Fungal organisms such as candida are normally present in the body in limited numbers and are considered commensal (i.e., they are neither beneficial nor harmful). However, they always hold the potential for overgrowth (a condition called candidiasis or yeast infection). Candida is one of the oldest surviving life-forms and it has had eons to perfect its adaptability.
Candida organisms compete with acidophilus and bifidobacteria for attachment sites along the intestinal walls. When antibiotics kill off its competitors, candida will seize this opportunity to take the upper hand. Other factors that encourage the candida overgrowth include sugar in the diet (sugar not only feeds the candida, but also suppresses the immune system), a high intake of carbohydrates (which are broken down into simple sugars), hormonal changes (including those brought about by oral contraceptives and pregnancy), the use of antacids and H2 blockers (which decrease the acidity of the digestive tract, promoting maximal attachment of candida), and immune suppression (due to steroids, chemotherapy, or illness).
When they are present in large numbers, candida organisms can:
· Sensitize the host to yeast and molds (leading to allergic responses, including asthma, hives, eczema, and food sensitivities).
· Colonize the gastrointestinal tract by attaching themselves to the mucosa and putting out roots (thereby compromising the barrier between the gastrointestinal tract and the bloodstream).
· Release toxic by-products (mycotoxins) that are absorbed into the bloodstream and can disturb organs and tissues in other more distant bodily systems.
· Release immunosuppressive factors that in low doses specifically inhibit lymphocyte response to candida (and possibly, in high doses, have broader immune suppressive effects).
There is probably no other condition that more clearly highlights the difference between conventional and integrative medicine. The medical establishment claims this condition barely exists, whereas practitioners of integrative medicine see it and treat it quite frequently. It is associated with many symptoms, from mild to debilitating. Candida overgrowth can be a multisymptom, multisystem disorder that greatly complicates a patient’s clinical picture.
Signs and symptoms of candidiasis include:
· Poor memory
· “Brain fog”
· Muscle aches
· Joint pain or swelling
· Gastrointestinal complaints, bloating and nausea
· Chronic stuffy nose
· White tongue, white patches in mouth
· Recurrent fungal infections of the fingernails/toenails
· Recurrent vaginal infections
· Rashes and other skin problems
· Cravings for sweets
· Premenstrual syndrome
· Sensitivity to yeast/mold
· Chemical sensitivities, food intolerances
· Autoimmune problems
· Puffiness, water retention
· Nausea (can lead to unintentional weight loss)
· Weight gain, difficulty losing weight
Many patients have had such a severe yeast problem that their quality of life suffered greatly. However, they have made dramatic turnarounds after taking steps to control the candida overgrowth. Treatment for candidiasis depends upon the severity of the symptoms and can include:
· Dietary modifications. Eliminate sugar; avoid fruit and fruit juices; avoid dairy products; eliminate yeast-containing foods (including bread); avoid fermented foods, such as vinegar; eliminate alcohol; eliminate processed foods; and eliminate any foods to which your are sensitive; stubborn cases can respond to specialized diets such as GAPS or SCD.
· Natural antifungal medications. Nystatin is a widely prescribed antifungal that is not absorbed, so systemic side effects are few. In fact, it is one of the few drugs that are not problematic during pregnancy. However, yeast die-off can be greater with nystatin. We use a gradually increasing fluconazole (Diflucan), itraconazole (Sporanox), and ketoconazole (Nizoral) can be even more effective in certain circumstances. However, liver function must be monitored with these medications, especially with Nizoral, as they can adversely affect the liver. Experience with many patients suggests that the occurrence of liver problems with the newer medications (Diflucan and Sporanox) are infrequent and fully reversible upon discontinuation of the drug. One should routinely add liver-protective nutrients and herbs whenever using stronger systemic antifungals.
Probiotics and prebiotics. It’s important to restock the GI tract with friendly microorganisms, which have many beneficial effects (and no known side effects). One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that “daily ingestion of 8 ounces of yogurt containing Lactobacillus acidophilus decreased both candidal colonization and infection”1.
1Eileen Hilton et al., “Ingestion of Yogurt Containing Lactobacillus acidophilus as Prophylaxis for Candidal Vaginitis,” Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 116, No. 5 (1992): p. 353