Though not your typical dinner party topic, the Candida fungus is stirring up lots of conversation in the world of gut health. What’s the buzz about? Well, Candida is considered part of the normal microflora of the gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, mouth, and skin, but when it gets out of balance and invades other areas of the body, it can become a pretty serious problem.
What Is Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast, which is a type of fungus, that lives in the body and plays a role in human health by aiding nutrient absorption and digestion. However, when people talk about candida, they’re usually not talking about its benefits but about what happens when it gets out of control.
When the yeast overproduces and invades areas of the body such as the mouth, intestinal tract, vagina, skin, and mucous membranes, it often leaves you with a range of uncomfortable symptoms. Many people experience an overgrowth of candida in the GI tract, which not only has a detrimental effect on gut health and disrupts the integrity of its microbiome but can cause more widespread issues by breaking down the intestinal lining, allowing the yeast to enter the bloodstream.
Contributors to Candida Overgrowth
One of the greatest contributors to candida overgrowth is poor gut health. You see, the good bacteria in our gut are responsible for keeping candida levels under control. Without enough of it, yeast invades the intestines, overtaking the good guys and inhibiting the body’s ability to fend off infections.
Diet and lifestyle choices that diminish healthy bacteria in the body also contribute to the increased production of candida. Candida feeds on simple sugars, so diets high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol can cause the body’s yeast levels to become imbalanced. Meanwhile, excessive use of antibiotics wipes out all bacteria (good and bad) from the body, diminishing the beneficial bacteria that help to control yeast populations.
Those with a weakened immune system, including people with inflammatory conditions and autoimmune diseases, are also more likely to develop candida overload. Typically, the body mounts a natural immune defense to candida and responds to fungal colonization or invasion with immune cells. When the immune system doesn’t function properly, though, it may not be able to fight these invasions, allowing candida to overproduce.
A candida yeast overgrowth, which occurs when the fungus goes unchecked and invades an area of the body, will present itself differently in different people. The most common signs and symptoms of candida overgrowth include the following:
Fatigue is a common symptom of many health issues, but excess candida can make you feel fatigued or exhausted for an extended period of time. If you notice fatigue that lasts for weeks or even months, consider getting checked for candida overgrowth.
2. Mood changes
Candida overgrowth can have a notable impact on mental well-being—and may exacerbate existing issues. In fact, a recent review published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection indicates that because a candida invasion can impact the health of the microbiome, it may also influence mental health conditions, including depression. It all links back to the gut-brain connection, which describes the communication network that links gut health and cognitive health.
3. Brain fog
Although often overlooked, brain fog is another common symptom of candida overgrowth. Yeast overgrowth can often cause poor focus, memory, and concentration. (In some cases, it may even influence physical coordination.)
4. Respiratory symptoms
When candida yeast invades the respiratory system, it can cause symptoms such as cough, increased congestion, and post-nasal drip. You may feel like you’re experiencing flu- or allergy-like symptoms that persist and persist.
5. Oral thrush
Candida overgrowth in the mouth causes oral thrush, in which it lines the mouth and creates creamy white lesions, redness, and sometimes bleeding. The yeast may also spread to the gums, tonsils, and the back of the throat.
6. Recurring infections
If you experience recurring vaginal or urinary tract infections, sinus infections, or athlete’s foot, it may be due to systemic yeast overgrowth. It’s also possible to get a candida infection through contact with an intimate partner.
7. Digestive complaints
Candida yeast can cause intestinal distress that leads to issues like persistent burping and flatulence, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, and cramps.
8. Increased sugar cravings
Candida feeds off of simple sugars and needs them to thrive. Since the fungus consumes the sugars you eat right from your digestive tract, an overgrowth can actually cause your body to crave even more sugar or refined carbohydrates in an effort to replace what’s been lost to the candida.
How to Keep Candida at Bay
While it’s perfectly normal for candida to live in the body, it’s all about keeping it in balance. How do you reverse or avoid candida overload? Here are the best ways to keep candida at bay:
1. Eat an Anti-Candida Diet
To reduce candida in the body, the first step is to follow an anti-candida diet and cut out refined foods that are high in sugar, as well as sugary drinks and alcohol. Since candida feeds on these foods, they provide a suitable environment for continued yeast growth. Once you’ve eliminated them, focus on eating the below instead:
- Organic vegetables (including starchy ones), including carrots, sweet potatoes, and leafy greens
- Fermented vegetables, such as kimchi and sauerkraut
- Cultured dairy, including kefir and plain Greek yogurt
- Unsweetened cranberry juice
- Coconut oil
- Raw garlic
- Small amounts (one serving or less) of grains, such as quinoa and barley
2. Supplement with Milk Thistle
Milk thistle helps to support the liver in eliminating candida toxins, such as uric acid and acetaldehyde. It can be taken in tea and capsule forms. There is no standardized milk thistle dosage, but taking 50 to 150 milligrams per day offers ongoing liver support.
3. Consume Vitamin C
Vitamin C works to restore the immune system and support the adrenal glands, helping your body to fight candida overgrowth and keep the yeast at bay. In addition to eating vitamin C-rich foods like cruciferous veggies, supplement with 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C twice daily.
4. Caprylic Acid
Caprylic acid is a beneficial fatty acid that has been proven to work against candida overgrowth symptoms. The fatty acid is found in coconut oil and meat, cow’s milk, and peanut butter, and is available in supplement form, as well. The general recommendation is to take 500 to 1,000 milligrams up to three times daily.
5. Good Hygiene
Yeast overgrowth may be caused by poor hygiene or from contact with objects or people with candida overgrowth. If you wear dentures or mouth gear, be sure to remove and clean them thoroughly to avoid oral thrush. If you’re prone to UTIs or vaginal infections, avoid wearing tight clothing and rewearing pants before washing them.
Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., D.C., C.N.S., is a doctor of natural medicine, clinical nutritionist, author, and member of The Vitamin Shoppe’s Wellness Council. Dr. Axe operates one of the world’s largest natural health websites, sharing healthy recipes, herbal remedies, nutrition and fitness advice, and information on essential oils and natural supplements. Dr. Axe founded one of the largest functional medicine clinics in the world and has served as a physician for many professional athletes.