What is Candida? It is a group of yeast organisms that are in the fungal family which are related to mushrooms. Candida is normally found in about 80% of all human beings. They are primarily located in the intestines, mouth and skin. Most of the time we are not even aware of Candida and it usually makes up a part of the normal micro flora found in the skin, mouth and intestines. We only become aware of this yeast when the immune system becomes compromised. Probably, the most common sign of Candida is a vaginal yeast infection. It is estimated that about 75% of all women will experience at least one or more of these infections in their lifetime.
It is estimated that there are about 20 varieties of Candida that effect the human body. The most common is called Candida Albicans, which means “white” and often there is a white secretion that is found with vaginal , intestinal and oral infections/ overgrowth. A white coating on the tongue or patches of white are found in the mouth and this is referred to as oral Thrush. Intestinal overgrowth can be revealed as a white, bubbly, sticky, mucous secretion that can be found in the stools. Candida infections on the skin often causes red, flaky, itchy rashes and is most often found under the breasts, skin folds, under the armpits and in infants it is known as diaper rash. A more serious infection of Candida can invade the bloodstream and is referred to as invasive Candidiasis. This is a potential life threatening condition. It is estimated that this is the fourth most common blood infection. However, most of our discussion will not revolve around these four main types of infections rather on the overgrowth that is fairly common in the intestines.
It is thought that only immune- compromised people can develop problems related to Candida. This is not completely true. What is true is that full out infections do occur in immune-compromised people and that these infections are more life threatening. The human immune system does not have to be completely compromised to allow increased growth or “invasion” by Candida into the lining of the digestive tract, oral cavity, vaginal area or other exposed membranes to develop problems. However, the immune system is not functioning effectively when the overgrowth of Candida occurs.
This particular yeast also changes its shape, growth and metabolism based upon its environment. There are two basic forms of the yeast. The first is freely floating and often is made up of singular cells. This form is called planktonic and usually does not cause problems. The second is called the hyphal form. (please look above) This form invades and penetrates layers of cells lining the digestive tract or anywhere else. It produces many different toxins, waste by products that are able to shrink and destroy surrounding cells of the human body. It also becomes a replicating machine by producing additional spores and buds so it can spread. It does this so fast that it can double its population in 1 hour!
SYMPTOMS OF CANDIDA OVERGROWTH
The reason the list of potential symptoms is so long is due to the fact that Candida produces so many toxins, estimated in some literature to be 70-80 different toxins, and the varied immune system response that the body produces to combat Candida. Here are some of the conditions connected with Candida:
MENTAL/EMOTIONAL: Anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, poor memory, inability to focus, spacey, sleep disorders, confusion, attention deficit, indecisiveness, headaches and migraines.
SKIN: Dry, flaky, red, itchy skin, acne athletes foot, jock itch, toe/nail fungus, vaginal infection, eczema, psoriasis and rashes.
DIGESTIVE: Bloating, flatulence, diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, esophageal reflux (GERD), rectal itching, mucous in stool, and cravings for sugar, alcohol and bread.
IMMUNE SYSTEM: Asthma, allergies, increased sensitivity to foods and environmental compounds, sinusitis, reoccurring infections and autoimmune disorders.
UROGENITAL: Cystitis, prostatitis, PMS, infertility, endometriosis
OTHERS: Numbness, tingling, fatigue, joint aches, fibromyalgia, weight loss or gain, sweating at night, cold hands and feet.
Candida, particularly Candida albicans is a normally found in small numbers in the mouth, skin, urogenital tract and especially the digestive tract. Our digestive tract normally contains a large quantity of various microorganisms mostly bacteria and this group of microorganisms are referred to as your microflora. Candida does make up a small percentage of the microflora.
So how does one develop this yeast overgrowth? One of the most common reasons that permit overgrowth of Candida is the usage of antibiotics. Most antibiotics kill the normal existing bacteria in the digestive tract and also in other parts of the body. The other beneficial bacteria actually secrete compounds that prevent the overgrowth of yeast and other potentially harmful microorganisms. So when this normal balance is disrupted, it is a perfect opportunity for Candida to multiply unchecked.
The next factor has to do with SAD, or known as the standard American diet. Most Americans consume huge amounts of refined carbohydrates, found in breads, pasta, baked goods, crackers, cereals, processed foods, soft drinks, snack foods, white rice, flour tortillas, and sweeteners such as fructose corn syrup. These foods breakdown rapidly into simple sugars that are used as a fuel source for Candida. The lack of beneficial fibers and complex carbohydrates derived from vegetables and fruits, is a necessary fuel source for the beneficial bacteria to thrive and prevents Candida overgrowth.
Depressing the immune system by medications such as steroids such as hydrocortisone or prednisone. Other immunosuppressive drugs will also encourage Candida growth. Normally, the immune system and one of its protective antibodies known as secretory IgA binds and keeps the yeast in check. Chronic stress can also lead to depressed immune system.
The usage of protein pump inhibitors such as Prilosec and others decreases the natural production of stomach acid. However, proper stomach acid levels kill many yeast organisms found in our food and will protects our digestive tract.
The usage of birth control pills and hormone replacement such as estrogen and progesterone (this includes creams) actually spurs Candida growth.
Lastly, being hypothyroid or exposure to many environmental toxins and heavy metals also results in a weakened immune system.
THE CANDIDA DIET
In order to help establish a better environment for the growth of beneficial bacteria and the removal/reduction of Candida, certain dietary changes absolutely need to be made and adhered to for a period of time. Without making these changes it is very difficult to stop the growth of Candida and expecting certain supplements/herbals/ medications to work alone is unrealistic.
Please keep in mind that depending upon the severity of the overgrowth, the integrity of the lining of your digestive tract and status of your immune system some patients do not have to follow all of the following suggestions, but the first few most patients will have to follow.
The first thing is to help restrict the Candida from easy available food sources namely simple carbohydrates such as cane sugar and rapidly broken down carbohydrates. Some foods that fall into this category are soda, other sweetened drinks, pastries, breads, crackers, pasta, noodles, white rice, ice cream, desserts and often gluten containing products.
Many alcoholic beverages especially beer, sweeter wines, and other sweetened drinks can stimulate Candida growth. Both the sugar content and the alcohol itself, is used by the yeast as a potential food source. Sometimes the yeast organism used to ferment the beer and wine can cause inflammation and an immune reaction at the level of the digestive tract. This might also hold true with certain foods that contain other types of yeasts such as vinegar containing products, like salad dressings, and pickled products or soy sauce.
It appears that certain fruits especially tropical fruits such as bananas, pineapple, mangoes, and watermelon have certain sugars that Candida will readily use. Dried fruits may also support the growth of Candida. Fruits that are generally acceptable are berries, apples, pears, cherries, kiwi, plums, peaches, whole orange, lemons, limes, some melons and sometimes grapes. You will find that fruits that have a lower glycemic index are usually more acceptable.
Many condiments such as ketchup BBQ sauce can contain “hidden sugars” and should be avoided.
Some people will not do well with mushrooms since these are related to yeasts. Some may also react or find that some nuts that are contaminated with molds like peanuts, cashew and pistachios can be a problem.
The starches found in certain beans like soy, and chickpeas can be a source to encourage Candida growth. Sometimes the sugar lactose found in milk products can be a problem. Sometimes the yeasts found in aged cheeses can be a problem. Occasionally, certain starchy vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, carrots, peas, and parsnips can be an issue.