The term Candida is thrown around every day. But do you know what Candida is and how it may affect your body? 

Many people think that Candida is only responsible for vaginal yeast infections. In reality, Candida overgrowth can affect your entire body. It may lead to widespread and chronic symptoms. If you are experiencing chronic symptoms, such as digestive problems, skin issues, fatigues, headaches, sleepless nights, aches and pains, or mood swings, it’s possible that Candida is one of the underlying factors behind your problems. Addressing Candida overgrowth may reduce or remove your symptoms and transform your health. 

In this article, you will learn about Candida overgrowth and its symptoms. You will learn about the connection between Candida overgrowth and gut dysbiosis and the main causes of Candida overgrowth. Finally, I will recommend some strategies to reduce Candida overgrowth and regain your health. Let’s get into it.

What is Candida Overgrowth

Candida is a fungus, which is a type of yeast (1, 2). It’s one of the many microorganisms that lives inside and on your body, including on your skin, in your gut, inside your mouth, in your urinary tract, and in females, inside the vagina. In small amounts, candida is normal and not a problem. In a healthy body, your gut bacteria and immune system keep your levels at bay. 

However, when your Candida levels get out of control and result in Candida overgrowth, it can become a problem. Candida overgrowth can lead to Candidiasis, a candida infection, that may cause thrush, genital yeast infection, and diaper rash. If Candida moves into your bloodstream and travels to your heart, brain, eyes, or bones, Candidiasis may turn into a life-threatening condition (3, 4).  Thankfully this complication is rare, and not what functional medicine doctors are referring to when discussing Candida problems with our patients.

Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth

A lot of people believe that Candida is only a female problem causing vaginal yeast infections. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Recurrent vaginal yeast infections are one common symptom of candida and yeast overgrowth. But you can have candida overgrowth without yeast infections. Candida can affect males and females and cause a variety of symptoms affecting your entire body

Symptoms of candida overgrowth may include:

  • Recurrent vaginal yeast infection
  • Oral thrush 
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Fatigue 
  • Sleep issues
  • Brain fog
  • Poor concentration and memory issues
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Anxiety, depression, and other mental health symptoms
  • Indigestion and acid reflux
  • Gas and bloating
  • Diarrhea, constipation, cramping, and digestive issues
  • Weight gain, increased belly fat, and obesity
  • Cravings for sugar, carbs, dairy, sour foods, and alcohol
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Runny nose and sinus infections
  • Allergies
  • Acne, eczema, rashes, and other skin problems
  • Itching
  • Earaches
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Rectal or vaginal itching
  • Muscle and joint pain

Candida Overgrowth and Gut Dysbiosis

Candida overgrowth and gut dysbiosis may be closely connected and we cannot address one without the other. According to a 2016 study published in PLoS Biology, the average human body is home to about 40 trillion bacterial cells (5). Considering that you only have about 30 trillion human cells, you are more bacteria than human (5, 6).

The Integrative Human Microbiome Project published in Cell Host & Microbe has found that about 1,000 different species of bacteria are located inside your gastrointestinal tract (7). The composition of these bacteria species is critical. 

Some of the bacteria in your gut are beneficial bacteria that promote health. Others are harmful or bad bacteria that can increase the risk factors for inflammation and disease. Though every person’s gut will have both good bacteria and harmful bacteria, gut microbiome balance is critical. You want to have more health-promoting bacteria than harmful ones. 

If you have too many bad gut bacteria, it will lead to gut microbiome imbalance or gut dysbiosis. Gut dysbiosis may increase the risk of chronic inflammation, leaky gut syndrome, autoimmunity, and chronic disease (8, 9, 10).

A 2019 study published in PLoS Pathogens has found that Candida overgrowth may lead to gut dysbiosis, which may increase the risk of infections (11). A 2020 study published in Frontiers in Immunology has found that Candida, fungal dysbiosis, and gut inflammation may play a role in autoimmunity in children (12).

A 2021 study published in PLOS Pathogens also discussed Candida colonization in the digestive tract may lead to gut dysbiosis, immune reactions, and consequent gut health issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, and other health issues, such as asthma or skin problems (13). Another 2021 study published in Gut Microbes has found that Candida may affect gut bacteria balance and gut health (14). They found that the interplay between the Candida fungus and bacteria may open the door for intestinal problems and infections and this connection should be considered during treatment and prevention.

Candida overgrowth and gut dysbiosis can both increase the risk of leaky gut syndrome (15, 16). In a healthy gut, tiny junctions within your gut lining are able to allow nutrients to pass into your bloodstream but stop undigested food particles, toxins, and pathogens from entering. An inflammatory diet, environmental toxins, stress, poor lifestyle choices, and other factors may break apart these tight junctions leading to larger holes that allow large food particles, toxins, and pathogens into your bloodstream as well. This may increase the risk of chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, and chronic health issues (17, 18, 19, 20).

Auto-Brewery Syndrome and Candida 

Auto-brewery syndrome. also named gut fermentation syndrome, may lead to a drunk feeling without drinking (21, 22). People with auto-brewery syndrome can have very high blood alcohol levels even without consuming any alcohol. You may develop auto-brewery syndrome because of Candida or fungal overgrowth.

Candida and other yeast and fungi feed on sugar and carbs that they can turn into energy. Through this process, they make waste products in the form of carbon dioxide and ethanol. Ethanol is a type of alcohol. When your body makes ethanol through fungal fermentation, it can move into your bloodstream and make its way around your body. Candida infection can lead to auto-brewery syndrome resulting in high blood alcohol levels and physical and psychological symptoms, including intoxication and hangover, even without drinking alcohol.

Underlying Cause of Candida Overgrowth

Candida overgrowth may develop due to a variety of reasons, including:

  • Antibiotic overuse: Though using antibiotics can be necessary for some health issues, antibiotics are overprescribed and overused in Canada and the United States. Antibiotic overuse, unfortunately, can lead to antibiotic resistance, gut dysbiosis, chronic inflammation, compromised immune health, and various health issues (23, 24). It may also lead to Candida overgrowth. According to a 2012 study published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, antibiotic overuse may lead to Fluconazole-resistant Candida infection (25).
  • A diet high in processed sugar, grains, and carbs: Refined and processed sugar and carbs can contribute to chronic inflammation and consequent health issues. It may also lead to Candida overgrowth. According to a 2015 study published in Frontiers in Biology, refined sugar and carbs and lactose (milk sugar) in dairy may disrupt gut health and promote Candida and yeast growth (26).
  • Oral contraceptives: Oral contraceptives can disrupt your hormonal balance. They may also lead to Candida overgrowth. A 2016 study published in the Iranian Red Crescent Medical Journal has found that oral contraceptives that contain estradiol may increase Candida overgrowth, especially in the oral cavity (27).
  • Drinking and smoking: Drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco both have a long list of health risks, including Candida overgrowth. A 2020 study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology has linked heavy drinking to Candida overgrowth (28). A 2021 study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine has found that smoking can increase the risk of Candida in the oral cavity (29).
  • Chronic stress: Chronic stress is one of the underlying driving factors of many health issues, including Candida overgrowth. A 2006 study published in Mycoses has found that stress may increase the risk of chronic vaginal candidiasis (30).
  • Heavy metal toxicity: Heavy metal toxicity is a major health risk that may contribute to Candida overgrowth among other issues. A 2007 study published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology has found that heavy metal ions can affect cellular differentiation in Candida and may promote Candida overgrowth (31).

Solutions of Candida

If you are experiencing symptoms of Candida overgrowth, read on for my tips to reduce Candida albicans and related symptoms.

Botanicals and Pharmaceuticals 

If you are experiencing symptoms of Candida overgrowth, there is a list of herbs and botanicals we can use to reduce overgrowth and symptoms. Herbs and botanicals for fighting Candida albicans may include:

  • Grapefruit extract (32)
  • Pau D’Arco (33)
  • Oregano (34)
  • Caprylic acid (35)
  • Ginger (36)
  • Berberine (37)
  • Turmeric (38)
  • Olive leaf (39)
  • Cinnamon (40)

More stubborn cases of Candida overgrowth may also benefit from taking Nystatin. Nystatin is a polyene antifungal medication that helps to stop fungal growth and to treat fungal infections in the lining of your stomach, gut, and mouth (41).  It has been used for a long time to treat thrush in babies and adults.  At higher doses Nystatin can be useful for addressing Candida overgrowth in the gut.  It is especially favourable since it is not absorbed into the bloodstream when ingested, concentrating its mode of action on fungal overgrowth in the gut.

Functional Medicine Protocol

Using botanicals and antifungal medication may help to stop Candida overgrowth or infections temporarily, but it’s not enough. You have to improve your gut health to ensure that Candida won’t get out of control again. You also want to remove all toxins and waste from Candida overgrowth and support the detoxification process.

Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

A poor diet can compromise your health and create a breeding ground for Candida overgrowth (42). Reduce your risks for Candida by following an anti-inflammatory, nutrient-dense nutrition plan. Remove foods that encourage Candida overgrowth, gut dysbiosis, or chronic inflammation, including refined sugar and refined carbohydrates, dairy, gluten, food sensitivities, refined oil, overly processed foods, and junk food. Eat plenty of greens, vegetables, herbs, spices, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meat, pasture-raised poultry and eggs, and wild-caught fish. For sweetness, choose low-glycemic index fruits, like berries; sweet root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, and squash; and gluten-free pseudograins, such as quinoa and amaranth. 

Support your gut with prebiotic-rich foods, such as artichokes, asparagus, onion, garlic, apples, leeks, jicama root, and dandelion greens, and probiotic-rich fermented foods, including sauerkraut, fermented vegetables and herbs, coconut yogurt, coconut kefir, and kombucha. If you are dealing with histamine intolerance, skip fermented foods as they can increase your histamine levels and trigger symptoms.  And if following a low FODMAPS diet, garlic and onions may not be for you.

Take Probiotics

As long as your gut microbiome is out of balance and you are dealing with gut dysbiosis, Candida will have an opportunity to repopulate. An unhealthy gut will have a more difficult time defending you from overgrowth, infection, or symptoms. According to a 2016 study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases, probiotics may help to reduce Candida growth and biofilm development (43). I recommend taking a daily probiotic supplement to support your gut microbiome and protect yourself from further Candida overgrowth.

Try Digestive Enzymes

Candida can develop a biofilm to protect itself inside the human gut. To effectively fight Candida, you need to get rid of this biofilm completely. Though some of the herbal supplements also help to break down Candida biofilm, digestive enzymes are also a great choice to take care of anything botanicals couldn’t break down. A 2007 study published in Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, has found that hemicellulase enzymes may help to reduce biofilm resistance in Candida (44). Digestive enzymes, of course, can also support your digestion as you are recovering from Candida overgrowth and gut dysbiosis. I recommend taking digestive enzymes with your meals temporarily while recovering from Candida overgrowth.

Use Binders

Binders are substances that bind to toxins and help to remove them through bowel movements. They can support detoxification, including during your recovery from Candida overgrowth. As you are addressing Candida overgrowth, there will be some toxic waste during the die-off process of the fungus. Activated charcoal and other binders can support your body’s detoxification abilities. A 2019 review published in Deutsches Arzteblatt International has found that activated charcoal may be effective for removing toxins and waste (45). As they help to remove waste quickly, binders may reduce your symptoms of Candida die-off as well. I recommend using activated charcoal to support cleansing and recovery from Candida overgrowth.

Next Steps

I recommend following my strategies to reduce the risk and symptoms of Candida overgrowth. If you are dealing with symptoms of Candida overgrowth, or other chronic health issues, or simply want to improve your health, wellness, and mental well-being, I welcome you to start a functional medicine consultation with me for further guidance to improve your health. You may book your consultation here. 

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