What Is Candida? Understanding the Signs and Symptoms of One of the Most Common Fungal Infections

Candidiasis (commonly referred to as Candida infection) is a health issue that many people suffer from—and one that many people are also unaware that they have. Candidiasis is a fungal infection caused by a yeast (a type of fungus) called Candida. Candida normally lives on the skin and inside the body, in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, without causing any problems. However, if Candida grows out of control or enters into places deep in the body (such as the bloodstream or internal organs like the kidney, heart, or brain), it can cause an infection that can lead to numerous health issues.

 

Different Types of Candida

Candida species are the most common causes of fungal infection, and approximately 90% of infections are caused by five species of Candida:

 

  • Candida albicans,
  • Candida glabrata,
  • Candida tropicalis,
  • Candida parapsilosis,
  • Candida

 

What Is Candida Albicans?

 

The most common species of Candida is Candida albicans. Candida albicans is part of our natural microflora — the microorganisms that commonly live in or on our bodies. There are many different types of fungi living on or in the body, and most of the time these fungi cause no issues, but it is possible for fungal overgrowths and infections to happen—usually as a result of dietary and lifestyle factors that inhibit the balance of gut bacteria and feed the growth of the yeast.

 

Candida is the most common cause of fungal infections in humans. Candida albicans can be found on the skin, and in the mucous membranes of the mouth, intestines, and vagina. Its species name, albicans, comes from the Latin word for “white.” The yeast appears white when cultured on a plate, and in the case of certain infections, like thrush, also known as oral trush, it can also create white patches on the skin or gums.

 

Candida infections are typically a mild health issue, but in rare cases, this yeast overgrowth may spread through other parts of the body if a person’s immune system is not functioning properly. In the most severe cases it can affect the blood, the membrane lining the heart muscle (endocardium), or membranes around the brain (meninges).

 

Though people can live with a Candida infection for a long time without it having significant impacts on their health, it is still recommended to treat the infection as soon as possible, as it can lead to further health issues if left untreated.

 

Common Causes of Candida Overgrowth

 

There are a few factors that can lead to Candida overgrowth. Some common ones include:

 

  • Taking antibiotics
  • Consuming alcohol, especially high amounts of alcohol
  • A diet high in sugar and refined carbs
  • A weakened immune system
  • Diabetes
  • Taking oral contraceptives
  • High stress levels

 

Symptoms and Common Signs of Candida

 

When Candida begins to overproduce, it can lead to various health problems. Some of the common signs and symptoms of Candida overgrowth include:

 

  • Fatigue—One of the most common symptoms associated with Candida is fatigue. Candida contributes to fatigue in a number of ways. Candida infections typically occur when the immune system is weakened, and a weakened immune system often causes one to feel tired and fatigued. Candidiasis is also commonly accompanied by nutritional deficiencies, such as a deficiency of essential fatty acids, B vitamins, and magnesium. Magnesium deficiency has been well-known to cause fatigue. While there’s no evidence that Candida causes fatigue, there are a couple of ways in which it could contribute to it.

 

 

 

  • Digestive Issues—Our gut microbiome (the community of bacteria in our gut) is ideally balanced at a ratio of 90% “good” bacteria (like Lactobacillus, Bifidobacteria, etc.) and 10% “bad” bacteria (Clostridium perfringens, Staphylococcus, etc.). Unfortunately, due to poor diet and lifestyle practices, many people have the inverse ratio of 10% “good” bacteria and 90% “bad” bacteria. The health of our digestive system, and therefore our overall health, relies on the right balance of the bacteria living in the gut. When there is an imbalance in the gut microbiome it can lead to digestive issues, including gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea and nausea. Research shows that an overgrowth of Candida is associated with several gastrointestinal diseases, including ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s disease.

 

  • Joint Pain—A more severe symptom of Candida infection is joint pain. This usually happens when a Candida infection enters into your bloodstream and travels through your body, infecting the joints and causing arthritis. This is one of the health issues caused by a Candida overgrowth that is left untreated for a long time. Candida arthritis is associated with pain, stiffness and swelling of the joints, with the hips and knees being the joints that are most commonly infected. Candida can also cause bone infections, which may cause pain and tenderness in the infected area.

 

  • Recurring Genital or Urinary Tract Infections—One of the common places Candida can be found is in the vaginal tract. An overgrowth of Candida can lead to candidiasis of the vagina, also known as a yeast infection. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection include redness, swelling, itching, painful intercourse and a thick, white discharge coming from the vagina. It is estimated that 75% of all women will get at least one vaginal yeast infection in their lifetime, and half of those will have at least one recurrence. Men can also get genital yeast infections, but it’s much less common. 

 

  • Skin and Nail Fungal Infections—Just like there is a balance of bacteria in the gut microbiome, we have a balance of bacteria on our skin as well. Typically, these bacteria prevent the overgrowth of candida, but if the bacteria are thrown out of balance due to a change in environment (such as temperature, moisture, or acidity levels) your skin can allow Candida to overproduce. Things like cosmetics, soaps and moisturizers can alter skin conditions and throw off the balance of bacteria on the skin, especially the antibacterial varieties. While skin candidiasis can affect any part of the body, areas that are warm and moist, such as the armpits and groin, are particularly prone to infection. Itching and a visible rash are the two most common symptoms of skin fungal infections. An overgrowth of Candida can cause conditions like athlete’s foot, ringworm and toenail fungus.

 

  • Sinus Infections—Sinus infections are a common type of infection that many people suffer from. Typically, it is caused by bacteria, but many long-term, chronic sinus infections may actually be caused by fungus. One study observing individuals with chronic sinus infections found that 96% of them had fungi in their mucus. Symptoms of sinus infections include nasal congestion, runny nose, loss of smell and headaches. If you have sinus infections that last longer than one month, Candida may be the cause. 

 

 

Other Types of Candida Infections

If Candida albicans enter your bloodstream, they can cause serious infections not only in your blood but in other organs as well:

 

 

 

  • Endophtalmitis—an inflammation of the eye that can be caused by fungus, this condition can lead to loss of vision. Candida albicans is the most common Candida species involved, although Candida tropicalis can also cause the infection. Risk factors for endophthalmitis are recent hospitalization or surgery, a weakened immune system, or having a medical device such as a catheter or IV inserted.

 

 

 

 

How Are Candida Infections Diagnosed?

 

In order to diagnose candidiasis, your doctor will first take your medical history and ask about your symptoms, as well as if you have any other conditions or medications that could lead to a weakened immune system, or if you’ve taken a course of antibiotics recently.

 

In many cases, candidiasis can be diagnosed through a physical examination alone, but if your doctor is uncertain if your symptoms are due to a Candida infection, they may take a sample from the affected area that can then be used to culture the organism to identify what species it is. For example, if candidemia is suspected, your doctor will collect a blood sample for testing.

 

Identifying the species of Candida that’s causing your infection is helpful because your doctor will be able to prescribe an antifungal medication that will be effective in treating that particular species.

 

How to Treat Candida

While it is recommended to seek medical advice if you have candida symptoms, mild cases of candidiasis can be treated at home. The way you treat a candida infection depends on what kind of infection you have. However, there are some general guidelines for treatment.

 

Like most forms of illness, the best way to treat candidiasis and prevent recurring infections is to address the underlying cause. The food you eat plays a critical role in maintaining the balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in your gut. A diet high in refined sugars, carbs and high-lactose dairy products can encourage Candida and other “bad” microorganisms to grow in the body. Eating too many of these foods may also promote infection if you have a suppressed immune system.

 

Just as some foods can contribute to a growth of “bad” bacteria that allow the overgrowth of candida, certain foods have also been shown to specifically encourage “good” bacteria to grow that inhibit the growth of Candida. Many people suffering from candida choose to go on the “Candida Diet” and often see promising results. The following foods are some of the foods included in the Candida diet, and have been shown to help fight Candida infections:

 

 

  • Kombucha—Kombucha tea is rich in tea polyphenols and acetic acid, both of which have been shown to kill Candida in test-tube studies. It also contains probiotics, which make it an even greater aid to gut health and the balance of gut bacteria.

 

 

  • Aloe vera—Some studies have shown that Aloe vera gel may inhibit the
    growth of Candida in the mouth and prevent infections.

 

 

  • Pomegranate—One test-tube study indicated that the plant compounds in pomegranate are beneficial against Candida yeasts. 

 

 

Summary

A Candida infection (candidiasis) is a common health issue that many people suffer from. Candida is a type of fungus that normally lives on the skin and inside the body, in places such as the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, without causing any problems. However, if Candida grows out of control or enters into places deep in the body it can cause an infection that can lead to numerous health issues.

 

There are different types of Candida, but 90% of Candida infections are caused by five types, with the most common type being Candida albicans. Candida is the most common cause of fungal infections in humans. It is typically mild, but if it is left untreated it may have significant impacts on one’s health.

 

Common causes of Candida overgrowth include taking antibiotics, consuming alcohol, eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs, having a weakened immune system, diabetes, taking oral contraceptives, or having high stress levels.

 

While the exact way you treat Candida infections depends on what kind of Candida infection you have, there are some general ways to treat an infection. Typically, these focus around diet, and eating foods that both effect the infection with anti-fungal properties and also help to restore the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.

 

Candida infections often are unnoticed and go untreated, leading to further health issues. If you suspect you may have a Candida infection, it is recommended to schedule a checkup with your doctor and to take proactive measures to rid your body of the infection and to restore your health.

 

References:

 

https://www.cdc.gov/fungal/diseases/candidiasis/index.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3262537/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560624/

http://www.orthomolecular.org/library/jom/1985/pdf/1985-v14n01-p050.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4455825/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23705242/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20203603/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4742637/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3657498/

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/09/990910080344.htm

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27394927/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499844/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459360/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16297735/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21204918/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27051559/

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