Anyone who has been around the complementary medicine world in the past 20 years, has heard of Candida and all the problems that it causes. In alternative medicine circles it's essentially blamed for EVERY health condition out there. In this post, I'm going to explain some facts about Candida and how it is extremely OVER diagnosed in people suffering with chronic illness.
The Candida albicans fungus is actually part a healthy persons normal gut flora population. When in proper proportions to the other flora inhabitants, it serves many useful purposes in healthy digestion and gut immunology. Candida only becomes a problem when its population grows out of proportion with respect to its other gut flora inhabitants. When this happens we can begin to see signs and symptoms of Candida over growth and a condition called Candidiasis. I won't go into a long description of these symptoms here as if you are reading this article, you are probably well read on some of these symptoms and conditions. (Digestive issues, Yeast over growth, Weight gain, chronic fatigue, hormone issues, etc.)
So you are likely thinking that if these very common conditions can be caused by a Candida overgrowth, then why am I suggesting this is an over diagnosed and treated problem? There are several reasons for this.
First... these symptoms (and most other common Candida over growth symptoms) can be caused by literally hundreds of other conditions, far too many to be described here. Secondly and more importantly, is a concept I have discussed before... The Candida symptom picture described above and that most of you are familiar with... is just that... a SYMPTOM picture. Most would assume that if these symptoms are caused by a Candida over growth, then we should just treat and kill off the Candida and the symptoms will resolve. This is what most un-trained health professionals, and health food store clerks sell as the treatment protocol for this problem. They sell you Candida Flush Kits, Anti-Candida supplements, and Candida Diet programs (which VERY few can ever follow for any length of time due to the incredible restrictions it places on the dieter). Some of you will likely say that " I did those things and I felt better... I lost weight, had more energy, etc. ! " I agree that in the short term some of these interventions will provide some symptom relief, but they are missing one very important aspect to curing the Candida problem. WHAT CAUSED THE CANDIDA OVER GROWTH IN THE FIRST PLACE !
Diet and supplemental protocols to address Candidiasis typically only work for the short term, or as long as you stay on the restrictive diet plan. Shortly after stopping the program, the Candida symptoms will slowly (or quickly) begin to return because the treatment didn't address the CAUSE of the over growth. You need to think of Candida over growth as a SYMPTOM of bigger problem which is allowing the Candida to over grow. If you can identify this, you can stop the Candida over growth and the symptoms will disappear.
Candida diets aim to "starve" the Candida and kill it this way. They restrict you of simple sugars, fermented foods, yeast raised foods, etc. I agree that these are effective and generally healthy diet recommendations and they will likely lead to symptom relief, albeit temporary relief. These diets can be effective in speeding up recovery from Candidiasis WHEN they are combined with a program to identify the actual CAUSE of the over growth.
Simple sugars are the most commonly identified culprit for candida issues. Suppose you have had a diet history high in simple sugars and refined foods and you have Candida like symptoms. You would likely think that the health food store clerks who sold you the Candida flush kit were right. Now think about your friends and family and try and think of some of these people who have either eaten the way you have eaten for sometime or possibly even worse. We all know some of these people! The frustrating part of this exercise is that you know many of them don't suffer with any of the Candida symptoms you suffer with. If simple sugars and fermented foods were the cause of Candidiasis, how come they don't suffer like you do?
The answer is because these foods are simply feeding a symptom of broader condition in you that these other folks might not have. If you can identify the condition that's allowing your candida to overgrow, you will become less reactive to these foods in your diet. I'm not suggesting I want to find a way for you to eat more of these unhealthy foods . I'm suggesting that if you can identify the cause of this over growth, you will be less reactive to these foods and will likely have significant OTHER health benefits in addition to it.
So what causes candida over growth? Many things but the most common factor in patients in my practice, is an underlying bowel inflammation that patients may or may not know they have.
Candida is a fungal / yeast micro-organism in the gut. As mentioned before it is a normal part of a healthy gut flora population. It is different than most other gut micro-organisms in one specific way however. Since it is a yeast, it is MUCH hardier and resistant to harsh environments that not yeast based flora. Take yourself back to grade 10 biology when we learned about fungi, yeast and their reproductive cycles, remember how they form spores? Spores are like "seeds" with a very hard and resistant out casing to protect the "seedling" from the harsh environment. Spores in the wild can resist extremes in heat and cold and can survive for decades in these environments. Imagine Candida to have similar properties in your gut.
Inflammation anywhere in the body tends to lower the pH (or increase the acidity) in the affected tissue. If the bowel gets inflamed, the pH in the bowel will drop and it can become more acidic than usual. Of the hundreds of species of gut flora in this inflamed and acidic gut, the ones most likely to survive and thrive are the resistant and hardy Yeast components, or the Candida components. The other gut flora lack the strong cell walls and protective components the Candida have, and therefore they struggle to survive. This die off allows the more hardy and resistant Candida to thrive... hence causing Candida over growth !
Now suppose you begin an anti-candida diet and take some supplements to help kill off the over growth. You also take some probiotics to help repopulate the good (but less resistant) gut flora. These are all fine things to do, but these interventions did not address what CAUSED the inflammation in the bowel that lead to the over growth in the first place!
What causes gut inflammation? Many things... Medication side effects, smoking, alcohol, stress, etc. But by far the most common conditioning people suffering with Candidiasis that goes undetected and untreated are delayed onset Food Allergies!