Candida is a yeast that naturally lives on the surfaces of our mouth, intestines and skin and is a normal part of our microbiome (the mix of yeasts and bacteria that live all over the outside and inside of our body). At normal levels, this fungus is not problematic, but if the composition of our microbiome is disturbed for some reason, then this yeast becomes opportunistic and can grow to pathogenic levels. This can lead to candida overgrowth on our skin, vagina (in the form of thrush) and/or mouth.
Factors that can lead to a candida overgrowth include:
- Antibiotics – especially a few rounds one after the other and/or long term antibiotics. These drugs cause a disturbance in the microbiome and give candida the opportunity to multiply.
- A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates. Candida loves sugar! The health and diversity of the microbiome is very much driven by diet. A high sugar and refined carbohydrate diet e.g. Weetbix for lunch, biscuits for morning tea, a sandwich for lunch and a plate of pasta for dinner will encourage pathogenic bacteria and yeasts such as candida to grow. A candida overgrowth will also drive sweet cravings so clients with chronic candida often find that it a challenge to cut back as they are constantly craving sugar. We are what out microbes eat!
- A high alcohol intake. Alcohol is damaging in the gut, and the high sugar content of alcohol can drive a candida overgrowth. You may find that you wake up with thrush after a big night of alcohol consumption.
- A weakened immune system. There is a chicken and egg scenario when it comes to immunity. Does a suppressed immune system affect our gut bacteria or does the state of our gut bacteria suppress the immune system. The latter is definitely the case.
- Oral contraceptives
- High stress levels
Symptoms of a candida overgrowth include:
- Oral thrush. White bumpy patches appear on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, tonsils or throat, and the tongue and mouth can become reddened and uncomfortable. It is most common in newborns, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system especially if there is poor oral hygiene or if they are using removable dentures.
- Tiredness and fatigue. One of the most common symptoms I see in clients with candida overgrowth. A perpetual, deep seated fatigue that doesn’t go away, and it is quite common in my chronic fatigue syndrome clients.
- Recurring genital thrush. I ask all of my clients if they experience or have experienced vaginal or penile thrush as it gives me a good idea of how their microbiome is doing. Symptoms of vaginal candidiasis include redness, swelling, itching, painful intercourse and a thick, cottage cheese like discharge from the vagina. Some clients experience chronic infections or it persistently returns every couple of months, especially around the time before the menstrual period. This signifies that candida has gotten out of control.
- Recurring urinary tract infections. This type of infection is less common that genital thrush but can suggest a candida overgrowth especially if thrush is also present. Symptoms of UTIs include a burning feeling on urination, urinary urgency, cloudy, dark or strong smelling urine and pain or pressure in the lower abdomen.
- Gastro intestinal symptoms. Candida is part of our gut microbiome so an imbalance will cause gut symptoms and candida overgrowth has been linked to serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Frequent sinus infections. Most short-term sinus infections are caused by bacteria. However, longer-term chronic infections can frequently be caused by fungi and mould. Unfortunately, chronic sinus infections are often treated with antibiotics, which can actually make them worse. It is sensible to get a swab taken from the sinus passages so a definite diagnosis can be obtained and a specific treatment identified.
- Frequent skin and nail fungal infections. Candida can also get out of control on our skin microbiome and lead to persistent skin and nail infections. Moist and warm areas such as the groin and armpits are particularly prone to skin candidiasis although it can appear anywhere. Fungal rashes tend to be solid, red, raised areas rather than bumpy rashes.
- Joint pain. If a candida overgrowth is left untreated, it can become systemic i.e. enter the blood stream and travel around the body. It can lead to candida infections in joints and bones, which can contribute to the all-over achy feel that may candida sufferers experience.
When I work with my clients who obviously have a candida overgrowth, the first thing I do is encourage a major reduction in the consumption of sugars and refined carbohydrates. We need to starve the candida of it’s fuel source. Our beneficial bacteria love fresh vegetables so increasing these in the diet, especially in raw form, helps the good bugs to fight back. Fruit consumption is something that we keep very low at the start as fruit is loaded with natural sugars. Alcohol is kept to a bare minimum or taken out of the diet completely and beneficial anti fungal foods such as raw garlic, coconut oil, turmeric and fermented foods are added to help restore balance in the microbiome. After a short period of time the symptoms reduce and my clients are restored to good health.