WHAT IS CANDIDA?
Candida is a genus of fungi that includes over 20 species of yeasts. It performs important functions such as recognizing and destroying harmful bacteria, aiding in nutrient absorption and digestion, and decomposing the body when it’s dead. Ideally it lives in harmony with a variety of other microorganisms in your body.
However, when not kept in balance, many species can cause infection, with Candida albicans being the most prevalent. Candida albicans is very opportunistic, meaning it will multiply and take over if given the chance, converting from its single cell yeast form to its fungal form. This is called candida overgrowth or candidiasis.
Candida overgrowth can occur throughout your body to include your mouth, ears, digestive system, mucous membranes, skin, etc. This article will focus on gastrointestinal candidiasis (specifically candida albicans) and how it’s relevant to celiac disease.
LEAKY GUT SYNDROME
Left untreated, candida not only spreads to other organs and tissues, but can lead to a chronic digestive condition called leaky gut syndrome.
Candida, even in its single cell form, produces acetaldehyde which can hurt the tight junctions that seal your intestinal wall. When gaps are introduced, compounds can pass through this barrier and out into the body, causing a myriad of health issues, including multiple food sensitivities.
In its fungal form, Candida albicans grows root-like structures called hyphae. Hyphae burrow into your intestinal lining and widen the spacing between the cells in that lining.
Intestinal permeability is now believed to be responsible for many autoimmune and chronic inflammatory conditions. It has been found in association with asthma, celiac disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, eczema, depression, heart failure, hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, kidney disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ulcerative colitis.
IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN CANDIDIASIS & CELIAC DISEASE?
Yes. Actually there are two links. First, a group of researchers postulated that Candida albicans overgrowth may trigger celiac disease. Second, candidiasis may continue the celiac symptoms and intestinal damage, even on a gluten free diet.
CANDIDA OVERGROWTH MAY TRIGGER CELIAC DISEASE
When Candida changes from its yeast form into its pathogenic fungal form, it attaches to the walls of your intestine so it can colonize. Your immune system recognizes the threat and attacks the Candida overgrowth.
Pathogens can adapt and change rapidly to avoid detection by the immune system. However, your immune system has developed defense mechanisms to counter this.
“Adaptive immunity” creates immunological memory after an initial response to a specific pathogen—put simply, your body remembers the bad guy.
This leads to an enhanced response to subsequent encounters with that same pathogen—put simply, your body doubles-down the next time it has to fight off that same bad guy.
Now here’s where it gets interesting. A research team discovered there is a protein in the walls of Candida albicans that is almost identical to gluten (specifically gliadin). They postulate this could cause gluten sensitivity and lingering flare ups.
Let’s say you enjoy eating candy, chips, bread, pizza, etc. which convert easily to sugar, so your body is fighting off some Candida that’s trying to colonize. And let’s say this has been going on for a while–you have a sweet tooth and don’t like cooking, so refined foods and sugar have made up a decent percentage of your diet for a decade or so.
Well your immune system takes its job seriously. It keeps ramping up its response to the Candida (which looks the same as gluten).
So one day you eat gluten, and your body thinks the gluten is Candida being sneaky, and now it’s war on gluten!
CANDIDA OVERGROWTH MAY CONTINUE CELIAC SYMPTOMS, EVEN ON A GLUTEN FREE DIET
Are you someone who’s been totally gluten free for months or years, but you still have digestive distress and autoimmune symptoms?
To your immune system, gluten and Candida are now the same thing (identical twins). And you probably still have candidiasis, unless you’ve been treated. So your immune system is still raging a war against candida.
Dr. Nieuwenhuizen’s research implies that your body is actually attacking the candida that is penetrating through and residing in your intestine and, as a result, damaging your intestine.
An important note: A lot of symptoms are common to both celiac disease and candidiasis. Also common to both disorders is the characteristic damage to your intestinal lining.
THANK YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM
Don’t get mad at your immune system—it’s right to be overly diligent. Candida can be very aggressive. Researchers took human tissue, infected it with Candida albicans, and measured how long it took for hyphae to penetrate the tissue.
It took less than one day in some cases—22-59 hours! Of course, this was done in a laboratory with none of the defenses the human body possesses to slow the process. But it’s a sobering metric if you have a compromised or depressed immune system.
WHAT CAUSES CANDIDA OVERGROWTH?
A weakened immune system paves the way for candida overgrowth. Your immune system helps keep candida in check and almost 70% of your immune system cells are in your digestive tract.
So anything that weakens the immune system can be a causal factor: steroids, corticosteroids, anticancer treatment/drugs, diabetes, malnutrition, mononucleosis, chronic stress, HIV, chemical exposure, recovering from surgery, being in intensive care, etc.
A major offender is antibiotics as they wipe out the good microorganisms in the gut. Candida is resistant to antibiotics allowing it to survive and generate colonies once there’s nothing keeping it in check.
Swimming in chlorinated pools or drinking chlorinated can cause a similar result. Just as chlorine kills bacteria in the water, it also kills the body’s normal bacterial flora, but is not in strong enough concentration to kill yeast.
Sugar is a huge contributing factor in our society. Refined sugar is a double whammy–it depresses your immune system and it’s the ideal food for yeast. Our first-world, highly processed diet is overflowing with sugar–it’s even added to savory foods and processed meat.
Other contributing factors are antacids, birth control pills, cortisone, heavy metals, hormone imbalance, ph level in the body that is too acidic, and ulcer medication.
CANDIDA OVERGROWTH SYMPTOMS
Candida can effect many bodily systems: digestive, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, reproductive, lymphatic, respiratory, musculoskeletal, and urinary. It can also produce over 70 different toxins.
Because of this, it often resembles many other disorders which causes it to be frequently misdiagnosed.
Symptoms can include:
- Acid reflux
- Adrenal issues
- Allergies, chronic sinus issues, hay fever
- Anxiety, nervousness, panic attacks
- Ataxia (loss of coordination)
- Athletes foot, fingernail or toenail fungus
- Bad breath
- Bloating and/or flatulence
- Blurred vision
- Brain fog
- Burning/tingling in arms or legs
- Chemical sensitivities
- Chest pain, tightness
- Chills and/or sweats
- Chronic pain
- Cognitive impairment
- Cough, persistent
- Cravings (sweets, alcohol, refined carbohydrates, starches)
- Crohn’s disease
- Digestive disorders
- Discolored nails
- Earaches, ear problems
- Eyes (burning, puffy, itching, red, dry, seeing spots)
- Flu-like symptoms, feeling bad all over
- Food sensitivities or allergies
- Hair loss
- Headaches, migranes
- Heart arrhythmias
- Hiatal hernia
- Hormone imbalance
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
- Immune system weak
- Intestinal pain
- Joint pain or swelling
- Learning difficulties
- Loss of libido. impotence
- Low grade fever
- Menstrual irregularities, pain
- Mood swings, personality changes
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscle weakness or pain
- Nutritional deficiency
- Parasitic infections
- Premature aging
- Pre-menstrual syndrome
- Receding gums
- Reproductive problems
- Respiratory problems
- Sore throat
- Thyroid underactive
- Urinary tract infections
- Weight loss, weight gain, or the inability to change it
- White coating on tongue
An additional obstacle is that, in contrast to bacteria, fungi are often overlooked as a causal factor in health issues. So if you think this applies to you, tell your doctor you want to be tested for Candida albicans overgrowth.
Be aware that blood and saliva tests only look for specific antibiotics which may not be present with gastrointestinal overgrowth. The most reliable tests are either a PCR stool test or BioHealth #410H.
The BioHealth is great because it also tests for parasites. Many of the symptoms listed above also apply to parasitic infections. Candidiasis can lead to an inability to fight off parasites.
Adrenal function is also affected by yeast overgrowth. And as the adrenals become exhausted, immune function decreases. So if you have a yeast infection, you may also want to consider an adrenal function test.
Most people don’t have only candidiasis—they usually have other issues as well.
You can find self-diagnostic tools online: questionnaire, spit test, naturopathic options, etc. Their reliability is the source of much debate, but these may be something you want to look into as you educate yourself.
Candidiasis is very complex and challenging to overcome once it permeates the body. It is resilient, clever, and highly adaptive, being able to mutate and develop stronger forms of itself.
There are relatively few drugs that can successfully treat Candidiasis, and drugs aren’t necessarily a comprehensive solution. Once candida albicans has formed a biofilm, its drug resistance increases, so the effectiveness of medication may be reduced.
Also, the drug may only treat one area or certain areas of the body. It’s important to find out what organs and tissues the Candida has colonized so you can treat all of it.
There are a lot of products and regimens available. Some practitioners may not be fully educated on the complexities of this condition, and many practitioners have differing opinions, so deciding what approach to take can be frustrating.
An example of this is dietary guidelines. Recommendations include the candida diet, GAPS diet, autoimmune paleo diet, specific carbohydrates diet, low-FODMAP diet, etc. Not only is there no consensus, there is quite a bit of conflicting instruction.
For example, many advise eliminating all sugars and most carbs. While others state that if you eat very low-carb and become ketogenic, you won’t make progress as there are several studies that suggest yeast can thrive on ketones.
There are, however, some things you can do right away:
- Limit foods that feed candida (sugar, refined carbs, yeast, alcohol)
- Try to avoid using antibiotics if it’s reasonable (ALWAYS consult your doctor to make sure he/she endorses any medical course of action or alternative)
- Eat high quality, fresh foods. If possible try to eat organic and try to avoid irradiated foods and foods treated with antibiotics and hormones as these facilitate candida growth.
- Add healthy baceria to your system with probiotics and good fermented foods like kombucha, kimchi, etc. (there are bad fermented foods you need to avoid)
- Increase anti-fungal foods in your diet (garlic, onion, coconut oil, oregano, cloves, ginger, Pau d’Arco, yerba mate, etc.
As you begin to kill off Candida, you are likely to have a flare-up of symptoms called a healing crisis. This is caused by high numbers of yeast being killed which releases a lot of toxins into your system. It’s also called a Herxheimer’s reaction, or yeast die-off phenomenon. Die-off symptoms resemble the flu and can be very uncomfortable.
It will also be important to determine whether you’ll maintain an approach focused on eradication or transition into a restorative application of food and supplements.
If you have celiac disease or other symptoms/conditions mentioned above, you may want to look into fungal overgrowth as a potential factor.
If you have a chronic overgrowth, it could take months or years to regain balance and health. It’s in your best interest to seek out someone who has experience eliminating candida for additional perspective on how to approach treatment.
Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, nor is it intended to replace the advice or attention of a heath-care professional. This information is for educational purposes only. All information is intended for your general knowledge and is not a substitute for medical treatment.