What is Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast (which is a fungus) that exists naturally on the surfaces of the skin, in the internal gastrointestinal system, and on/in orifices such as the mouth and genitals. Likely, unless you’ve done a Candida cleanse recently, Candida is just a part of your skin and body. Candida can cause a fungal infection called Candidiasis, more commonly known as a yeast infection. For example, thrush is candidiasis of the mouth. Yet even before you have a yeast infection, Candida can be problematic. Candida can live beneath the radar until periods of sickness, stress, and other immuno-compromising situations, during which the body is often overexposed to stimuli that helps the yeast grow, which can then become a problem known as Candida overgrowth.
How can I know if I have Candida overgrowth?
Perform a home test. There are three simple self home tests that you can do to confirm the presence of Candida. One is a spit test. First thing in the morning before, rinsing, spitting, eating or drinking, spit a large amount of saliva into a glass of water (use a clear glass). While the saliva will/should float, within 15 minutes, if there is Candida present, there will be stringy legs projecting downward from the spit, and cloudy saliva that is sinking/has sunk to the bottom of the cup (see photo).
Another is an itch test. Over the course of 2 days, make a record of every time you scratch your body. Pay attention to both location (where) and frequency (how often). The itching can be noticeable anywhere, and likely particularly common in warm places of the body (armpits, groin, etc).
The last home test is a tongue check. A healthy tongue is pink. A tongue with a white or yellowish coating is significant for Candida, even more so in conjunction with bad breath.
Note your symptoms. Symptoms of Candida overgrowth include digestive issues (including bloating), brain fog, recurring fungal infections (of the skin, nails, vagina,* etc), mood swings (including bouts of irritability, anxiety, and depression), skin problems (including eczema and acne), fatigue/chronic fatigue, and strong seasonal allergies. Strong cravings for sugars and carbohydrates can also be indicative of Candida overgrowth. Sugar feeds Candida growth, and the yeast triggers the gut to crave sugar, ensuring its continued growth.
[*For some women with frequent vaginal yeast infections, they have an additional issue of vaginal pH imbalance. Stay tuned for a future blog on vaginal pH.]
Have a clinical test done. A blood test can be performed to check for a) the amount of IgG, IgA, and IgM antibodies in your blood [high amounts indicates the immune system is attacking a high amount of pathogens, which include yeast], and b) the levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes [a pattern of high neutrophils and low lymphocytes, though non-specific, often presents itself with Candida overgrowth]. A stool test can also be performed to take a comprehensive look at the gastrointestinal tract and what’s in it. (At Hopewell Family Care, we use Geneva Diagnostics to perform this test. Check with your doctor’s office to see what they can provide for you.)
How can I treat Candida overgrowth?
What to avoid. It’s important to understand what fuels Candida. Any disruption in the microbiota can increase Candida growth. For example, steroids contribute to that disruption, and consequently to Candida growth. While steroid use is common, there are many indications for its use that can be addressed with gut health. Explore the route of gut health before using steroids. As mentioned previously, sugar also helps fuel Candida growth. (In the 1960s, the sugar industry started pointing the finger at fat, making it responsible for autoimmune and cardiovascular issues, and taking the attention off of the ill-health effects of high sugar intake. Read more about this here.) Be aware of the foods you eat made with refined sugars or that are high in carbohydrates, such as potatoes, breads, and pastas. It’s also good to know the glycemic levels of natural sugar sources. (See chart below on glycemic levels of fruits.)
Additionally, avoid fermented, moldy, and yeast-containing foods for the time that you have Candida overgrowth.
What to add. S. boulardii is a probiotic that specifically helps balance yeast overgrowth. Take two capsules twice daily for two weeks, followed by one capsule twice daily for six weeks. (We carry S. boulardii at Hopewell Family Care for your convenience.) Goldenseal root, barberry root, and oregon grape root contain berberine, a chemical effective against fungi (as well as bacteria and protozoa) that increases blood supply to the skin, which helps increase immune function. Grapefruit seed extract has a yeast growth-inhibiting effect (use as directed by the manufacturer). Calcium undecylenate is a broad-spectrum antifungal. As a last resort, antifungal medications such as diflucan and nystatin can be used, though they include other side effects.
NOTE: Treat Candida overgrowth in conjunction with your healthcare professional. If a large number of yeast cells die too rapidly, they can release toxins and cause allergic reactions (called a herxheimer reaction). Rapid yeast-die off is more likely with use of antifungal medications. More natural products kill yeast off more slowly. While fast treatment is more desirable, an ‘easy-does-it’ approach is more beneficial in this case. Regardless of your approach, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids and consume 30-40 grams of fiber daily, which helps to rid the body of debri from dead yeast.
Jaimeé Arroyo Novak, FNP