The Link Between Candida and Gut Health
Candida albicans is a type of yeast that’s found in the mouth, vagina, intestines, and on the skin. Its purpose in the gut is to aid in both digestion and absorption of nutrients into the body. The “gut” includes your entire digestive system from your mouth all the way through your intestines, however the gut microbiome lives largely in the intestines. Breakdown of food begins the moment you begin chewing and continues in the stomach, and then on to the intestines where nutrients are processed and then waste products are eliminated.
There is a pocket that is located where your large and small intestines meet called the cecum. While the gut houses all of the different areas of the digestive system, it’s the microbiome, or “collective,” that is located in the cecum, that we are referring to when we talk about the gut.
The gut microbiome consists of trillions of bacteria, fungi, and viruses that all contain genes. The make-up of these genes is determined by your mother’s microbiome along with the food that you eat and the lifestyle that you lead. What is fascinating is that while we can’t control the gut DNA that we inherit, we are able to change it through diet and other habits.
Like everything else in nature, the microbiome functions best when it’s balanced. Bacteria, fungi, viruses, enzymes, etc., all contribute to the balance. Our overall health is directly impacted by this delicate balance or lack thereof (called dysbiosis). In fact, it’s estimated that the gut health is responsible for up to 80% of the immune function. 1 . The gut also affects the brain, behavior, the central nervous system, and the endocrine system, among others. 2
There are hundreds of different types of bacteria located in the gut; in fact, the more diverse the bacteria, the healthier the gut. Some types of bacteria are beneficial and some are harmful. Ideally, the good bacteria should outnumber the bad. Candida has its job in the gut as well, but when its numbers get too high, problems can occur which can affect our health both acutely and chronically.
Yeast feeds off of sugar. A good example of this is the process of making wine. When yeast is added to the juice from the grapes, it feeds off the sugar from the fruit which causes it to ferment and eventually turn into wine. A diet that consists of too many sugars and refined carbohydrates feeds the candida in the gut causing it to multiply and throw the balance out of whack.
When candida amounts are too high this causes a yeast-infection called candidiasis. Most women have encountered a vaginal yeast infection at some point in their life. Symptoms include a thick, white discharge and extreme itching. This is often caused from taking antibiotics because antibiotics don’t discriminate when they kill bacteria and they’ll kill the good along with the bad.
Candida (yeast) is extremely opportunistic and will begin to grow uncontrollably when an imbalance occurs with the bacteria which is why it’s common to get a vaginal yeast infection after taking antibiotics.
Some people can get candidiasis in their mouths too. This condition is called Thrush and is characterized by a white coating on the tongue and cheeks. You can also experience a candida overgrowth on your skin and scalp.
You may begin to experience some digestive issues when gut dysbiosis occurs such as bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea. (Diarrhea is another common side-effect from taking antibiotics).
Common Causes of Candidiasis
- Consuming a diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates
- Oral contraceptives
- High alcohol use
- Compromised immune system
- High stress levels
Often, it’s a combination of things that contribute to gut dysbiosis, however, the most common things that cause candidiasis for most of the population is antibiotic use and eating a high-sugar diet. For people with a compromised immune system due to illness or medications, candida infections can become much more serious and even be life-threatening. For the purposes of this article however, we are focusing on Candida albicons, which is the most common strain.
Excess estrogen can also stimulate overgrowth of Candida which is why women who take oral contraceptives are more prone to vaginal yeast infections. Additionally, people who have diabetes are at much higher risk as well as those who are obese because both of these are associated with higher levels of estrogen. 3
Chronic stress can adversely affect gut health and cause imbalance because of many factors. Stress affects many processes in the body and can seriously impair the immune system. One reason it can cause imbalances within the gut such as candida infection is linked to cortisol production. Cortisol is the hormone released by adrenal glands when we are in fight/flight mode. When we are chronically and/or overly stressed, our bodies react by producing too much cortisol, which basically shuts down digestive function.
The fight/flight response directs blood, oxygen, and energy to areas in the body where it’s needed for survival such as the muscles, heart and lungs. This draws energy and blood flow away from the digestive system. Over time, this can cause gut dysbiosis.
Candida and Gut Health: The Disease Process
A healthy and diverse gut contains adequate amounts of niacin which help to keep candida cells from multiplying out of control. However, once the gut is out of balance, candida albicans can increase exponentially which causes them to wreak havoc in the gut.
Candida is both hardy and opportunistic which means it can survive for a long time. What makes it even more problematic is that candida cells have the ability to morph. They begin their life as a rounded yeast cell, however, they can change into a long-shaped hyphal cell. 4
These types of cells send out roots and attach themselves to the mucosal lining of the gut. Over time, they are able to infiltrate the intestinal wall which causes the gut to “leak.” (This phenomena is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome).
Normally the gut is sealed and will protect the body from toxins, but once the gut wall has been compromised, it is no longer able to protect. As a result, extra work is placed on the liver to handle the additional toxic load. Also, the immune system can become weakened and/or compromised.
A leaky gut will not only cause an overall inflammatory response within different areas of the body, but the gut itself will become inflamed because it becomes compromised as well. Inflammation manifests in many different ways all over the body and inflammatory responses are often the underlying cause of more serious diseases to include cardiovascular, auto-immune, cancer, and others. Additionally, when the gut becomes compromised, it creates a vulnerability to other pathogens and contagions. Inflammation can also be the cause of allergies, whether they are food or air-borne.
Symptoms of Candida Infection
Depending on the degree to which Candida has spread, symptoms can be quite mild to much more severe. For example, if a woman is in overall good health, and eats for a strong immune system, she may get a vaginal yeast infection from taking antibiotics. Once she treats the infection locally, her symptoms might disappear.
However, several factors influence Candidiasis and once running amok in the gut, it can be difficult to get under control.
Symptoms may include:
- White coating on the tongue and inside of cheeks
- Sugar and carbohydrate cravings (the more yeast, the more it wants to be fed)
- Digestive issues to include gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea
- Acute onset of food sensitivities
- Generalized aches and pains with no certain cause
- Ringworm, toenail fungus
- Persistent fatigue that doesn’t go away by resting
- Unusual skin issues such as dry patches or rash, hives, eczema, psoriasis
- Vaginal infections and/or itchiness
- Nutritional deficiencies (the intestines can’t absorb nutrients as well)
- Weight gain/Obesity
- Change in mental status such as increased depression and/or anxiety
- Brain fog
- Heightened sensitivities to odors, perfumes, cleaning products, or chemicals
- Food allergies and respiratory type allergies
- Auto-immune problems such as Hashimoto’s, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia 5
- Gastrointestinal diseases such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, Gut Inflammation 6
It’s alarming to see how something as seemingly innocuous as Candida overgrowth can lead to such serious issues and disease. My goal is not to scare you of course, but to educate you on how to restore and maintain gut health because it’s such an important part of the overall picture. Most of us were not taught this as children.
How to Know If You Have Candida Overgrowth
There are a few different types of tests that can tell you for sure if you have a Candida problem. Many integrative physicians offer food sensitivity testing which would also test for Candida. Stool testing can be done as well which will give you an overall look at your GI health. Candida infection can also be done via a blood test. Some of these same type tests can also be ordered on-line and done at home.
I also encourage you to thoroughly review your symptoms and risk factors such as the ones I’ve listed above. Chances are that if you are falling into more than a few of those categories that Candida could be your culprit. A high sugar/simple carbohydrate diet almost guarantees that your gut health is not where it needs to be and Candida overgrowth is almost certainly going to be contributing to that. Frequent antibiotic use will do the same.
Restoring Your Gut and your Immune System
Reclaiming your health begins with taking control of what you are putting in your gut. I’d like to again point out that what I’m referring to in this article is Candida albicans. If you have serious illnes that compromises your immune system such as cancer or MS, then you should follow your doctor’s current treatment plan. If you have an auto-immune disease, I believe that root causes should be discussed with your physician, especially if they are using the “pill for every ill” system of treating you. However, I am NOT a doctor and am offering you information based on my own personal experiences and what I’ve learned that’s helped me.
Avoid Antibiotics unless ABSOLUTELY necessary.
- Eliminate sugars and simple starches from your diet.
- Avoid all types of alcohol.
- Eat plentiful amounts of non-starchy vegetables.
- Stick to low-glycemic fruits including things like lemons, limes, and berries.
- Avoid gluten, wheat, and other inflammatory foods and grains.
- Eat healthy fats such as avocado, eggs, nuts, and organic butter and ghee.
- Avoid processed vegetable and seed oils because these are manufactured with toxins.
- Eat lean proteins.
- Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame since they can be detrimental to gut health. 7
- Make probiotic consumption a regular part of your diet by eating fermented foods and/or taking supplements. Probiotics contain lots of good bacteria which will directly help to restore the gut biome since they contain beneficial bacteria. You will want to avoid kombucha type drinks during your gut-healing stages because kombucha is made with heavy amounts of yeast and you don’t want to feed Candida with more yeast. Probiotics can also help to seal gaps in the gut wall. 8
- Prebiotics act as food for probiotics; they are found in things like green bananas, artichokes, and oats. Prebiotics are also found in beans and legumes which are also healthy sources of proteins. Prebiotics are also available in supplement form.
- Avoid all GMO (genetically modified) foods whenever possible since they can also activate the inflammatory response in the body.
- Take digestive enzymes which will help to break down your food. When your gut is experiencing dysbiosis, and especially if the intestinal lining has been compromised, digestive enzymes will prevent large particles and waste product from passing through the body, thus reducing the inflammatory response.
- Eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and/or take wild fish-oil type supplements which are known to curb inflammation.
- Add coconut oil to your diet. Studies have shown that it helps to destroy Candida cells. 9
- Apple-cider vinegar helps to keep the body in a more alkaline state which is less hospitable for Candida. Drinking some lemon juice in water will also help.
- Organic bone broth is an extremely nutritious and healing food. It also contains a lot of collagen and glycine which help repair damaged cell walls (and the intestinal lining)
Supplements that can help combat Candida overgrowth include:
- Caprylic acid, released (Pure) before each meal
- Black walnut husks
- Undecylenic acid
- Chlorella for detoxing
- Allisure acillin
- Chromium (helps to combat sugar and carb cravings
Exercise is important in so many ways. Obviously, it helps to burn calories and build strong muscles and bones. It also helps greatly to reduce the inflammatory response throughout the body. Additionally, exercise lessons the effects of stress on both the mind and body.
Stress occurs in both the body and the mind. Because the body and mind are connected, high or extended periods of stress affect both. Not only do you feel bad, but all systems in your body can become damaged and crash. On the flip side of this, doing things and practicing habits that decrease stress have the opposite effect and will help you to heal on all fronts.
If you are not getting enough sleep, your body is missing the restorative miracles that occur with deep and R.E.M. sleep. Poor sleeping habits also contribute exponentially to the stress load that the body and mind experiences on a daily basis. You can eat very clean and get adequate amounts of exercise, but if you’re not getting good sleep, you are undermining your efforts to heal.
Candida infections are exacerbated by exposure to toxins. Toxins include processed foods that we eat which wreak havoc on the body. Toxins are also found in the environment and in things we use every day such as cleaners, air fresheners, and pesticides.
Another reason that Candida is so harmful to us is because with infection and overgrowth, it actually produces toxins such as:
- Acetaldehyde – this is a byproduct of metabolism gone wrong and become so lethal that it has been compared to alcohol poisoning. This explains why we can feel as if we have a hangover when Candida is a problem. Acetaldehyde can lead to oxidative stress which damages the DNA and can even increase the risk of alcohol-related cancers.
- Gliotoxin contributes to the death of liver cells which further suppresses the immune system.
As you can understand, Candida albicans is a large piece of gut-health puzzle, and it’s a large puzzle. This is the first part of a series that I’ll be writing on the how and why our gut is so influential on just about every other part of health and how its condition can make us thrive or contribute to our demise.