We are beginning to understand our bodies as complex and delightful micro-biomes. Microorganisms make up 1-3% of our entire body mass, and they outnumber our own cells by ten to one. There are trillions of individual organisms in thousands of species across dozens of sites in and on our bodies, and we know only a fraction of what they do in us and for us.
One such microorganism is a fungus that is present on or in our skin, mouths, stomachs, intestines, and vaginas. It normally grows in balance with all the other critters found in those same places, but sometimes gets out of control and can spread locally or even through the bloodstream to cause real problems throughout the body.
This little fungus is, of course, Candida.
Candida has a bad reputation. The truth is that, like all those other thousands of species, we have a symbiotic relationship with it. We give it a place to live; it helps us digest our food. But there are many circumstances, including stress, disease, hormonal imbalance, and antibiotic use, that can give Candida a chance to overgrow.
Most people are familiar with vaginal yeast infections, which are indeed caused by Candida, but do not know that the same scenario can play out in their mouth (as thrush), or in their gut. Candida grows unchecked in the intestines, causing inflammation and damaging the mucosa. That damage leaves openings in the intestinal wall, through which the fungus can be absorbed into the bloodstream.
Successfully diagnosing Candida overgrowth can be tricky, largely because symptoms can be somewhat vague.
Some possible early signs that overgrowth is occurring are bloating, gas, and indigestion. Even if these symptoms are not due to a Candida overgrowth, it is still worth looking into them to optimize your digestive health. Most of your immune system resides there, after all.
If the overgrowth persists and enters the bloodstream, symptoms will vary considerably, and almost none of them will appear to be related to the intestines. Some of these later symptoms include headaches, fatigue, “brain fog”, and even depression.
The only way to know for sure if symptoms are caused by Candida overgrowth is to go looking for it. Stool testing is a valuable diagnostic tool. It will evaluate if Candida levels fall within “normal” ranges in the intestine. If they are well above, there may be a burgeoning problem. Gauging exactly how severe the overgrowth has become is also important to planning treatment intensity and duration. Stool tests also test for which natural and pharmaceutical agents are most effective for treatment of your individual strain, if Candida is detected.
The second way to check for Candida overgrowth is with a blood test done at our naturopathic clinic. If Candida enters the bloodstream it will provoke an immune response. The body will generate specific antibodies to fight the infection. It is these antibodies that reveal the presence, albeit indirectly, of Candida outside its usual confines in the mouth, digestive system, vagina, etc.
Taken together, test results, personal history, lifestyle, and symptoms give a clear picture of whether Candida overgrowth is a causative problem or not.
If high Candida overgrowth is present, treatment begins with diet to remove the Candida’s source of easy food. Treatment may also include colon hydrotherapy, supplements that hinder or kill Candida, and anti-fungal medication. Regardless, the goal is the same: make you feel better by decreasing and eliminating symptoms, improving digestion, and increasing your quality of life.
Knowing that Candida is a healthy part of a healthy body is important. It is not the enemy per se. Keeping it in its proper place and proper amount is the key. A diet low in sugars and refined carbohydrates, such as breads, can help with that by keeping Candida’s food supply to a minimum. Taking probiotics during and after antibiotic use is also important, as antibiotics kill harmful bacteria as well as the friendly bacteria that normally keeps the balance in your intestines. And, once again, ensuring optimal digestive health will help your body in more ways than one, including with Candida balance.
If you have the symptoms mentioned above, or just suspect that your particular microbiome may be out of balance, with Candida leading the way, contact our naturopathic clinic.