Candida overgrowth is a common cause of digestive disturbance. Candida is a type of yeast, which is naturally and normally occurring in the intestinal tract. Healthy candida levels are vital for proper nutrient absorption and to protect the intestinal tract from other infections. Since the gut has its own immune and neurological systems, keeping the natural ecology in balance is key.
One of the easiest ways to avoid yeast overgrowth is to limit dietary intake of sugars, carbs and alcohol. Yeast feeds on sugar, so anything that breaks down to sugar (which even complex carbs do) is a potential fuel source for yeast. Alcohol, being mostly sugar and yeast, is a perfect fuel source.
Taking probiotics is another good preventive measure. The more beneficial flora you put in, the less imbalances tend to occur. Adequate amount of good yeast and bacteria will crowd out the bad guys. Acidophilus and bifidus strains are helpful, as is Saccromyces boulardi. Saccromyces is actually a type of yeast itself. While this might sound counter-intuitive, it actually is a “good” yeast, which can help crowd out “bad yeast”.
Since antibiotic use is one of the causes of yeast overgrowth (they tend to wipe out everything in the gut, good and bad, allowing for yeast to take a hold), patients taking antibiotics must be especially careful to take high-potency probiotics as a preventive measure.
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth are many and varied, and can mimic other health conditions. Relating to digestive function, bad breath, bloating, gas and loose stools are common. More systemically, fatigue, lethargy, brain fog, itchy skin, athletes foot, vaginal itching/ irritation, PMS, depression and mood swings are just some of the possible symptoms.
To evaluate for yeast overgrowth, there are two primary tests to run. One is a blood test checking for antibodies (immune cells that might show reactivity to candida). The other is urine test looking for the actual metabolites of Candida. If levels are found to be high, or if we diagnose yeast overgrowth based on history and symptom picture, we will start an anti-fungal regimen.
Nutrition has to be part of an anti-fungal program. Low sugar, low carb, low alcohol is best. Some avoidance of “yeasty” foods such as mushrooms, breads and vinegars can be helpful.
Some anti-Candida diets are so regimented and so strict they make life miserable for the person trying to follow them. We believe that Candida can be rebalanced with a moderate dietary approach along with supplemental anti-fungal remedies.
There are many natural anti-fungal agents that can be used – garlic, pau d’arco, caprylic acid, oregano oil and grapefruit seed extract are some common ones. From a prescription standpoint, Nystatin is safe and effective – it is not absorbed systemically, rather it works in the gut to kill yeast and is then excreted. This means that there is no potential for liver toxicity. The more aggressive medication is fluconazole, which is used more for severe, systemic yeast problems.
Intestinal candida overgrowth is very common. It can usually be balanced with a combination of dietary changes, along with anti-fungal herbs and/or medications. However, it is important to remember that yeast overgrowth is often a symptom of something else in the digestive tract that has gone awry, such as parasites or inflammation from gluten intolerance, so further investigation of these factors is necessary to find lasting resolution.