Candida Overgrowth: Getting your gut flora back on track
By Dr. Hilary Chambers, ND
Candida is a type of yeast that is part of a normal gut flora. However, it is a fungus, meaning that it can easily overgrow if given the opportunity. An overgrowth of yeast causes an imbalance of the types of organisms living in our gut, and this can lead to widespread symptoms including digestive upset, bloating, fatigue, and brain fog. When I see these symptoms in patients, we take a four-pronged approach to treatment: stop feeding the yeast, kill the existing yeast, heal the gut, and replenish the micro-biome with healthy bacteria.
In this article I answer the most common questions about Candida to provide you with a solid foundation for understanding the basics of a yeast overgrowth.
What causes a Candida overgrowth?
Frequent antibiotic use
Eating too much sugar and simple carbohydrates
Certain medications like the birth control pill, corticosteroids, and heartburn medications
Can I test for Candida overgrowth?
Yes, there are stool tests and blood tests available through your Naturopathic Doctor to help us determine if you have a Candida overgrowth in the gut. These tests will also give us an idea of the severity of the overgrowth to help determine the dose and length of time for your treatment protocol. It is possible to move forward without testing, but please speak with your ND to be sure this is a safe option for you.
What are the symptoms?
Fatigue and brain fog – Candida affects our micro-biome, and can reduce our absorption of nutrients, which makes us feel tired. It also causes widespread inflammation, which often manifests in feelings of low energy and diminished cognition.
Bloating, abdominal pain, and IBS – Bloating is one of the most common Candida symptoms. When we have too much yeast, we don’t have space for the healthy gut flora that should help us to break down food and absorb nutrients. As a result, the imbalanced micro-biome has a “food party” when we eat certain foods, and this can cause IBS symptoms and bloating.
Vaginal, nail, skin (tinea/dandruff), and oral yeast infections (thrush) – These symptoms often occur in more severe cases of Candida overgrowth. It’s more common to have other symptoms listed here before it becomes severe enough to be seen as vaginal, skin, nail, or oral infections. If you experience frequent vaginal yeast infections, then it is almost certain that systemic yeast overgrowth should be addressed.
Anxiety and low mood – Serotonin, the hormone primarily responsible for making us feel calm and happy, is 90-95% produced in the gut. When our gut flora is out of balance, it affects our systemically circulating serotonin levels, and we see an increase in anxiety and low mood. Sinus congestion – If you have chronic sinus stuffiness and can’t pinpoint the cause, it may be due to inflammation that originated in your gut.
Sugar cravings – Yeast feeds on sugar, so when we have an overgrowth of yeast, it makes us crave sugar even more. Once we treat the yeast, sugar cravings should be dramatically reduced.
How do we treat Candida overgrowth?
Remove foods that feed yeast – This includes all sugars, yeast-containing foods (bread, beer), and fermented foods (kombucha, pickled foods, etc). I often pair this with a Whole-30 or anti-inflammatory-type diet, depending on each patient and possible food intolerances.
Kill the existing yeast using supplements and herbs – please do not take supplements or herbs without the supervision of an ND, as many of these are dosed inappropriately and can either not work or do more harm than good, or can interact with medications and worsen some health conditions.
Heal the gut lining using supplements and certain foods, and replenish the flora with healthy bacteria using a high quality probiotic.
For more information about testing and treating Candida overgrowth, please book an appointment with Dr. Hilary Chambers, ND.