The quick answer to the question is YES! Candida is a normal part of our flora but it can also become over grown and lead to problems. Candida is a type of yeast that grows in the small intestine. There are other strains of yeast that you can find in the gut, but candida is one of the most well-known. I also used the term “flora” earlier which is a fancy way to say bacteria or yeast in your gut. We all have flora in our gut which protects us from infections, helps us digest our food and absorb nutrients, and keeps our intestines happy and healthy. You can find about 100,000 billion live bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract. And one-third of your stool contains bacteria. Grossed out yet? Sorry! Dysbiosis is the term used when there is an imbalance of the flora. Many of you have probably heard of probiotics or take them yourself. Probiotics are the “healthy flora” in your gut.
This is a topic that hits close to home and played a major role in my decision to become a naturopathic doctor. First I am going to fill you in on how to know if you have candida overgrowth, the causes of candida, how to test for it, what to do next, and then more on my story and experience.
The symptoms of candida overgrowth in the gut are widespread and often presents like “IBS”. Bloating, gas, fatigue, and cloudy thinking are a few of the more common symptoms. I have heard patients say that they “just can’t seem to correlate it with the food they eat” or “I feel bloated after every meal no matter what I eat”. I think the bloating is one of the most common symptoms and oftentimes the most irritating. Cloudy thinking and fatigue can occur as a result of acetaldehyde production from the candida. Other symptoms include carb cravings, allergies, sensitivity to tobacco, muscle soreness, headaches, constipation, and sensitivity to alcohol (terrible “hangovers”). Candida overgrowth can also lead to an increased risk of fungal infections elsewhere in the body – “jock itch”, vaginitis, nail infections, ringworm, thrush, and chronic prostatitis. The symptoms are systemic which is why seeing a physician and being tested are often needed for the diagnosis.
Candida is caused by a number of things. Medications like prednisone, oral birth control pills, NSAIDs, and antibiotics. Remember that good flora we talked about earlier? Antibiotics not only kill the infection you are trying to treat (assuming it is a bacterial infection), but they also kill the good bacteria leading to dysbiosis. Antibiotics can wreak havoc on your gut because of this. A high sugar diet can also lead to candida overgrowth, because sugar is the food that feeds candida and allows them to multiply. Stress, a weak immune system, nutrient deficiencies, first and second-hand smoking, and a past illness resulting in diarrhea can all be causes of candida.
Testing for candida is fortunately a fairly easy process. A stool analysis is the primary way to evaluate gut flora. While this test is not the more pleasant thing to do, you are able to do this in the privacy of your own home. The sample is placed in a viral and shipped (discretely) to the lab. There is no sticking of needles, or additional stops to the lab or doctors office. If the lab finds candida (or any other bacteria) that is growing more than it should, they will test for the most effective treatments. The lab evaluates natural and prescription medications to see what the candida is most sensitive to. This assures a successful treatment.
If this sounds like it might describe you, the next step would be to schedule an appointment and get started on the testing! If you don’t have candida, but want to prevent candida then start taking those probiotics! Probiotics can help prevent dysbiosis from occurring. Probiotics alone usually cannot treat candida overgrowth if it is already present, but can help prevent the overgrowth.
I think this is an important topic and one that is often misunderstood. I was misdiagnosed by several doctors with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) while in high school and college. I was feeling terrible (remember that bloated feeling, fatigue, headaches, constipation, and cloudy thinking I was talking about?) and the diagnosis of IBS didn’t offer a solution according to my gastroenterologists. I remember literally feeling so bloated that I thought, ‘this must be what being pregnant feels like’. And that was a regular occurrence. I eliminated dairy in high school which helped a lot, but didn’t completely fix the problem. I began doing my own research and started taking probiotics and digestive enzymes which seemed to take the edge off, but again, I didn’t feel 100%. I tried all kinds of diets, cleanses, but nothing seemed to help. I knew there had to be an answer or another way.
Through my quest to feel better and interest in nutrition, I found myself reading A LOT of books on health and nutrition. I was majoring in Nutrition (dietetics) my freshman year, but felt there was more to this nutrition piece. We never talked about organic farming, grass-fed beef, the benefits of a detox, or the environmental factors of nutrition in class. I began looking into other careers within the health and nutrition field and found naturopathic medicine. It was a match made in heaven, literally. I decided to change majors at the end of my freshman year to nutrition science (giant change right?!), because it would include the science classes I needed for naturopathic medical school.
After moving to Arizona and starting my classes I decided to go see Dr. Morstein. She is the Gastro professor at SCNM who is full of knowledge about the gut. After doing a food allergy panel and stool analysis (on a student’s budget), I found that I was allergic to 9 foods and also had candida overgrowth in my gut. Finally. I have an answer and a solution. The difficult part was that the solution was NOT a quick and easy fix.
The treatment included 2 natural supplements to help kill the candida and a strict anti-candida diet. I started the diet and made it 3 weeks. Then, I went on vacation and decided to indulge (mojito on the beach? Yes please). And I felt terrible by day 2 of the vacation. In 1 week all that hard work was ruined. But, I got back on the horse and did the diet for another 4-6 weeks (I seem to have blocked that out of my memory). It felt like an eternity. Going out to dinner was stressful and not very enjoyable. I wanted to eat foods I never eat or never cared to eat normally. The strict diet was SO worth it though. For the first time in 8 years I didn’t feel bloated almost every night. My energy increased and I didn’t feel so cloudy in the head. I continue to feel good and haven’t had any digestive problems since. Yeah sure occasionally I have an upset stomach, but now I can associate it with what I am eating. And as an added bonus, my seasonal allergies are 80% better. I can’t say they are gone, but they are much less severe and easier to treat. If I wasn’t 100% sure I wanted to be a naturopath before this, I was 100% sure after! WOW! I am telling you friends, if your gut doesn’t feel good, you don’t feel good. Now it is your turn to DO something about it. 🙂
Your friend and naturopath,