be sure if I have a candida overgrowth or not?
Many medical doctors struggle to recognize the systemic effects a fungal overgrowth can have on the body, only wanting to address obvious symptoms such as vaginal or oral thrush, or athlete’s foot with medications and creams.
However diagnosis can be challenging, especially if the overgrowth is only within the gut and if there are no outward signs. Also there are a myriad of symptoms, many of which can be caused by a number of other conditions.
Although typically, there will be a history of antibiotic or oral contraceptive use, high stress lifestyle, a diet high in sugar, alcohol, carbohydrate or processed foods (even if many years ago).
A spit test is apparently a crude way to check if candidiasis is a possibility. Google candida spit test if you would like to try it.
Functional lab tests that include checking for candidasis (among other things) include a Comprehensive Stool Analysis (costs around $430 NZ) or an Organic Acids Urine Test (aka OAT - costs around $327). If you are interested, you would need to discuss having one of these with your holistic health practitioner.
How do we address a Candida overgrowth?
Addressing a candida overgrowth is extremely important for a healthy gut and a healthy immune system. Many notice a boost in energy levels, less mucus production, less gut symptoms, less brain fog & that they lose weight. It is definitely worth the lifestyle change.
Removing added sugars from your diet is always the first step. In fact avoiding high carbohydrate foods and processed foods is really needed. This includes breads, pastas, biscuits, cakes, pizza and the like. Many also find they are sensitive to other foods such as dairy and gluten, usually due to the damage to the gut lining. Removing these foods often help with the gut healing process. Anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory foods are also recommended such as garlic, ginger, turmeric, and olive oil.
Common anti-fungal supplements include caprylic acid / undecylenic acid, garlic & olive leaf extract. Unfortunately sometimes the candida has developed a protective barrier and requires some stronger anti-fungal supplements or enzymes to destroy the biofilm. Working with a functional health practitioner like myself or a naturopath can really help, and can be a lot safer.
If a leaky gut is also present it is best to make sure this is addressed first to avoid a toxin release into the blood stream and an aggravation of your symptoms. Avoiding intolerant foods while gut healing can really help with this.
In the final stages of gut healing additional supplementation support may be suggested such as glutamine, slippery elm powder or probiotics.
Gut healing should always be a priority as I find poor gut health is a common cause of chronic inflammation and underlies many health disorders. If help from a functional health practitioner is not an option, at the very least eat real food. Include lots of fresh & different coloured veggies in your diet. Avoid packaged and processed foods, added sugar, high sugar fruits and alcohol, for a minimum of 3-4 weeks. Many are surprised by the results.
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