Published: February 25, 2010 Last Updated: March 21, 2016
Yeasts are a class of fungus that are round or oval in form and reproduce by budding Although there are many different types of yeast, our discussion is limited to the strain of body yeast belonging to the genus Candida that can cause health problems for humans.
There are many strains of Candida in our environment, but the two that most commonly affect humans are C.albicans and C.tropicalis. In our discussion we Candida will refer to C.Albicans and the disease that it’s overgrowth causes is referred to as candidiasis.
Candida albicans is a very complex organism. It releases over 80 known toxins that adversely affect our body. If left untreated, a chronic Candida infection and overgrowth can severely debilitate us, leaving us susceptible to more serious diseases. Two chemicals produced by Candida are acetaldehyde and ethanol. Acetaldehyde disrupts cell membrane function and alters protein synthesis. (Acetaldehyde is also a breakdown product of alcohol and is thought to cause the “fuzzy brain” symptoms of a hangover.) Since our metabolism cannot convert these materials into useful compounds, it must detoxify them. When the circulating load of these materials is too great, poor memory, light-headedness, fatigue, inability to concentrate and depression can result.
Candida normally has a rounded, yeast-like shape. However, it can mutate and develop branching threads called mycelia, which penetrate the mucous membrane of the intestinal tract. This mycelial form is more difficult to eradicate. Candida has the ability to change its cell membrane structure in order to escape the effect of single drug therapy. Dr David Soll of the department of biology at the University of Iowa has demonstrated at least five rapid mutations of the Candida cell membrane. This mechanism is known as switching.
Causes of Candidiasis
Although Candidiasis is typically seen as a minor infection of mucous membranes, skin, and nails, Candida overgrowth is not a new problem. The overuse and prolonged use of antibiotics kills the “good” bacteria, allowing Candida to proliferate and become a chronic intestinal infection. Also, many meats contain high levels of antibiotics, which is an unexpected and in some cases a constant source of antibiotics. The optimum growth media provided in the moist and dark areas in the gut and vaginal tract make us excellent hosts for Candida overgrowth.
Birth control pills, cortisone and other steroids and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs cause hormone imbalances in our body, encouraging Candida to grow more abundantly. The chemicals produced by the yeast attack out immune system and if it weakens, the Candida will spread and involve more tissues: membranes swell; organisms multiply; and nasal, throat, sinus, ear, bronchial, bladder, vaginal and other infections develop. Antibiotics are then usually prescribed, promoting further yeast growth. Health problems will continue until this cycle is interrupted by appropriate treatment.
Candida also seriously interferes with the digestion and absorption of nutrients from the intestinal tract; as a result prolonged untreated infection can lead to overt nutrient deficiencies. Other conditions that may upset the normal symbiotic relationships of microflora in our body are: debility due to other infection, diseases or ageing; drug or alcohol abuse; suppression of the immune system to avoid organ transplant rejection; and use of chemotherapeutic agents in cancer treatment.
The most common place for Candida growth is the gastrointestinal tract (the entire digestive tube from the mouth to the anus). Its only food source is sugar. A diet with excess refined or simple carbohydrates such as candies, sweets, cookies, and junk food contributes greatly to Candida overgrowth.
Symptoms of Candidiasis
Men, women and children can have candidiasis. Men may have prostatitis (inflammation of the prostate gland). Because women have more complex hormone systems candidiasis occurs in them more frequently, and with more severe effects. Candida overgrowth is suspect in women’s infertility problems. It attacks children who have received large quantities of antibiotics or who consume excessive sugar and junk food. Babies can be infected with Candida as they pass through the birth canal if their mother has a vaginitis.
Candida is known as the great masquerader - any symptom is possible, and any organ can be targeted. Many people with severe yeast problems have never described all of their symptoms to their doctor for fear of being labelled neurotic or a hypochondriac.
Symptoms of Candidiasis fall into several categories
- Emotional and mental problems : severe depression, confusion, extreme irritability, anxiety, memory lapses, and short-term memory loss, inability to concentrate, difficulty in reasoning, drowsiness, insomnia, lethargy, and loss of self-confidence can all point to Candida overgrowth.
- Hormonal: Disrupted hormone production in the thyroid, adrenal glands, ovaries, pituitary gland, or testes cause the entire endocrine system to function poorly. Candida albicans also interferes with the receptor sites for hormones, further contributing to the problem.
- Hypersensitivity reactions to Candida or its by-products: Asthma headaches, bronchitis, hay fever, earaches, hives, skin rashes, and severe chemicals and food sensitivities result from these reactions.
- Intestinal and genitourinary tracts: Yeast vaginitis; menstrual complaints; bowel problems, such as bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and gas; and inflammations of the prostate, oesophagus, stomach lining, colon, and bladder can signal the presence of Candida.
- Nose and throat : Severe sinus headaches may be caused by colonies of Candida growing in nasal passages. The increased sinus congestion and pressure can cause loss of equilibrium and may be confused with a middle-ear infection. A white, furry tongue is also a symptom of Candida overgrowth.
- Skin: Unrelenting skin itching and deep ear itching are aggravating symptoms of Candida albicans. The itching occurs deep beneath the surface of the skin with no visible rash. Scratching or rubbing does not relieve the itching. It may be caused by a hypersensitivity reaction either to antibodies produced by our body or to metabolic toxins produced by the yeast.
- Worsening of existing symptoms: Weakness, fatigue, fleeting muscle and joint pains, dizziness, difficulty in swallowing, easily detected body and breath odour, and acne and other distinctive skin rashes can all be indicators of Candida. Sugar cravings and hypoglycemic symptoms are common.
Diagnosis of Candidiasis
A history of exposure to oral contraceptives, steroids, anaesthesia, and multiple doses of antibiotics together with these chronic symptoms point to a Candida problem. Positive allergy tests for yeast, mould, and fungus may also indicate candidiasis.
Several diagnostic blood tests are now available at specialised laboratories. It is possible to detect high levels of Candida antibodies from three classes of immunoglobulins: IgA, found in mucous membranes in the mouth, vagina, and intestinal tract; and IgG and IgM from the blood. Some laboratories perform blood titers of these specific immunoglobulins against Candida organisms to aid in diagnosis. Testing for Candida Specific Immune Complexes is also useful for diagnosis as well as monitoring the effectiveness of treatment. The immune complexes contain Candida Antibodies, Candida antigens, and fragments of complement (immune) enzymes. These complexes are present in direct proportion to the Candida antigen load and drop quickly when the Candida load is reduced.
Culture surveys for Candida albicans can be done using smears from the nose, throat, rectal area, and vagina. Anyone with a positive culture and accompanying symptoms should be treated. In some cases, evidence of the overgrowth cannot be ascertained unless repeated cultures are run. Women with chronic vaginal yeast infections do not always show growth of yeast from vaginal culture. Finally, response to treatment confirms the diagnosis of Candida overgrowth.
Find out more about Candida testing
Treatment of Candidiasis
Candida treatment is intended to reduce the organism’s colonization to a tolerable level. It is essential to change the environment of Candida. This can be accomplished in four ways:
- Deny it food (sugar)
- Provide an acid medium
- Increase it’s natural enemy, ‘good’ bacteria
- Introduce anti-fungal agents that the body can tolerate
A combination of treatment modalities is necessary to prevent ‘switching,’ the cell membrane mutation mentioned earlier.
Treatment should be cumulative; do not stop taking one material when the next is added. It is important to proceed slowly with treatment and target all areas in and on the body simultaneously. Since most Candida infections are long standing and well established, treatment must be persistent and continued for as long as necessary to prevent symptoms from returning. Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Treatment duration will vary - some people may require treatment for only a few months, but most will have to treat for a year or more.
Treatment must be long-term, consistent, and continual because the Candida organism is very resistant, natural symbiotic inhabitant of the gut. When it is not in balance with the normal flora, the Candida organism is encouraged to bury itself deeper into the tissues by developing the mycelial form.
However if the Candida organisms are killed off too rapidly, our body is flooded with overwhelming amounts of toxins from ruptured yeast cells. The body immediately reacts with an inflammatory immune response that can cause unbearable symptoms, known as “die-off” or Herxheimer reaction. You may feel slightly dizzy, light headed, or depressed; experience tightness in your chest; or have muscle aches, diarrhea, or an upset stomach. Some people have nightmares and night sweats.
These die-off symptoms can also be an exaggerated form of the symptoms you experienced prior to treatment. As each yeast cell dies, the cell ruptures and its toxic contents are released. An accumulation of these toxins produces the symptoms, which will pass within a few days. Although you may feel a little discouraged by temporarily not feeling well, die-off symptoms are a sign that the treatment is working. Treatment is complete when there is no relapse after treatment is withdrawn. The immune system must recover sufficiently to keep the Candida under control since Candida overgrowth will return with a vengeance if therapy is stopped too soon. When therapy is complete, substances and dosages should be reduced slowly, one at a time, under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Watch for a subtle return of symptoms; if they reappear, resume full treatment. When all therapy is discontinued your diet should continue to remain low sugar or sugar-free.
When one family member has candidiasis, other members are often infected. It is wise to have the whole family checked for infection and treated if necessary. Otherwise, the one who is being treated will be constantly re-exposed, making the treatment less effective. Candida can be passed back and forth between sexual partners.
If Candida overgrowth is not treated, it will continue to spread and break down our body’s ability to fight off other serious infections and diseases. Merely destroying the Candida organism does not immediately undo its damage to our immune and endocrine systems. It takes about one to three years or longer for our body to rebuild its immunocompetence against Candida albicans infections. Each of us is unique; therefore, treatment programs must be tailored to each person’s specific needs. Faithfully following a treatment program will speed the rate at which candidiasis is controlled. For this type of treatment, you need a long-term commitment to being fully involved in your recovery. This requires a process of education about our body functions and a willingness to share the responsibility for a return to wellness.
We are in control of our health, and symptoms from Candida are a signal that something in our lifestyle needs to be altered. Exercise, diet improvements, nutritional supplements, and active Candida treatment are necessary to keep Candida under control. Once this has been achieved, our healthier bodies - together with altered lifestyles - will keep the organism suppressed.
Basics of Candida treatment
The following instructions are basic principles you should follow when treating Candida, regardless of the treatment materials you use.
- Begin each treatment substance separately and gradually increase your intake at weekly intervals as die-off permits. Build up to top dosage as rapidly as possible so the treatment will not be prolonged and die-off will not be constant. The speed of therapy varies with the severity and the length of time the infection has been present.
- Treat any other suspected illnesses (including allergies) and infections to lower the total load on the immune system.
- Avoid antibiotics, steroids, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs unless absolutely necessary.
- Avoid birth control pills and hormones, particularly progesterone (also know as Provera). Women will have difficulty recovering from candidiasis if they continue to take birth control pills as, as progesterone and the higher than normal levels of oestrogen cause Candida to proliferate.
- Avoid environmental moulds at home and at work. Continued exposure to moulds inhibits recovery from candidiasis.
- Avoid chemicals in the environment as much as possible in order to lower the total load of the immune system.
- Take supplements of additional vitamins and minerals, glandulars, and enzymes that will enhance proper functioning of the digestive, immune, and endocrine systems.
- Take detoxification baths or saunas to rid the body of toxins produced by the Candida organism.
- A brisk five - minute walk or other tolerated exercise several times daily will help the body rid itself of toxins.
- Have your stool checked for parasites
- Proper bowel function (at least two soft stools daily) is very important. Increase vitamin C intake to help accomplish this.
- See a qualified health care professional who will tailor a program to suit your needs.
An extract from: ‘Allergy Relief and Prevention’ - 3rd Edition
by Frances Taylor MA, Jaqueline Khron MD and Erla Mae Larson