Great Smokies Medical Center of Asheville

Candida Overgrowth

Candida is a genus of fungal organisms that normally inhabit a healthy intestinal tract at low levels. Candida is also found in the environment, especially on plants and plant by-products (dried herbs and spices, paper, drywall, fabrics, etc.) and in soil and water. There are more than 200 species of Candida, including the most well known and most prevalent, C. albicans. Candida is normally kept in balance by abundant healthy bacteria in the colon and a healthy, whole foods diet, but it can quickly overgrow when healthy bacteria are decreased through poor nutrition, diets high in sugar, prolonged stress, imbalanced hormones, birth control pills, antibiotics (especially repeated courses of broad-spectrum antibiotics), alcohol, or environmental toxins, including those from moldy environments.

An overgrowth of Candida is seldom considered or diagnosed by mainstream medical doctors as a cause of severe or generalized health problems (other than in seriously immune-compromised patients or visible, localized outbreaks on the skin and mucus membranes). This lack of awareness can result in patients being clueless about the cause and solutions to their concerning symptoms, being told their symptoms are “all in their head,” and being frustrated with the lack of getting help with what ails them. The diagnosis of Candida-related health problems is controversial in mainstream medical practice.

Symptoms of Candida overgrowth range from mild to severe. Yeast overgrowth may be present as rashes and eruptions on the skin and mucus membranes: vaginitis, jock itch, thrush, fungal nails, diaper rash, fungal infections of toenails and fingernails, sinusitis, etc. (A 1999 study of chronic sinusitis at Mayo clinic showed that 96 percent of chronic sinusitis is caused by fungal infections, even though it is still routinely treated with antibiotics that treat bacterial infections.) When Candida overgrowth affects the intestines, symptoms including constipation and/or diarrhea, pain, rectal itching, gas, and bloating can result, and they can either mimic or contribute to Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel disease, gastritis, or gallbladder disease.

Candida overgrowth further results in the release of more than 70 known toxins, including ethanol and acetaldehyde that impair nerve and liver function. Candida-Related Complex (CRC) or Polysystemic Candidiasis are terms used when toxins from the digestive tract enter the general circulation and affect numerous body systems including lymphatic, immune, circulatory, musculoskeletal (e.g., fibromyalgia), neurological, and endocrine systems. Sleep, mood, emotions, cognition, and memory may be affected.

The use of antifungal drugs is inadequate as a stand-alone therapy to treat Candida overgrowth, but is often a part of a comprehensive treatment program. The use of antifungal drugs, just like the use of antibiotics, can result in tolerance (requiring increasing doses for the same effect), resistance (the yeast organisms alter themselves so they aren’t killed by antifungal drugs) and impaired immunity. To decrease the likelihood of tolerance and resistance occurring, the use of intermittent rather than continuous courses of antifungal drugs or the use of antifungal parades (rotating different antifungal drugs to decrease the likelihood of resistance to one drug developing) may be implemented. Avoid drinking alcohol when taking antifungal drugs.

A comprehensive, effective program that treats Candida overgrowth must “starve out” the yeast by getting sugary and processed foods and beverages out of the diet and healthy, nutrient-dense foods in the diet, by boosting health and immunity through the use of targeted nutritional supplements to support optimal function of the digestive, immune, and endocrine systems, and by making healthy lifestyle choices through attention to diet, stress, sleep, relaxation, etc. The treatment of Candida overgrowth occurs over time, more than a year for severe cases.

Candida is an opportunistic organism that feeds on dead tissues and thrives on sugars – all sugars including honey, maple syrup, fructose, maltose, dextrose, and the sugars in all fruits and fruit juices (with the exception of small amounts of fresh lemon or lime juice -lemonade is not allowed), candies, chocolate, pastries, cakes, desserts, alcoholic beverages, sodas, jams, jellies, and beverages. Refined carbohydrates (white rice, white flour, white bread, white pasta) -also feed Candida, contribute little to nutrition, and burden digestive systems that do not function well when fed these processed, nutrient-sparse foods. Reactions to other dietary yeasts and molds are common in the early stages of treatment, including reactions to fermented, moldy, or fungal-based foods such as peanuts, vinegar, sauerkraut, mushrooms, pickles, soy sauce, tofu, tempeh, brewer’s yeast (in beer and wine) and baker’s yeast (in breads, crackers, bagels, pastries, and other baked goods), and cheese, especially soft or visibly molded cheeses such as blue cheese. It is not uncommon for people with Candida overgrowth to have “leaky gut,” a condition of increased permeability in the gaps between cells that line the digestive tract. People with leaky gut are vulnerable to malnutrition from malabsorption and also from food allergy that results when incompletely digested, large food particles enter the circulation and provoke antibody formation. Delayed food allergy contributes significantly to not only diseases of the digestive tract, but also to many other health problems. The most common delayed food allergens are corn, citrus, egg, soy, yeast, dairy, and wheat. (Refer to GSMC newsletter Health Matters re: Delayed Food Allergy for further information.)

Factors that co-exist with and contribute to Candida overgrowth include:

• Moldy indoor environments emit mycotoxins that undermine immune health and interfere with successful results with even the best efforts to reduce Candida overgrowth. A low-toxin environment free from molds (and pesticides, herbicides, solvents, etc.) is essential to the body’s healing.

• Infestations with worms and parasites affect digestive and immune health and can also be present in people who have Candida overgrowth. There is no better time to treat these uninvited dinner guests than at the same time you are decreasing your Candida population – in fact, doing so is required for restore health of the affected digestive organs and the immune system.

• Stress obstructs healing and potentiates the harmful effects of injuries, diseases, and toxins on the body. Stress is addictive, likely from the energy and heightened feeling from the rush of adrenalin that occurs with stress, irrespective of the “crash” that inevitably follows. Whoever said that stress is a killer wasn’t kidding. But before it kills you, it can seriously undermine your quality of life. A positive self-esteem is the best elixir of immune function. Stress, in particular stress that negatively affects self esteem, causes embarrassment or feelings of mortification, or undermines self-confidence and worthiness has strong negative effects on immune function. Successfully meeting challenges, even small ones, can help gradually restore self-esteem. Humans are the only animals on earth that push their limitations, spend all their waking hours involved in tasks even when exhausted, and don’t rest. If your body could talk it would say, “Stop it.” Instead it gives you symptoms such as headaches and fatigue that are too often interpreted only as annoying interferences with your life, rather than important clues to developing health problems. The world won’t stop spinning if you rest; in fact it will be a better place. (Refer to GMSC’s newsletters that discuss: stress and health and stress and immunity for more information.)
• Impaired digestion, including constipation and diarrhea, needs to be addressed to enhance success with the program to lower Candida overgrowth. Contributors to constipation include low fiber diets, not drinking enough water, lack of exercise, and imbalances in normal bowel flora (including Candida overgrowth), but can also be a result of food allergy, neurological illnesses, nerve pressure in lumbar spine, hemorrhoids, medication side effects, malnutrition, and pantothenic acid (vitamin B5) deficiency.

• Adrenal fatigue and low thyroid function are common in patients with Candida overgrowth because chronic infection or inflammation can tax the adrenal glands and because toxins, especially mercury, can impair thyroid function. Adrenal and thyroid functioning commonly need support during recovery from Candida overgrowth.

• Imbalances in sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone especially hormonal events in life (pregnancy, menopause, hysterectomy, and the use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapies) commonly contribute to Candida overgrowth and may require support during treatment and recovery from Candida overgrowth, including herbal support and desensitization to hormones.

• Eating foods to which a person is allergic undermines digestive and immune health.

• Heavy metal toxicity, especially mercury, blocks the function of numerous processes in the body including white blood cells, one of the players in the body’s defense against infections such as Candida. Because Candida is thought to bear the burden of mercury in the body, mercury toxicity must be treated before Candida can be successfully treated in some individuals to prevent increased Hg exposure from dying Candida organisms. Exposure to mercury can start before birth from maternal exposures that cross the placenta and continue throughout life. Sources include “silver” or gray dental amalgams, mercury in vaccines (thimerosal), eating larger fish (especially tuna, mackerel, swordfish, and shark), some tainted cosmetics, and mercury from industrial stack emissions, notably coal-fired energy plants.

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