Candida is a type of yeast that naturally exists in the body. Along with molds and mushrooms, yeast are single-celled fungi. (1) There are many different forms of candida, but (Candida albicans) is the main species colonizing the human body. Sometimes various internal or external factors such as a poor diet, stress, or antibiotics may cause an imbalance in the body’s microbiome (all of our microbes’ genes), contributing to an overgrowth or an imbalance of yeast, which may have many nasty, uncomfortable side effects. (2) The most common results of candida overgrowth are oral thrush, a vaginal yeast infection, or diaper rash. (3) But how does candida work in the human body, and how can we help maintain a healthy candida balance? Read on to discover more about candida and your health.
What is Candida?
Candida is a form of yeast (a type of fungus) that naturally grows in the human body, inside the gastrointestinal tract (the gut), in the birth canal, in mucous membranes, and on the skin. There are 200 species in the genus Candida. “These yeast-like cells are anamorphic fungi belonging to the form-class Blastomycetes. They are characterized by their polymorphic nature and ability to produce budding yeast cells (blastoconodia), mycelia, pseudomycelia, and blastospores.” (4, 5)
Candida normally leaves us alone under normal circumstances by coexisting with the other bacteria in the intestinal tract, but it can grow and turn against us when our immune system is compromised. At that point, candida becomes a deceptive shapeshifter with the ability to transform (a process called filamentation) from a round, single-celled yeast into a long string-like structure, adaptable to a variety of environments. (6)
“At normal levels, candida is harmless and exists alongside the trillions of other bacteria in the mouth, vagina, rectum and digestive tracts. But if there’s an overgrowth, candida can lead to significant health problems – in men, women and even children.” (7) Candida can grow to overpopulate your digestive system and spread throughout the rest of the body, causing an infection known as candida overgrowth, or candidiasis. (8) Of the nearly 200 species of candida, six species, C. albicans, C. glabrata, C. tropicalis, C. parapsilosis, Candida krusei, and C. lusitaniae are the most commonly associated with human infection. (9) In fact, candida overgrowth is one of the most common causes of fungal infections in humans. (10, 11)
How It Works
If you’ve ever had a yeast infection, you’re already familiar with candida overgrowth (candidiasis), a fungal infection (also called a yeast infection) caused by species of yeast that belong to the genus Candida, the most common of which is Candida albicans. (12) When the delicate balance of the good and bad bacteria in the body is disrupted, it creates an environment that is ripe for yeast and other fungi to take over. This imbalance can result in an overgrowth of candida in the body – especially inside the mouth or throat (called oral thrush), in the vaginal tract (what most people typically refer to as a yeast infection), on the skin or nails, in the digestive system, in the urinary tract, or in the bloodstream.
A candida imbalance limits the amount of microflora (good bacteria) living in the gut, which is essential to healthy digestion, which can spread throughout the body and cause other symptoms. Candida overgrowth may lead to irritated bowels, red and itchy skin, chronic fatigue, trouble focusing or paying attention, and other issues.
One of the biggest culprits believed to contribute to candida overgrowth is poor nutrition, which is why it is so important to pay attention to the foods you’re putting into your body and make sure you are getting proper nutrition by filling any gaps in your diet with supplements. Candida feeds off of all types of sugar in our bodies, including from sugary drinks, desserts, fruits, juices, smoothies, and more. By limiting our intake of sugars and carbohydrates, we may help reduce the candida levels in our bodies by stunting the growth of the yeast while preserving the good bacteria we need that live inside the gut and are crucial to proper digestion.
Taking antibiotics may also wipe out the good and bad bacteria living in the body, but supplementing with a candida diet and taking daily probiotics may help rebuild the helpful bacterial colonies that aid in digestion.
However, here are the most common potential causes of candida overgrowth or imbalance. (13)
Possible Causes of Candida Overgrowth or Imbalance
- Chronic stress
- Weakened immune system
- Diet high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugars
- Diet of many fermented foods (such as Kombucha, sauerkraut, or pickles)
- Drinking an excessive amount of caffeine or alcohol
- Gluten and dairy products
- Taking oral contraceptives or antibiotics
Your body will tell you when something isn’t right that needs your attention. The following symptoms are some of your body’s natural ways of communicating a candida imbalance. (14)
Common Symptoms for Candida Overgrowth
- Yeast on skin, nails, inside the mouth, or inside the birth canal
- Skin irritations, rashes, vaginal or rectal itching
- Severe seasonal health challenges, such as sinus or respiratory issues
- Chronic fatigue and feeling of weakness
- Headache or dizziness
- Irritability, anxiety, or depression
- Inability to concentrate, poor memory, or confusion
- Low blood sugar levels
- Strong cravings for sugar or refined carbohydrates
- Digestive issues, food intolerances, or bloating
Once you understand what symptoms to look for, you’ll also need to know the most common types of candida overgrowth or imbalance. (15)
Types of Candida Overgrowth or Imbalance
- Candida in the Vaginal Tract
- Candida in the Mouth or Throat
- Candida on the Skin or Nails
- Candida in the Digestive or Urinary Tract
- Invasive Candidiasis in the Bloodstream
The most commonly understood type of candida overgrowth is a genital yeast infection, which may include redness, severe itching, painful urination, swelling, or abnormal white discharge. “Up to 75 percent of all American women contract a vaginal yeast infection (along with the accompanying itching and thick, discolored discharge) at least once in their lives, [but] adult women are not the only ones susceptible to the condition.” (16) Men are also able to get genital yeast infections, though it’s less common than in women. (17) A possible contributor to vaginal yeast infections may be a lack of Lactobacillus bacteria, which typically produces acid that prevents yeast overgrowth. (18)
Candida can also cause a urinary tract infection (UTI). Symptoms include a burning feeling when you urinate, a frequent urge to urinate, cloudy, dark or strange-smelling urine, and pain or pressure in your lower abdomen. (19)
Another type of candida overgrowth is known as oral thrush. This type of yeast infection occurs inside the mouth or throat due to infection or a weakened immune system. It usually appears as a white, creamy substance inside the cheeks, on the tongue, and on the roof of the mouth. Oral thrush commonly occurs in newborns, the elderly, those with a weakened immune system, people with poor oral hygiene, or those with removable dentures. (20)
In addition, a change in the environment on your skin due to irritation from cosmetics, soaps, or moisturizers may allow candida to overproduce, causing skin fungal infections. Some people may also experience candida overgrowth on the nails. The most familiar form of skin fungal infection is a diaper rash, as the fungus tends to grow in moist, warm areas. This candida overgrowth may appear as red patches of skin that ooze and turn white, itch, and feel tender. Too much candida fungus in the intestinal tract, on the other hand, may cause digestive problems or compromise your immune system.
The last common type of candida overgrowth is invasive candidiasis, which occurs when candida enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body, having a negative effect on the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones, and other parts of the body. That’s why Candida albicans is considered a common cause of sepsis, an infection in the bloodstream. (21, 22)
How to Test for Candida Overgrowth
Checking if you have a candida overgrowth may be as simple as noticing a thick, white itchy discharge in a sensitive area of the body that wasn’t there before. Doctors sometimes diagnose a candida overgrowth with an endoscopy by putting a small scope into your stomach or by doing a biopsy by taking a tiny sample of your stomach lining. (23)
You may also take a blood test at most medical labs that will check for high levels of antibodies called IgG, IgA, and IgM. Or, request a stool test from your healthcare provider. The lab will check for candida in your colon or lower intestines. If you prefer, try a urine test, which checks for elevated levels of a waste product called D-arabinitol, which would indicate a candida overgrowth in your upper gut or small intestines. (24)
A Brief History of Candida
Oral thrush, a fungal pathogen that appears as white discharge or plaque in mucous of the mouth or throat or on the tongue, was the first form of candidiasis identified by clinicians and mycologists more than 200 years ago.
Hippocrates actually described the condition of oral candidiasis as far back as 400 B.C.E. as “mouths affected with aphthous ulcerations,” though he didn’t have a name for the fungus yet. In 1665, Pepys Diary reported a patient who had thrush. In 1771, Rosen von Rosenstein discovered an invasive form of thrush. (25) In 1839, Bernhard von Langenbeck first documented the fungus associated with thrush in a patient who had typhoid fever. (26) In 1844, J.H. Bennett observed a similar oral fungus. Then, in 1847, French mycologist Charles Philippe Robin named the fungus Oidium albicans. In the early 1900s, Castellani referred to thrush as “morbid secretions of the oral mucosa.” (27) Berkhout reclassified it under the current genus Candida in 1923. (28)
However, it wasn’t until 1954 when the Eighth Botanical Congress officially endorsed called the fungus Candida albicans. Candida is derived from the Latin name for a white robe worn by Roman Senators. Albicans means “to whiten.” (29)
Potential Support for Candida Overgrowth
There are two common, natural ways to help restore balance to the natural levels of candida in your body – a candida diet and a candida cleanse. They both involve helping to heal your gut and balance the good bacteria already present in your digestive system. Sugars and chronic stress are some of the biggest culprits of candida overgrowth, so some people opt to switch to a sugar-free or low-carb diet. Doctors may also prescribe antifungal medications to treat yeast overgrowth, but taking a natural route may also help make a difference to your health.
A candida diet supports energy, healthy-looking skin, and good digestion, helping to maintain a healthy candida balance throughout the body. Changing to a candida diet may be beneficial as a preventative measure, or trying a candida cleanse could promote candida balance after an incidence of candida overgrowth. (30)
Yeast grows in an acidic, moldy, fermented, or sugary environment and irritates the lining of the stomach and intestines. That’s why it is important to avoid certain foods. “The [candida] diet eliminates sugar, white flour, yeast and cheese, based on the theory that these foods promote candida overgrowth.” (31)
Foods to Avoid on a Candida Diet
- Acidic: Anything with caffeine or alcohol
- Moldy: Peanuts, cashews, pistachios, mushrooms, cheese
- Fermented: Vinegars, pickles, miso, alcohol, cheese
- Sugar: Starches (potato, bread, cereal pasta, pretzels, barley, wheat, rye, spelt, or anything made from flour), processed meats (bacon, sausage, lunch meats), sugary fruits (such as bananas, raisins, mangoes, and grapes), dairy (cheese, milk, cream), dessert (cookies, candy) (32)
However, there is also good bacteria in the gut known as microflora that helps maintain healthy digestion. To support this balance, try incorporating healthy, organic, hormone-free, non-acidic, and antifungal whole foods into your diet. Keep in mind that it could take up to six months of a consistent candida diet to get your body back into a healthy balance of microflora, so it’s not just a short-term solution. You may also try antifungal medications or try dietary supplements – for example, ingest supplements of caprylic acid (from coconut oil) – to help kill yeast cells.
Foods to Eat in Your Candida Diet
- Organic, hormone-free, healthy proteins: Chicken, turkey, grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish (such as herring, salmon, sardines, and anchovies), eggs, almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds
- Fresh or cooked non-starchy vegetables: Artichoke, broccoli, kale and other dark leafy greens, spinach, brussel sprouts
- Natural antifungal foods: Garlic, oregano, cloves, ginger root, onion
- Limited fruits: Berries, avocado, olives, lemon juice
- Some grains without gluten: Oats, millet, brown rice, spelt, quinoa, buckwheat
- Cold-press oils/healthy fats: Virgin coconut oil, certified organic extra virgin olive oil, avocado, safflower, sunflower, sesame, pumpkin seed, macadamia, almond, flax, ghee (33, 34)
You’ll also want to make sure you drink plenty of water (with or without lemon or lime), drink caffeine-free teas (such as peppermint, ginger, cinnamon, clove, chamomile, licorice, or lemongrass), and take daily probiotics for digestion support, which can be found in kefir, yogurts, or in dietary supplements.
A candida cleanse helps flush out toxins and excessive yeast from the body while preserving and protecting the gut’s good microflora, which is essential to healthy digestion. (35) A candida cleanse is the same as a candida diet in that it involves switching to natural whole foods and incorporating nutritional supplements into your diet, which may provide support for not only the cleansing of yeast from your body, but for an overall healthier candida balance. However, it also involves rebuilding the good bacteria in your gut by taking up to 100 billion units of probiotics on a regular basis, drinking plenty of water, and drinking detox beverages. (36)
It also involves drinking 2 or 3 bowls of highly nutritious vegetable broth or bone broth every day and consuming detox drinks. Try a fiber and bentonite detox drink 2-3 times daily on an empty stomach to expel the candida toxins more quickly. For the fiber blend, choose from 1 tbsp. fiber supplement of ground psyllium husk, acacia powder, pure apple fiber, or golden flax meal, and a bit of inulin as a prebiotic, as well as 1 tbsp. liquid bentonite clay, and mix with 1 cup of water. You could also try a liver flush detox drink once every evening, comprised of 1 cup of water, 1 tbsp. of extra virgin olive oil, a clove of garlic, and a small chunk of fresh ginger. (37)
How to Buy Candida Support Supplements
Natural Healthy Concepts has a wide selection of natural dietary supplements to help restore a balance of microflora in the body and support candida balance for immune system health, reproductive system health, a healthy digestive tract, urinary tract health, a healthy bloodstream, and healthy-looking skin and nails. (38) Browse our selection of candida support products, and try a candida diet or a candida cleanse today to support optimal health!