Candida Overgrowth and the Gut

The dreaded candida, nobody ever wants an overgrowth of this detrimental yeast. Candida albicans is a part of our gut flora, however an overgrowth can result in various uncomfortable symptoms and is very resistant to treatment.

The body is home to a large variety of microorganisms and a delicate balance among them is important for good health. Bacteria are the most common organisms in the gut, however our body also supports a small amount of yeasts, one of which is Candida albicans, also known as candida.

Candida is commonly found in non-pathogenic amounts in the gastrointestinal tract, vagina, and on the skin. A healthy amount of candida is usually maintained and kept in check by our immune system and other bacteria. Health issues can arise if candida growth is out of control and overgrows in one or more areas of the body.

Signs and symptoms:

Image of Candida albicans from the Public Health Image Library

Image of Candida albicans from the Public Health Image Library

  • Acne and rashes
  • Abdominal bloating and/or cramping
  • Excessive burping and flatulence
  • Loose stool and/or constipation
  • Cravings for sugar and/or alcohol
  • Brain fog and difficulty concentrating 
  • Aggravation of ADHD
  • Anxiety and/or depression
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Joint pain and inflammation
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Other candida infections


Causes

All fungal infections proliferate easier if the immune system is taxed and/or low.

Some of the most common causes of candida GI overgrown include:

  • Use of antibiotics
  • Chronic NSAID (Advil for example) and cortisone use
  • Dysbiosis (out of balance gut flora)
  • Diet high in sugar and/or alcohol (a major source of fuel for candida)
  • High estrogen
  • Stress

Digestion

Candida overgrowth can significantly affect digestion, leaving its sufferers with excessive burping, flatulence, bloating, loose stool and/or constipation. Too much of this yeast can decrease the integrity of the gastrointestinal barrier, allowing more substances through than usual (what we often call "leaky gut"). This further disturbs the fragile homeostasis of our digestive tract, making it more difficult to keep yeast numbers under control.

Hangovers and Systemic Candida: they have more in common than you think

Symptoms of systemic candida after a simple carb heavy meal can produce symptoms similar to those of a hangover: brain fog, headaches, and fatigue.

Candida has been found to release a large variety of substances into the digestive tract and sometimes blood, one of which is acetaldehyde. This chemical compound is usually produced in the liver from alcohol, contributing to the brain fog and other symptoms we call a hangover. Constant, larger than usual doses of acetaldehyde produced from a candida overgrowth can overwhelm the liver. This may result in feeling worse than expected after alcohol consumption, or feeling disagreeable physical effects similar to a hang over after eating sugar or simple carbs.


Testing

There a few tests available that may be recommended by a Naturopathic physician. CDSA testing stands for the Complete Digestive Stool Analysis, which includes microscopic examination and/or a yeast culture of the stool. Another test, serum IgG/IgM/IgA, measures antibodies (immune cells) for candida in a blood sample. Neither tests are fail-safe measures however, but can prove to be useful information when presenting signs and symptoms are taken into consideration.


What Would Treatment for Candida Look Like?

Candida can develop pseudohyphae and hyphae

Candida can develop pseudohyphae and hyphae

Candida is an incredibly resistant, unwanted guest. There are several factors that contribute to treatment resistance:

  1. Candida is polymorphic. This means it can change and morph into different states that are more likely to survive when it’s environment changes
  2. Candida can develop pseudohyphae and hyphae. This gives it the ability to invade tissue
  3. Candida can develop spores, meaning it can lie dormant for some time to protect itself against harsh environments like those created by the introduction of antifungals

 

As such, treatment is generally longer-term (6 month to a year or longer), multifaceted, and I break it down into 3 general steps:

Goldenseal is a powerful antibacteria, antiviral, and antifungal herb

Goldenseal is a powerful antibacteria, antiviral, and antifungal herb

  1. Preparing for antifungals with an anti-candida diet and some herbs to support the liver.
  2. Antifungals: several powerful antifungal herbs like Pau D’arco, Goldenseal, and garlic for example are taken in rotation, as to decrease the chance of candida building up resistance.
  3. Healing the gut by supporting enterocytes (cell of the gut) and adding other digestive support if necessary. A round of probiotics is usually recommended at this point to support the gut flora if it hasn’t been introduced to treatment already.


Herxheimer Reaction

As mentioned earlier, one of the many metabolites released by candida is called acetaldehyde, a substance that can cause abdominal discomfort, brain fog, and more. When candida dies off it is said to dump acetaldehyde into the system. This means symptoms of candida can sometimes aggravate for 1-3 days after starting antifungals. A treatment protocol may have to be adjusted depending on the severity and type of the symptoms while introducing the antifungals.


It’s most likely not the whole story

Very rarely are symptoms due to what would seem to be solely one cause, and there are so many other issues that can contribute to similar symptoms to candida. An overgrowth of yeast will make it more likely for other pathogenic organisms to take hold in the gut, will overburden the liver, and can contribute to leaky gut syndrome. Treating existing candida may not take away all symptoms, but can be a key factor to bringing digestion back into a healthy balance.