If you haven’t heard of Candida, get ready for a surprise – You have it! Candida albicans is one of the many species of micro-organism that live on and within our bodies. Candida is a kind of fungus or yeast that we all have living throughout our gastro-intestinal tract and in a few other places. Usually this is a harmonious relationship and Candida is a good tenant, but various situations can cause it to get out of hand and start to take over the building. The most commonly known event is when women or men get thrush after antibiotic use – thrush is simply an overgrowth of Candida. Unfortunately, however, this overgrowth is not always so obvious.
Some symptoms which you may have with a Candida overgrowth:
- Signs of thrush (discharge, itching, white coating etc)
- Digestive upsets, bloating, bowel irregularities
- Fungal infections
- Skin problems
- Multiple allergies or intolerances
- A feeling of fatigue or lack of concentration
- Mood swings or low mood
- Sugar or carbohydrate cravings
- Poor immune function
Having an overgrowth of Candida indicates that your gut bacteria is a bit out of whack, a situation called ‘dysbiosis’. You can liken this to a garden where the weeds have gotten out of control. Sometimes this is also known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth or SIBO, which occurs when greater numbers of bacteria colonise the small intestine than usual (they usually are in great numbers in the large intestine or colon). Although a Candida overgrowth and SIBO are not the same thing, they are similar and both indicate an overgrowth of micro-organisms. Alongside these overgrowths, a situation known as ‘leaky gut’ can occur, where the long-term overgrowths cause the lining of your gut wall to lose some of its strength and integrity. This sets one up for further health issues and reactivity in the body.
Some typical situations which can make you more likely to have a Candida overgrowth include:
- Antibiotic use (especially if this has been long-term or frequent)
- High sugar or refined carbohydrate diet, or excessive alcohol
- Being a woman! Especially if you have used oral contraceptive pills or been pregnant
- A high-stress life
- Low immune function
To use the garden analogy again, naturopathic treatment aims are primarily to tend the garden, get the weeds under control, plant the right plants back in there, improve the soil health, provide the right composts and fertilisers for the good plants, and then let the garden find its natural balance again.
Putting this into practice means utilising natural anti-fungal remedies that act as ‘weedkillers’, and also starving the Candida by limiting the intake of sugars, including milk sugars, refined carbohydrates (flour products, especially breads), and also yeasts and fermented foods. It also means supporting your immune system with the right herbs and nutrients, providing support for healing the gut, and then making sure the right bacteria are put back in there in the form of probiotic supplements.
Once it is established that a Candida overgrowth is what you are dealing with, here is a summary of treatment options:
- 6 weeks is a good time-frame to start with
- Use natural anti-fungal remedies to target the Candida itself. This may be specific herbal medicines, enteric coated essential oils, or caprylic acid from coconut oil. When working with infants and children, gentler remedies are often used.
- Starve the Candida by avoiding all dietary added sugars, dairy products, breads, alcohol, etc, and reducing natural sugars such as fruits.
- Support the immune system with appropriate herbs and nutrients (deficiencies in specific minerals and vitamins should be addressed here)
- Heal and support the gut tissue
- Re-colonise the gut with good bacteria in the form of specific probiotic supplements
It is always worth actively treating Candida overgrowths, as the effects of this on your health are so far-reaching. Candida overgrowths are common when people’s immunity is low, but can cause further lowering of immune function, and so a downward spiral can occur into ill-health. It is important, however, to tread carefully and not try to do too much too quickly, as the speedy death of many Candida organisms that need to be disposed of can sometimes overload a delicate system.
Discovering you have a Candida overgrowth can be the first step back to good health. Reclaiming your health and vitality is possible when following the approach outlined above, but it’s important to utilise every step. Diet alone is usually not sufficient to deal with long-term overgrowth issues, but it is essential! When in doubt, always seek support from your health practitioner. This is one journey where it can be helpful to have an experienced hand to hold.