It’s often noted that though the human body is made up of 100 trillion cells, the vast majority of these cells—something like 9 out of 10—aren’t really “our” cells. These other cells are microorganisms, including bacteria. It’s estimated that anywhere from 500 to 1,000 kinds of bacteria live just in your gut. We’re now coming to understand how important these bacteria are, and why problems that stem from the gut can have so many implications for your overall health.
Candida can be a serious threat to your gut health. Candida is a catchall term for a whole genus of yeasts, all of which put together account for the majority of fungal infections. It’s normal for a tiny amount of candida to be present in your mouth and intestines, helping with digestion and nutrient absorption. If the amount of candida increases, however, it can wreak havoc throughout your digestive system. It can actually break through your intestinal walls and enter your bloodstream, causing leaky gut syndrome. Candida overgrowth is also related to a wide range of health issues, from skin problems and fungal infections to autoimmune diseases and emotional disorders. How do you know if you have candida overgrowth, and what can you do to correct it?
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
Normally, the good bacteria in your gut will keep the level of candida at what your body needs. However, factors that diminish the good bacteria or that feed the candida (remember, it’s a yeast) can cause candida overgrowth. Stress, oral contraceptives, and antibiotics can all cause your good bacteria to die off. Alcohol consumption, a diet high in refined carbs and sugars, or eating fermented foods (like sauerkraut, pickles, or Kombucha) are all factors that can feed the candida, encouraging it to growth.
What are the Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth?
It can be difficult to isolate candida overgrowth because there are so many potential ways that it can manifest. The only way to know for sure that candida overgrowth is the culprit behind an illness is to specifically test for it—more on that in a minute. Here are some of the conditions where candida overgrowth can play a role:
- Fungal infections of the skin and nails (like athlete’s foot or toenail fungus)
- Urinary tract or vaginal infections
- White coating on the tongue (thrush)
- Vaginal or rectal itching
- Skin problems including hives, rashes, eczema, acne, and psoriasis
- Digestive problems including bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
- Craving sweet or sugary foods
- Joint aches
- Severe seasonal allergies
- Anxiety, irritability, mood swings, or depression
- Exhaustion, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia
- Problems with memory, focus, and concentration; brain fog; symptoms of ADD or ADHD
- Autoimmune diseases including rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, scleroderma, Hashimoto’s, lupus, or multiple sclerosis
Can You Test for Candida Overgrowth?
Here’s the good news—there are several different ways that you can test for candida overgrowth, making it relatively easy to find out if this yeast is to blame for your symptoms. Blood tests are most common, and can be checked by any lab. High levels of IgG, IgA, or IgM, all of which are candida antibodies, can indicate an overgrowth of candida. When positive, these can be helpful, but blood tests too often give false negatives. That means that your blood test could come back negative even when another form of test shows positive results.
Urine can be tested using the urine organix dysbiosis test. It looks for a waste product of candida called D-Arabatinol. When this exists in elevated amounts, it indicates an overgrowth of candida in your upper gut and/or small intestine.
Dr. Tang finds that a stool test delivers the most accurate results when determining the presence of candida overgrowth. A stool test checks for candida in the colon (lower intestine), and lab results can usually determine which species of yeast is present, helping to determine which treatments will be most effective. Though any lab can check for candida overgrowth, it’s important that your doctor orders a comprehensive stool test rather than the standard test.
How Do You Treat Candida Overgrowth?
Once it’s been determined that you have candida overgrowth, the next step is to bring your gut health back into balance. An effective treatment will stop the candida overgrowth, restore the levels of good bacteria that regulate candida, and heal your gut so that candida cannot enter your bloodstream.
To cut back on the candida itself, you need to cut off its food supply. Yeast feeds on sugar, so getting rid of sugar—from candy and desserts, but also in alcohol, baked goods, and other foods that contain flour—is critical. It is also important to identify any food allergies or intolerances. In many cases, gluten or lactose intolerance contributes to candida overgrowth both by causing harm to the gut lining itself through inflammation and by hindering digestion and nutrient absorption (so the yeast have more to feed on). That contributes to leaky cut disease, allowing candida to leave your digestive system and wreak havoc throughout your body. Also, it is important to avoid foods that contain yeast itself, since these can introduce more yeast into your gut. This includes bread, packaged foods (which often contain baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast), cheese, and wine (sorry, but yeast is used to ferment wine!). Dr. Tang also recommends eliminating fermented foods, which can help encourage the yeast.
You also need to add more of the “good guys” so that the candida population gets back under control. Dr. Tang recommends taking probiotics on a regular basis in order to maintain a healthy gut biome. When you’re first trying to get rid of candida overgrowth, however, you might need an extra-strong dose to allow the good bacteria to begin recolonizing your gut. This can cause some GI symptoms, so if you’re sensitive you may need to work up to a stronger dose of probiotics. If you’re curious about how to choose an effective probiotic, check out our blog post on what to look for in a probiotic supplement.
This takes time—generally, it’s about three to six months before candida levels are back under control. There are ways to speed up the treatment, including oil of oregano and caprylic acid. Caprylic acid, which comes from coconut oil, eats away at the yeast’s cell walls, causing it to die. It doesn’t harm your good bacteria, though if you start experiencing discomfort it’s a good idea to back off on aggressive treatments.
What is Candida Die-Off?
Cutting out carbs, sugars, and alcohol, plus restricting inflammatory foods, is already a tall order. For some people though, restoring gut balance can be even more difficult because of Candida Die-Off. Technically called the Herxheimer reaction, the symptoms are the result of the 79 different toxins that the yeast cells release when they die. These include ethanol and acetaldehyde, the latter of which can impact your endocrine, immune, and respiratory systems, and even your brain. The die-off symptoms can be intense, and are a major reason why patients will stop following a candida elimination diet before gut balance has been restored.
Symptoms of candida die-off can manifest in many ways, because the toxins released by the dying yeast can impact so many of your body’s systems. They also vary depending on what kind of candida your body has been host to and the degree of infestation. Many of the symptoms can also easily be mistaken for symptoms of the flu. Herxheimer reaction symptoms include:
- Headache, fatigue, dizziness, and “brain fog”
- Swollen glands
- Bloating, gas, constipation, or diarrhea
- Increased joint or muscle pain
- Elevated heart rate
- Chills or cold extremities
- Body itchiness, hives, or rashes, or skin breakouts
- Sweating or fever
- Recurring vaginal, prostate, or sinus infections
How Can You Ease Candida Die-Off Symptoms?
If you are trying to eliminate candida overgrowth and are suffering from die-off symptoms, there are several steps you can take to relieve your symptoms and help your body to expel the toxins. In general, candida die-off symptoms normally resolve within a week or so. If you have persistent or especially severe symptoms, it’s a good idea to see a doctor.
• Take a supplement that supports your liver, which is your body’s main tool when it comes to eliminating toxins. An overtaxed liver can exacerbate the symptoms of candida die-off because your body is not able to efficiently remove all of the toxins being produced. Supplementing with molybdenum is helpful, because it converts acetaldehyde into acetic acid, allowing your body to expel it (or even convert it into digestive enzymes). Dr. Tang also recommends a liver support supplement that contains alpha lipoic acid, N-Acetyl Cysteine, Milk Thistle, and multi-B vitamins to assist in removing these toxins.
• Drink plenty of water! It’s an easy way to help flush out toxins and ease the strain on your liver.
• If you’ve been taking an antifungal, cut back on your dose or temporarily discontinue use. An antifungal is a potent way to directly attack yeast cells, but killing all of that candida is what’s releasing so many toxins. When your die-off symptoms abate, you can gradually raise your dosage back to normal.
• The opposite approach to killing off the candida is to increase your levels of probiotics, or good bacteria. Though this is less likely to cause candida die-off, if you are experiencing symptoms you may want to temporarily cut back on probiotics.
• Make sure you get enough rest! If you’re stressed out and run down, you’re overextending your adrenals and keeping your immune system from functioning at its best. To make sure that your immune system can help fight off the candida, take it easy during the day and make sure you get enough sleep at night. You can also up your daily dose of Vitamin C (1000 mg twice daily is a good amount) and Vitamin D (5000 IU) to further support your immune system. If you have adrenal fatigue, you can also help your adrenals by taking Rejuvé’s Adrenal Support or Adrenal Core supplements.
Are you experiencing symptoms that might be caused by candida overgrowth? Do you want to find out whether you have a food allergy, or need to make modifications to your diet? Dr. Tang can help, with expert testing and personalized advice. Call Rejuvé at 408-740-5320 to make an appointment for your consultation.
image by Pulmonary Pathology