Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida. You can actually get a yeast infection anywhere on the body - mouth, skin etc and also anywhere internally too. Intercourse is a big driver among both men and women in developing genital thrush - and that’s usually because one or both partners is dealing with candida and either unaware, or hasn’t quite gotten to the bottom of it yet.
When you hear the word ‘candida’ it’s referring to the Candida albicans fungus, which is the most common yeast in the human gastrointestinal system. So it’s naturally occurring in our gut, but ideally it occurs in small amounts and is one part of a healthy microbiome.
As with all dysbiosis (an imbalance in microbiome bacteria and fungi species) the species that overgrow, in this case candida albicans, aren't invaders from the outside. They naturally reside in our gut but due to modern day environments they are allowed to overgrow.
This happens when there is a decrease in beneficial bacteria, such as with a course of antibiotics or due to a poor diet. This allows overgrowths of opportunistic bacteria, parasites, and yeasts like candida to cause dysbiosis, or an unhealthy and imbalanced microbiome. In addition to diet and antibiotics, this can be caused by stress, chronic illness, other medications, or a combination of any of these. Note that candida overgrowth can be just one part of a larger gut problem.
You might be susceptible to a Candida overgrowth if you have:
- Autoimmune conditions
- Chronic antibiotic use
- Diabetes or metabolic syndrome
- Weakened immune systems
- High levels of oestrogen (oral contraceptives or HRT)
- Poor diet
Symptom wise, sometimes you’ll know that you have a yeast issue if you’re getting recurrent thrush or fungal skin or toe infections. But often the levels are low enough that you won't notice any outward manifestations but you may experience some of the following:
- Acid reflux
- Autoimmune conditions
- Brain fog
- Fungal Infections of skin or nails
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Low immune system
- Thyroid symptoms
- Weight loss resistance
The reason this list is so far reaching is because the state of the gut is crucial in the functioning of pretty much every other system in the body.
The candida that I typically see in clinic is the type that comes up on stool testing via microscopy and/or culture. Sometimes yeasts can be visible under the microscope but not cultured and vice versa, and at that stage it’s important to consider the symptom picture. For example, if seen but not cultured and there are no yeasty symptoms (fungal skin issues, fungal toenail, digestive issues) then I probably wouldn’t consider it an issue (depending on the levels found).
I see candida quite a lot, but more often I see other species of yeasts - so for me it’s not ‘Candida is the only issue’ it’s that our gut environments are allowing all different types of yeasts and fungi to overgrow and become problematic.
What to do if you think you have it?
You need a comprehensive stool test - best carried out with a Nutritional Therapist, to diagnose the overgrowth. You can also do a urinary OAT test, an Organic Acid test, which will also pick up candida.
Next, you want to be ruling out SIBO - this is a small intestine overgrowth and has a big overlap in symptoms.
Avoid sugar! Yes, the Candida diet IS a thing. Yeasts eat what you eat and they LOVE sugar. They will literally go mad for it in the gut and keep growing and taking over. Same goes for fermented foods and yeasty foods: beer, wine, alcohol, fermented vegetables, marmite. If you imagine making bread, the yeast only activates and go crazy when you add the sugar in - imagine that scenario in your gut and it will help you stay on track. It’s easier than ever now to swap processed, high-sugar foods for healthier alternatives - just check out the 8foods range of Keto breads, bagels, snacks and ‘sweet’ treats.
You’ll need some natural antifungals and antimicrobials too. Think of the diet part as spraying weed killer on a weed, and the antimicrobial agents (like oregano oil, grapefruit seed extract, berberine and caprylic acid) as pulling out the root. Again, these are best administered under the care of a practitioner.
And lastly, speak to a professional if you need to! Your first point of call should always be your GP, but if the Cannesten has stopped working, and the infection is recurrent, you may need to work more systematically.