What Is Candida? 6 Things To Know About Yeast Overgrowth

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We’d like to think that we’re the only ones living in our bodies, but there are thousands of organisms living in us at any given time. One such organism is a fungus called Candida. While having some Candida growing in your body is normal, overgrowth of Candida can lead to a surprisingly diverse number of health problems.

In normal quantities, Candida can actually help with your digestion and nutrient absorption, Dr. Josh Axe, founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, tells Bustle. The problem occurs when you have an excess of it, which may happen due to imbalances in your body's microbiome or pH levels. Candida overgrowth can occur in the sinuses, mouth, GI tract, and bladder, integrative medicine doctor Susan Kolb, MD tells Bustle. There, the Candida produces biotoxins like aldehydes and alcohol that can lead to fatigue, muscle aches, brain fog, dizziness, dysuria, chronic sinusitis, and itching. Excess Candida can also break down your intestinal lining, leading to Leaky Gut Syndrome, says Axe.

The most common Candida species to cause infections is Candida albicans, he adds. Usually, these infections are not serious and are limited to the mouth, vagina, and GI tract. But if the immune system isn't functioning properly, it can infect the blood or the membranes around the brain or heart. If it gets into the blood, it can cause life-threatening septic shock, Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Bustle. "Candida can also cause eye infections, seed prosthetic joints, cause heart valve infections, and cause infections of the esophagus," he says.

Here are a few facts about Candida to be aware of for the sake of your health.

1. It Can Overgrow For Many Reasons

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Excessive consumption of sugar and/or carbohydrates, stress, and excessive estrogen can all contribute to Candida overgrowth, says Kolb. Some women even find that hormonal birth control can trigger Candida growth, says Axe. Corticosteroid inhalants used for asthma have been linked to oral Candida overgrowth, and those with diabetes or inflammatory and autoimmune conditions that suppress the immune system are at greater risk.

Candida may also overgrow in response to use of antibiotics, which may kill off bacteria that it competes with, says Adalja. People with gluten intolerance and celiac disease also have a higher risk for Candida overgrowth, rheumatologist Alexander Shikhman, MD, PhD tells Bustle.

2. It Can Lead To Acute Infections

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Candida is the microbe responsible for oral thrush (a mouth infection that causes a white coating on the tongue), vaginal yeast infections, and some skin rashes, says Shikhman. Candida-induced skin rashes will look like "red, inflamed areas typically in warm areas such as underarms," he says.

3. It Can Also Cause Subtler Chronic Health Issues

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Even without an acute infection, Candida can cause what's sometimes known as Candida Overgrowth Syndrome, says Axe. The symptoms of this condition can include chronic fatigue, mood disorders, chronic and recurrent infections, digestive issues, brain fog, and hormonal imbalances. It can also cause sweet cravings, acne, migraines, and eczema, says Shikhman.

4. You Can Test For It

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"Most people do not know they have Candidiasis, as most doctors are not educated in the symptoms," says Kolb. "Some learn of the condition by research on the internet or because of an integrative or holistic health practitioner. It is considered overgrowth when one has symptoms or is ill. Most doctors will treat based on the symptoms if they have experience, but testing is possible." Candida can be picked up on a stool or urine test or a blood test that checks for antibodies against Candida.

5. Dietary Changes Can Reduce It

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Health care providers will often recommend a "Candida cleanse" for those with Candida Overgrowth Syndrome. This involves eliminating starch, sugar, alcohol, and most fruit from your diet and focusing on vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. You can also add coconut oil, milk thistle, clove oil, oregano oil, myrrh oil, and lavender oil to your diet to kill off Candida and stop it from spreading, says Axe.

6. Supplements And/Or Medications May Also Be Necessary

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Treatment for Candida depends on what your symptoms are, but Shikhman breaks Candida treatment into five general goals: stop feeding the yeast (with a low carb diet and Betaine HCL), digest your food completely (with digestive enzymes), normalize your gut microbiome (with prebiotics and probiotics), reduce yeast in your gut (with Pau D’Arco, Black Walnut Hulls, Caprylic Acid, and/or Monolaurin), and stop biofilm formation (with Serrazimes and/or Bromelain).

Kolb treats GI Candida overgrowth with a medication called Nystatin oral solution or herbal remedies like Pau D’Arco. Those who experience symptoms like Fibromyalgia as a result of Candida-induced magnesium deficiency may benefit from Mg Malic acid, and those with memory problems can take molybdenum, she says.

If you're experiencing signs of Candida overgrowth, Shikhman recommends working with a doctor to establish a low-carb diet and supplement plan. "If you have uncontrollable bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, or a vaginal yeast infection, it is time to see a doctor."