You may not hear about Candida overgrowth as much anymore, but there’s more evidence than ever that this syndrome is real and is often associated with other gut problems that cause a wide variety of symptoms throughout the body.
Back when I was beginning my naturopathic medical education in the late 1990s, everyone was talking about Candida yeast overgrowth. The terms “chronic candidiasis,” “yeast syndrome,” and “intestinal candidiasis” were the labels most often used for this condition, in which yeasts that belong to the genus Candida (especially Candida albicans) overgrow in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This Candida overgrowth, essentially a chronic, low-grade Candida yeast infection of the intestines, was believed to cause a wide variety of symptoms in virtually every body system.
At that time, there was very little research on yeast overgrowth in the intestines. It was known then, just as it is known today, that Candida yeasts normally live on the skin and mucous membranes, including those of the GI tract, without causing infection. Conventionally trained physicians were (and still are) taught that Candida yeasts found in the gut, even if they are found in abnormally large numbers, are not causally related to symptoms or disease, do not constitute a health hazard, and do not require treatment.
There is small but growing body of scientific evidence, however, that disputes these assumptions. The recent research indicates that yeast overgrowth in the intestines does occur and is associated with a variety of symptoms and other health conditions which improve with antifungal treatment.
For example, Candida overgrowth of the GI tract was found in recent studies to:
• Promote the development of food allergies by increasing intestinal permeability and affecting immune function.[1,2]
• Aggravate inflammation not only in the gut but in tissues all throughout the body, increasing the risk of allergies and autoimmune diseases.[3,6]
• Directly correlate with the amount of inflammation and severity of symptoms in patients with ulcers, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis.[4,5,6]
• Increase with the use of antibiotics, especially when there is already inflammation in the intestines.
• Increase with the use of proton pump inhibitors.
• Cause the same symptoms as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) when it occurs in the small intestine. SIBO symptoms include abdominal pain, chest pain, belching, bloating, fullness, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, gas, malabsorption, and vitamin deficiencies.
• Promote inflammation in the lungs.
• Occur more commonly in people with psoriasis and other inflammatory skin disorders.
• Occur more commonly in people with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Furthermore, people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have more antibodies in their blood to Candida albicans. The severity of IBS symptoms is directly associated with levels of those antibodies. People with “medically unexplained symptoms” who also score high on a standardized Candida questionnaire called the Fungus Related Disease Questionnaire-7 also have higher levels of antibodies against Candida albicans. These people often have a history of frequent or long-term antibiotic use along with symptoms like frequent yeast infections, sugar cravings, and fatigue. Higher levels of antibodies against Candida albicans indicates the immune system is hypersensitive to the yeast or may simply reflect greater exposure to it (due to Candida yeast overgrowth).
Candida is less in the spotlight today, I believe, because of the fact that conventional medicine has long denied the existence of chronic candidiasis and therefore the overall body research on it is still relatively small. In addition, I think we hear less about Candida because we now have greater knowledge of the entire intestinal microbiota (which includes fungi and bacteria) and the gut barrier system, as well as better ways of diagnosing problems related to gastrointestinal function, including DNA analysis of the GI microbiota.
With this knowledge comes greater understanding of all the problems that can arise when these aspects of gut health become dysfunctional, including not only yeast overgrowth, but SIBO, leaky gut syndrome (increased intestinal permeability), and intestinal dysbiosis. Nowadays, with more sophisticated testing methods and greater understanding of all these conditions, we often see Candida yeast overgrowth occurring in conjunction with SIBO, leaky gut syndrome, and intestinal dysbiosis. And because SIBO and leaky gut syndrome do not have the same long history of denial by conventionally trained physicians, they are more widely studied and accepted by mainstream medicine.
Candida yeast overgrowth in the gut is a very real condition that is finally the subject of medical research, although much more is needed. Natural and integrative doctors who have been treating this condition for decades have seen thousands of sick patients recover from chronic candidiasis by using comprehensive treatment plans that not only eradicate the fungus using appropriate antifungal agents, but also identify and reduce predisposing factors, such as dietary factors, impaired immunity, impaired detoxification function, or underlying disease states. To find an integrative doctor near you, search in the Natural Health Advisory Directory. Be sure to also download the free report, Natural Health 101, for a quick guide to taking charge of your health.
Kathleen Jade, ND is a licensed Naturopathic Physician in the Seattle area where she conducts natural health research and writes for Natural Health Advisory Institute. Contact Dr. Kathleen by commenting on one of her blogs. She has written a recently released e-Book Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.
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