What Is Candida?
Candida Albicans is a yeast-like fungus which is normally present in the body in small harmless amounts. Under certain conditions an overgrowth of this fungus can occur anywhere in the body, but most commonly in the digestive tract, urinary tract and/or vagina. An overgrowth of candida albicans is called Candidiasis. The fungus grows best in warm, dark conditions and in the presence of sugar. Under these circumstances candida albicans changes from small dormant spores to a branching structure called a mycelium with the ability to invade and irritate tissues.
What are the risk factors for developing Candidiasis?
Anything that may disturb the normal balance of yeast and bacteria or the pH levels in the digestive or vaginal tracts can create ideal conditions for the overgrowth of yeasts.
Normal balance can be disrupted by many factors:
- Hormonal changes during pregnancy
- The combined oral contraceptive pill
- Steroid drugs, i.e. for asthma treatments
- Antibiotics - these kill off the good bacteria making it easier for yeasts to grow
- Diabetes - the increased levels of sugar encourage the yeasts to proliferate
- Endocrine imbalances - low thyroid and adrenal function, perhaps as a result of stress and blood sugar imbalances, can support the growth of candida.
- A diet high in sugar and low in protein - yeasts and bad bacteria thrive on sugar and refined, simple carbohydrates
- Anaemia and lack of iron - these can reduce resistance to infection
- Other deficiencies - lack of zinc, vitamin B and vitamin A have all been documented as reducing resistance to infection and leading to yeast overgrowth.
- Long illness and periods of stress - the immune system may not function properly during these times and susceptibility to infection increases
What are the symptoms of Candidiasis?
Most frequently seen symptoms are:
- Heavy bloating and flatulence
- Rectal itching
- Constant fatigue
- Depression and mood swings
- Poor memory
- Muscle or joint pains
- Headaches and migraine
- Oral or vaginal thrush; cystitis
- Sore mouth and white coated tongue
- Cracking at corners of mouth
- Fungal nail infections and athletes foot
- Red sore rash on the skin in areas that perspire
- General unwell feeling
- Cravings for sweet things
- Intolerance of alcohol
- Sensitivity to foods containing yeast and mould
- Sensitivity to damp weather
Testing for Candida Overgrowth
It is not always obvious that an overgrowth of candida albicans is the problem due to the wide range of symptoms, therefore the only way to know is to take a test. Tests available are:-
- Blood tests in which IgG, IgA and IgM antibodies are measured. Benefits of these tests are that only a pin-prick sample of blood is required and the results indicate whether the infection is past, ongoing or current. IgM antibodies indicate a recent infection, whilst IgG antibodies indicate a current or past infection of Candidiasis. IgA antibodies can indicate an infection of the mucous membranes.
- Culture of stool samples or vaginal swabs to detect yeast overgrowth.
What your doctor can do
Doctors may suggest diagnostic tests, such as those above, and may prescribe anti-fungal agents such as Nystatin, Clotrimazole and Fluconazole.
What you can do
As Candida albicans thrives on a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and a compromised immune system allows it to flourish, the following basic guidelines will help to discourage its proliferation and to eventually eliminate it:-
- Avoid all foods high in sugar and yeast
- Increase immune boosting foods
- Include natural anti-fungal agents and supplements to help the body fight naturally against the overgrowth
- Include probiotics to help to re-colonise the digestive tract with beneficial bacteria
It is important to remember that it can take weeks or even months to eliminate Candidiasis as it is necessary to follow a comprehensive programme of dietary modification and supplementation that requires co-operation and discipline.
It is strongly recommended that you seek the advice of a suitably qualified nutritionist or health professional for further information and support to ensure successful results.