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Candida

Updated: Feb 18, 2023

Summary: Candida is one type of yeast that lives naturally on skin, in the mouth, respiratory tract, gastro-intestinal tract and genital tract as components of a healthy microbiota. An overgrowth, however, can cause a range of symptoms and disease.

What is Candida?

Yeast is the common name for one form of fungus. Some yeasts are pathologic for humans. Candida is one yeast that lives naturally on skin, in the mouth, respiratory tract, gastro-intestinal tract and/or genital tract as components of a healthy microbiota. There are over 150 strains of Candida. Overgrowth by any of twenty strains can be harmful to humans and are the most common human fungal infection worldwide. Candida albicans is the most recognized strain that can become pathologic. Other less common strains responsible for infections include C. glabrata, C. parapsilosis, C. auris and C. tropicalis. These less common infections tend to be more deadly, difficult to identify and resistant to treatment. (Kauffman & Pappas 2020)


Candida overgrowth can cause a wide spectrum of conditions ranging in severity from a mild oral infection (“thrush”) to Invasive Candidiasis, a life-threatening disseminated (throughout the body) disease (Kauffman & Pappas 2020). An overgrowth of C. albicans is responsible for most chronic yeast infections. Besides thrush, athletes’ foot, diaper rash and vaginal infections, this strain can also lead to a complex medical syndrome known as “chronic candidiasis,'' a condition associated with leaky gut syndrome and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (Pizzorno & Murray 2013). Chronic Candidiasis may cause fatigue, allergies, immune system malfunction, depression, chemical sensitivities, and digestive disturbances (Murray & Pizzorno 2005). Esophageal Candidiasis is one of the most common infections in people with HIV/AIDS (www.cdc.gov). The more serious condition with a high mortality rate is “Invasive Candidiasis.” It develops after the yeast has entered the bloodstream and yeast colonies have been identified in internal organs (heart, kidney, liver, spleen, brain, others.) (Kauffman & Pappas 2020).


The number of yeast organisms in healthy individuals do us no harm and is dictated by various factors, including “beneficial” bacteria. The interaction among a healthy microbiota keeps all organism numbers in the balance needed for health. However, the use of antibiotics, steroids, and proton pump inhibitors provide yeast and mold organisms an opportunity to flourish. Proton pump inhibitors can damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, allowing yeast to grow in susceptible tissues under the lining. Antibiotics can kill healthy gastrointestinal bacteria that normally keep yeast numbers in balance. Use of steroid medications suppress the immune system (as does AIDS/HIV) which can allow Candida to thrive uninhibited.


Candida can transform from harmless one-cell organisms into invasive organisms with long strands (hyphae) analogous to the roots of an invasive plant. The hyphae snake through tissues while producing a host of toxic substances. Almost every chronic degenerative disease (arthritis, digestive problems, MS, CFS, fibromyalgia, neurological disorders, and cancer) is associated with immune system suppression and risk of Candida overgrowth (Campbell-McBride 2010). Once overgrowth is established, the Candida can release over 70 recognized toxic substances. Some may further damage the gut lining and contribute to systemic inflammation. A vicious cycle begins: “These pathogens are able to persist inside the host due to the development of pathogenicity and multidrug resistance traits, often leading to the failure of therapeutic strategies. One specific feature of Candida species pathogenicity is their ability to form biofilms, which protects them from external factors such as host immune system defenses and antifungal drugs.” (Cavalheiro & Teixeira 2018).


Candida can also induce histamine release from “basophils,” one of several types of white blood cells and are part of our immune system/inflammatory response generated during an allergic reaction. Where Candida colonizes, basophils will release histamines causing more allergic-type reactions. This is commonly seen in the sinus cavity.


What Can Cause Candida overgrowth?

  • Prolonged use of antibiotics, likely the most common factor

  • Infection causing impaired immune system (acquired [HIV])

  • Damaged mucosal lining of the gastro-intestinal tract (drugs, alcohol)

  • Decreased digestive secretions (proton pump inhibitors)

  • Medications: immunosuppressive drugs (steroids), birth control pills (steroids), proton pump inhibitors (decrease stomach pH allows organisms controlled by low pH to thrive)

  • Smoking, diabetes, the standard American diet, stress, toxins, heavy alcohol consumption and cancer can increase the risk of developing Candida overgrowth


Signs and symptoms of Candida overgrowth

Fatigue, allergies, immune system malfunction, depression, chemical sensitivities, chronic sinus infections, frequent bladder infections, brain fog, strong sugar, refined carbohydrate and yeast cravings, eczema, skin and nail fungal infection and digestive issues.


References

Campbell-McBride, N. (2010). Gut and Psychology Syndrome. York, PA: Maple Press


Cavalheiro, M. & Teixeira, M.C. Frontiers in Medicine (2018). Candida Biofilms: Threats, Challenges, and Promising Strategies. PMID: 29487851


Ivker, R.S. (2018) Chronic Sinusitis, in Rakel’s Integrative Medicine, 4th edition, Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 163-168


Kauffman, C.A. & Pappas, P. G. (2020) Candidiasis, in Goldman’s Cecil Medicine, 26th edition, Saunders, Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2048-2051


Murray, M., Pizzorno, J. & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods NY, NY: Atria Books


Otasevic, S., Momcilovic, S., Petrovic, M., Radulovic, O., Stojanovic, N.M., Arsic- Arseniievic, V. Arseniievic. Journal de Mycologie Médicale (2018) Dec;28(4):623-627. The dietary modification and treatment of intestinal Candida overgrowth – a pilot study

PMID: 30166063


Pizzorno, J.E., Murray, M.T. (2013). Textbook of Natural Medicine (4th Edition). St. Louis, Missouri: Elsevier


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