Brain fog, skin issues like eczema and dandruff, intense sugar cravings, embarrassing itching “down there” – these are all signs of an overgrowth of Candida, which is a type of fungus.
But before you worry too much, know that Candida overgrowth is incredibly common and treatable. I see it all the time in my practice.
However, from my experience working with countless Candida patients, it’s often misunderstood by practitioners. And the cookie-cutter “cleanses” advertised online can cause more problems than they solve, leaving patients with Candida that comes back again and again.
If you’re struggling with Candida symptoms, or think you might be, here’s what you need to know.
What is Candida?
Candida is a form of yeast that resides in everyone’s body. That’s right, everyone has at least some level of Candida because it’s a member of various biomes throughout your body, including the flora of the skin, mouth, vagina, and gut. Even though it’s referred to simply as Candida, there are over 150 different species of Candida that have been identified.
What is Candida Overgrowth?
Candida is what we call an opportunistic organism, one of the many that are throughout the body. This means that when your body is in a state of homeostasis, or balance, Candida hangs out and doesn’t cause any issues because the immune system keeps it under control.
But, when the immune system gets weak or suppressed for one or many reasons, that gives Candida the opportunity to flourish. This can create a wide array of complications and symptoms.
Candida overgrowth symptoms can include:
- Brain fog
- Digestive upset, bloating, alternating bowel movements, a diagnosis of IBS
- A white coating on your tongue known as thrush
- Sugar cravings
- Genital itching
- Skin issues such as eczema or psoriasis that can’t be explained by any other source
- Joint pain
What Most People Misunderstand About Candida
There’s a lot of information out there about Candida. A lot of it comes from people promoting strict Candida diets and selling Candida cleanses. These sources point the finger at Candida as a root cause for a whole host of health concerns.
But in my clinic, we take a different approach to Candida. In my experience, Candida is very rarely the primary issue. It’s typically the manifestation of another underlying problem that is being overlooked. Let’s examine what those may be.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
Patients with Candida overgrowth may be dealing with one or more of the following.
One of the top causes of Candida overgrowth is an inflammatory diet with excessive carbohydrates and sugars. The carbs and sugar create a breeding ground for the fungus and a poor diet, in general, disrupts microbial balance.
Ongoing stress or trauma that hasn’t been appropriately dealt with disrupt the digestive process and negatively impact the gut microbiome.
Prolonged antibiotic use suppresses the good flora in a healthy microbiome that usually keep Candida in check. This leaves room for Candida to thrive and flourish.
Mold or Mycotoxin Exposures
Many people are exposed to mold (which is also a fungus) yet have no idea that it is a problem in their home. This suppresses their immune system, creating an opportunity for fungal overgrowth.
Stomach acid is responsible for neutralizing bugs and pathogenic organisms, like Candida. If you have low stomach acid, Candida can overgrow and you won’t be able to break down your food properly. This leaves it sitting in your stomach undigested, feeding Candida and disrupting your gut flora.
Estrogen has been shown to increase the virulence of Candida. When women have a lot of estrogen in their system or it’s not balanced or being detoxified appropriately, that leads to estrogen dominance and leaves room for Candida to grow and to thrive. This explains why we often see Candida in women who are on estrogen-containing birth control pills.
And then, of course, chronic diseases across the board that suppress the immune system will leave room for Candida to grow. Autoimmunity, diabetes, and cancers are all things that need to be considered when you’re testing for Candida.
How to Test for Candida Overgrowth
There are a number of reliable tests that can identify Candida overgrowth.
An organic acid urine test is one of the best tests for picking up on Candida overgrowth in the small intestine. A comprehensive stool analysis will evaluate fungal overgrowth in the large intestine. Finally, an antibody test can pick up on an immune response to Candida in your bloodstream, which tells us if it has moved beyond the digestive system and become systemic.
The Problem with Extreme Candida Diets
Oftentimes when people read about Candida online, practitioners recommend following a very strict Candida diet for months to fix the problem. These diets cut out sugar and alcohol, but they also severely restrict complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes, grains, and legumes that are full of prebiotics and resistant starches.
This may be helpful for reducing Candida levels in the very short term. But in the long run, this can be detrimental to your overall health because you’re losing essential elements for digestion and foods that help diversify the microbiome (two factors that help prevent Candida overgrowth from recurring).
Because these protocols are so narrowly focused on diet and do nothing to address other underlying causes, patients often find that their Candida overgrowth returns over and over again.
A Balanced Approach to Treating Candida Overgrowth
The best strategy to really overcome Candida in the long run is to figure out why it’s there in the first place. Addressing the root cause or causes is where you’re going to find long-term resolution.
That’s why, in my practice, we are very careful about recommending overly strict Candida diets. Instead, we help patients implement a short-term dietary protocol while we investigate the problem’s underlying causes and treat them at their source.
We may also implement targeted therapies like natural antimicrobials, or even pharmaceutical antifungals to provide symptom relief in the immediacy. However, that’s only one piece of the puzzle.
The key is to take a balanced approach that looks at the whole picture (not just the end Candida symptoms) in order to get results that last.
About the Author: Dr. Seth Osgood is a Doctor of Nursing Practice, Board Certified Family Nurse Practitioner and Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) Certified Practitioner. Dr. Osgood received his post-graduate training in Functional Medicine through the IFM and from working with Dr. Amy Myers. He has helped people from around the world improve their health utilizing a Functional Medicine approach.
Want to work with Dr. Osgood and the GrassRoots team? Become a patient in our West Lebanon, New Hampshire Functional Medicine clinic, our Burlington, Vermont Functional Medicine clinic, or our Austin, Texas Functional Medicine clinic!