Wednesday, January 27, 2010

How do you get a candida overgrowth?

Our bodies have an entire ecosystem of good and bad bugs, all co-existing somewhat peacefully until something disrupts the balance.  Yeast such as candida albicans (commonly referred to as "candida") reside in moist areas like the sinuses, ears, vagina, and the intestines.  These yeast, however, can overgrow their peaceful boundaries and act like parasites, living and growing off their generous host (us) by eating the sugars, starches, and fermented foods we feed them. 

Taking antibiotics is the primary way that candida grow wildly out of control, although stress and bad nutrition can play a part as well. Antibiotics kill all bacteria -- the bad ones and good ones -- which then removes the biggest source of natural competition for candida to keep them under control.  When the good bacteria are gone, the candida in the gut and elsewhere are free to grow wild in populating themselves and cause "yeast infections" anywhere.   

A candida overgrowth situation can cause, and contribute to, to all kinds of health issues -- from minor symptoms in the beginning, to very serious health problems over time. How do we know this?  Primarily because many many people with very severe health problems have been able to regain their health, fully, by first getting rid of a candida overgrowth.  

What are some of the health problems a candida overgrowth might cause or contribute to?   Some of the most common are:  
tiredness, fatigue, or severe fatigue
headaches or migraines
muscle or joint aches, any other types of pain or body aching
inflammation of any kind
weight gain, inability to lose weight
bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhea
foggy brain, inability to focus or concentrate
hormone problems (especially thyroid and adrenal)
PMS, menstrual problems of any kind (hormonal), infertility
sleeping problems (insomnia of any kind)
autoimmune symptoms and diseases (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis)
eczema, skin problems
frequent vaginal "infections"
sinus infections
hay fever, allergies, food allergies
nerve problems
low-functioning immune system, frequent viruses
mood issues, irritability, depression, anxiety, panic attacks
and on and on

The above list of possibilities seems almost random, affecting every system in the body -- how can that be?  When the digestive tract (the gut) is compromised, there's a domino effect in the body -- partly because lots of important functions happen in the gut, but also because the yeast can get OUT.   

The actual symptoms of an overgrowth can be very mild, at first. Some mild GI distress of some type can occur, such as constipation, gas, burping, or bloating after eating.  Sugar cravings are very common but are  not necessarily present.  Intead, there might be cravings for bread, yeasty, or fermented foods (like vinegar) -- or just fruit or fruit juice.

Strangely, GI symptoms may not even be present in some people. But over time, there will be symptoms of some kind, even if it's some fatigue, sleepiness after eating, a bit of brain fogginess, or not sleeping as well. It can be different for everyone.  

After years of the candida growing out-of-control and the good bacteria in the gut not being repopulated, there can then be a pronounced decline in health. The really difficult thing is that this decline and the resulting symptoms may not appear to have anything to do with the gut!  This is why it's often difficult to make the connection between antibiotics taken 5 or 10 years before -- and a candida problem. But that's how long it can take for severe symptoms to start showing up -- years.   

Just know that if you have any kind of unexplained and seemingly unfixable health issue, you need to consider a candida overgrowth as the first thing that needs to be fixed on your road back to health.   It is a toxic lynchpin of cascading problems that can effect your entire body! 

That's because the yeast can spread out of the gut, affecting other organs and systems that then get compromised and function poorly.  The yeast have little legs (anchors) whereby they can attach to the gut walls and and work their way out by creating microscopic openings in the gut lining (called "leaky gut") and into other places and organ systems. The yeast secrete somewhat toxic chemicals as byproducts of its metabolism which can cause some of the symptoms. And by this time, some of the contents of the intestines can work their way out into the body as well, causing other problems.  The immune system and liver will also be activated, at the minimum, to try to get rid of what has now become an invading force in the body.  

Hormone Problems.  Some of these symptoms are from the resulting hormonal issues. Now, how could a candida overgrowth possibly cause hormone problems, you ask?  Well, let's take your adrenals glands for example.  The adrenal glands are very key in making many of the "sex" hormones used for menstruation, sexual activities, menopause, and in a basic way -- energy.   The adrenals also make and secrete the most powerful "stress" hormone -- cortisol, which is needed for any kind of stress to your body, and you.  If your adrenals have been working overtime for a few years (much of this work unbenownst to you) due to an overgrowth stress, plus they've been busy signaling the immune system to remove the foreign invaders that just seem to keep coming (as long as they're getting fed), then eventually the adrenals will start showing wear and tear. 

The eventual adrenal fatigue and low energy not only can be very debilitating, but can bring associated symptoms like migraines (hormonal), crazy menstrual periods (hormonal), fatigue (hormonal), achiness (fatigue) -- and the list goes on.  Fatigue, less hormones availalable, low sex drive, low moods -- remember each of the hormones (sex or otherwise) have about 5 or more functions and are connected to everything too.

And that's just one example.

Digestive Problems.  It may seem obvious that a candida overgrowth would cause problems with digestion, and it does.  Many important functions happen in the intestines (the gut) such as vitamin synthesis, fatty acid digestion/transport, neurotransmitter synthesis, and on and on.  If your gut is impaired, then your digestion is impaired, in so many ways.  You may even be eating good food, but the nutrients of that food is not getting through. 
Mood Disorders.  Seritonin is one of the brain's neurotransmitters that is 50% made in the gut.  Seritonin is the feel good neurotransmitter, the mood enhancer.  If your gut is clogged up and not functioning properly, and your gut lining is messed up, seritonin is just one of many of the body's important nutrients that doesn't  get made. 

Liver and Immune System.  The hard-working liver is required to work even harder with a candida overgrowth.  It can become overloaded trying to screen out the toxic invading yeast, and when it's overloaded, it can't tend to its other business of the day.  The liver has over 500 functions and is really important for things like helping to digest food and screen out other toxins coming into the body -- pesticides on food, colored dyes in foods and pills, routine parasites or bacteria on foods or from pets that need to be screened, and other allergans coming your way.  Food allergies and chemical allergies then start happening because the liver is too occupied to deal with those things like it normally would. 

Immune System.  The immune system is also busy trying to get rid of the yeast as a foreign invavder so it also gets overloaded.   Substances like gluten, for example, that was not a problem before, becomes a problem and also becomes a foreign invader. 

Or worse yet, the immune system starts seeing other parts of the body as foreign invaders and this is where the "autoimmune" situation begins.  The immune system gets so overloaded and so confused, it loses it's normal good judgment on what is really the invader, and what is not.  It starts going after, and trying to destroy normal body tissues, like the joints (rheumatoid arthritis), or the thyroid (Hashimoto's), or the nervous system (MS). 

It's a connected and cascading effect on the entire body that began with a candida overgrowth in the gut.

So, how do you know if you have a candida overgrowth? One easy way to tell if you have a candida problem is if you crave sugar. Do you crave it, eat it all the time, have to have it, and can't live without it?  Do you even go so far as to vow that you'll NEVER stop eating fruit or chocolate?  Or, do you have other food "attachments" to bread, starches, carbs, starchy snacks, or vinegar?  If so, then chances are really good that you have an overgrowth situation -- much as you'd like to think you don't. That's how candida let their host know they're hungry! By causing you to crave what they need -- sugars, starches, and fermented foods.

Also, if you get vaginal yeast infections from taking an antibiotic, it's a pretty sure thing that you also have yeast out-of-control in your gut also.

Here are some other ways you might know if you have a problem:

  • You are asking the question -- do I have a candida problem?
  • You've taken antibiotics in the past 5 years or more, or less. 
  • You get rampant yeast infections (vaginal or other) after taking antibiotics.
  • You have a white coating on your tongue that won't come off.  
  • You have some strange and mysterious symptoms from the above list that no one can figure out (especially doctors).
  • You are debilitatingly ill, have been for quite some time, and no one knows why.
The best way to know if you have a candida problem is to just stop eating sugar and go on the program. It's the treatment and the diagnosis. If you start feeling better, then you know.

If you have some serious health issues, of any kind, that have been going on for years and you've been from doctor to naturopath, and back again -- with no help and no relief and things just keep getting worse -- then you really have no choice at this point. You absolutely must do a long-term candida program if you have a big health issue. If you do well, you may get away with a year or two of the program but at that point, you really won't care because you'll be feeling so much better! In fact, it will just become your new way of eating, for the rest of your life. And you'll be happy to do it.

One last thing -- it is probably impossible to totally eradicate a yeast overgrowth because they can eat blood sugar.  We need a constant level of sugar (glucose) in our blood so that means there is always a ready food source for candida.  The best we can hope for is to just get them under control. So if you've had any problems before with a candida overgrowth, then you will have problems again -- unless you periodically go on a candida program, or change your eating habits to keep them under control.

But here's the good news! Once you do a candida program for 6 months or a year, you obviously have invested a lot toward eating better food, healthier food for you, and taking good care of yourself in ways you hadn't before. Who'd want to go back?  

Watch for more on this topic -- it's one of my favorites! Please let me know if you have any questions, or comments.  Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

Adele Sonora
Nutrition and Health Educator
B.S. Nutrition Science

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