I think of candida as this little not-so-well-known condition that can explain SO much. Maybe you’ve tried cutting out gluten or dairy or adding a probiotic to your daily routine, or maybe you’ve even done an elimination diet of sorts but you’re still experiencing symptoms. Candida symptoms are incredibly widespread and aren’t just related to your digestion. In fact, as you’ll see below, skin conditions, chronic yeast infections, sweet cravings, a white film on your tongue, brain fog and more may all be tied back to candida.
To start, let’s talk about what candida is.
It’s normal to have both good bacteria and some not so good bacteria in your gut. The problem arises when the pathogen (or the not so good bacteria) numbers outweigh the good. This happens for a few reasons which we outline in detail here.
Not properly digesting your food, in addition to things like a diet too high in sugar or refined carbohydrates (or even alcohol), leads to an overgrowth of harmful, unfriendly bacteria in your gut.
One such pathogen, is called candida albicans, a yeast or fungus that’s a common member of the normal human gut flora and on your skin. When it’s levels are in check it can actually have some health promoting properties, but the issue arises because candida is an opportunist and can easily rise in numbers to “takeover” your intestinal tract.
Candida can break down and penetrate the gut mucosa (the gut lining that hosts our largest collection of immune cells), leading to leaky gut and enabling it to spread throughout the body.
Leaky gut is when the intestinal lining becomes damaged and bad bacteria, pathogens and particles of undigested food can pass through the intestinal lining into the bloodstream. Your immune system tries to attack and neutralize these “foreign invaders”, eventually exhausting your immune system and leading to frequent illness and infection.
The byproducts produced during this process must also be handled by your liver. This puts a great deal of stress on your liver, which plays a key role in detox, immunity, blood sugar and hormone balance, and energy production, to name a few. When your liver is overloaded you’re more likely to get sick more often.
The beneficial bacteria in your gut play an important role in maintaining the health of your gut lining. When they die off, and when you’re unable to fully absorb nutrients from food due to indigestion, the gut lining can become leaky, like we just explained, and inflamed. Inflammation in the gut lining can interfere with the digestion of many foods, especially grains. Because there’s usually a depletion of digestive enzymes or stomach acid that led to the bacterial imbalance in the first place, it’s common for those with candida to have many food sensitivities and intolerances.
Chronic inflammation of the gut lining leads to a constant release of cortisol, the body’s anti-inflammatory hormone, by the adrenal glands. When there’s chronic inflammation, as is the case in a candida overgrowth, this can eventually exhaust the adrenal glands leading to chronic fatigue unrelieved by sleep.
The toxins produced by candida, like acetaldehyde, also affect the nervous system, joints and muscles. For this reason, there’s often a link between fibromyalgia and candida overgrowth.
As a stress hormone, cortisol also mobilizes stored fuel sources to be converted into glucose (sugar). The goal is to use this glucose for energy to fight or run under stress (i.e. the “fight or flight” response). Since there’s no “fight or flight” that actually takes place, this upsets normal blood sugar regulation and leads to sugar cravings. Candida also thrives off of undigested sugars so it can make you crave them even more.
How does cortisol get this glucose? By signaling to your liver to convert stored protein from your muscles and tissues into glucose. If this is chronic, it leads to a loss of muscle mass which results in a slower metabolism. Since there’s no physical threat requiring a substantial amount of energy, the excess glucose gets converted again in your body and is stored as fat, primarily around your abdomen.
An overtaxed digestive system and an inflamed intestinal lining cannot properly break down food so it’s common to have diarrhea, constipation, or both, as well as bloating and abdominal pain.
Because candida and its toxins put a lot of additional strain on your liver, your liver may be unable to perform its normal functions, one of them being hormone regulation.
Candida also produces estrogen-like substances and can cause symptoms of estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is when there’s too much estrogen compared to progesterone (or testosterone for males). Some symptoms include severe PMS, mood swings, irregular periods and PCOS or ovarian cysts.
Candida is normally present on your skin but when your immune system is compromised or there’s a systemic candida infection (i.e. throughout your body), it can present as chronic itchy skin and recurrent fungal infections like Athlete’s Foot or toenail fungus.
Candida’s also present in your urinary tract. Though it’s less common, candida can overgrow in the urinary tract leading to a yeast infection. Like on your skin, suppressed immunity and systemic Candida often leads to more frequent UTIs. Unfortunately taking antibiotics in this case can make the problem worse.
There are a few different ways to test for candida. Sometimes, it’s simply best to go via symptoms you’re experiencing though. When you get our food sensitivity test, you get a blood spot test to check for antibodies for candida, which would indicate your immune system is reacting to or fighting it somewhere in your body.
If you do have candida there’s a specific diet and protocol to follow along with supplements to take. It’s recommended you do this under the guidance and supervision of someone who has experience with this as you want to find a protocol that’s right for you. It can be a really difficult cleanse to do on your own.