Health Column: There’s a fungus among us — Candida
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Free Press Health Columnist
Monday, June 22, 6 p.m.
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There is a stow-away among us, a common fungus called Candida. This yeast is a single-cell organism that normally lives in peace with thousands of other microscopic critters that inhabit our body, but when the conditions are right Candida can become much more than a quiet passenger. As it increases in number it begins to over-run the microbial neighborhood leading to an internal riot for the unwitting host.
Candida likes to take up residence in the gut, especially in the colon or large intestine. The small intestine keeps food and mucous moving pretty quickly, making it harder for Candida to really colonize there. But the large intestine is prone to stagnation, which makes a much better habitat for Candida.
The yeast can also make its way up into the esophagus or mouth building up enough to cause whitish plaques, known as thrush. The most common yeast, Candida Albicans, gets its name from the white plaque that it makes. On the skin, it seeks out warm dark places such as armpits, groin or underneath the breast, causing a bright red rash. Women commonly get vaginitis caused by Candida. Babies are prone to Candida infection in the diaper area.
On the skin surface Candida typically poses more of a nuisance that is easily eradicated with topical anti-fungal creams. But if the yeast gets going internally that’s when it can start to cause serious problems. For starters, it steals nutrients from more beneficial microbes and encourages overgrowth of other rogue bacteria. This disrupts the delicate balance of bacteria that play such an important role in gut health and health in general.
The immune system gets riled up trying to combat the Candida, which can lead to a domino effect of downstream immune disorders such as chemical sensitivities, allergies, autoimmune disease, or impaired immunity. Candida also releases toxins that cause more inflammation. This can cause all manner of symptoms from headaches and rashes, to joint pains and fatigue.
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Digestive symptoms are very common with Candida, including heartburn, indigestion, stomach fullness, bloating and gas. Menstrual disorders such as infertility and pms can be caused by Candida, while urinary infections and prostatitis are also on the list.
Mental complaints such as brain fog and trouble concentrating are common, and even anxiety or depression can be seen with Candida infection. I suspect many cases of attention deficit and/or hyperactivity may be Candida related.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE TERRAIN
How is it that one ends up with an overgrowth of Candida? First of all, our diet plays a major role. Yeast love sugar, which they readily convert to alcohol and aldehydes. A diet high in sugar or high-glycemic foods helps nourish yeast. Medications such as antibiotics, hormone contraceptives and steroids alter the terrain and create a favorable environment for yeast to flourish.
Insufficient stomach acid or pancreas enzymes will encourage Candida. A lack of the beneficial good bacteria in the intestine really opens up the way for Candida to take over. People that have an impaired immune system are susceptible to Candida since their defenses are down.
Treating Candida is fairly simple, but it tends to relapse unless the terrain of the body is changed to discourage its return. Simply taking medication to kill Candida will only lead to a temporary retreat. It will return to lay siege to the host again.
I highly recommend, insist really, that patients read about Candida so that they understand there is much more to successful treatment than a prescription. That said, we usually use either prescription anti-fungal medications or choose from a variety of natural supplements. Both work well, it’s just a matter of picking the best course based on budget or willingness to take a handful of supplements.
It’s critical to replenish the good bacteria that help keep Candida at bay so a broad-spectrum probiotic is always indicated. We also us a supplements to heal a leaky gut and more to support the liver as clearing Candida generates much work for the liver and it’s detox systems.
Diflucan or nystatin are the two main medications we use to eradicate Candida. Natural treatments include caprylic acid, olive leaf, oregano leaf, berberine, pau d’ arco, horopito and more. The advantage to the medications is their strength, low cost, and simple dosing. The natural supplements are easily obtained without a prescription and work well, but take longer, cost more and usually require lots more pills to take each day.
A “die-off” reaction is common when treating yeast. Called the “Jarisch–Herxheimer” reaction, this occurs when microbes are killed and release internal toxins and the dead organisms that need to be cleaned away. Some people feel worse when they start treating Candida but this is reassuring in that they will begin to feel better, usually within a few days to weeks. An advantage of natural supplements is they tend to be more gentle and slow in killing the yeast, thus reducing or eliminating the die-off reaction.
I recommend the book “Yeast Connection” by Dr. William Crook. His Candida questionnaire is the basis for most practitioners screening for possible Candida overgrowth. We also find Candida on specialized stool studies, and we check for the antibody to Candida in the blood, which suggests the immune system is recognizing and combating a significant Candida infection.
If you have vague symptoms that are plaguing you and the reason is not apparent, consider Candida as a culprit. Chronic infection is one of the fundamental areas that a functional medicine workup will include, and the little beast known as Candida tops the list of possibilities.
Free Press health columnist Scott Rollins, M.D., is board certified with the American Board of Family Practice and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He specializes in bioidentical hormone replacement, thyroid and adrenal disorders, fibromyalgia and other complex medical conditions. He is founder and medical director of the Integrative Medicine Center of Western Colorado (www.imcwc.com) and Bellezza Laser Aesthetics (www.bellezzalaser.com). Call 970-245-6911 for appointments or more information.
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