The gut microbiome is a complex and fascinating ecosystem inside your gastrointestinal tract that is composed of trillions of microorganisms. These organisms include various types of bacteria, viruses, fungi, archae, protists and other microscopic organisms.
The organisms in the gut microbiome support your body in many different ways and play important roles in many body functions—including digestive function, immune function, hormonal function, mental health, mood, and more.
Much of your health or illness depends on the balance or imbalance of these gut organisms. When this ecosystem is in balance, these microorganisms function optimally and carry out their many roles without any issue. When this ecosystem is out of balance, however, it can impair important body functions and can allow for the overgrowth of various organisms and pathogens in the gut which can lead to an infection.
Two common infections that can occur in the gut are a Candida overgrowth (candidiasis) and small bacterial intestinal overgrowth (SIBO).
What Is Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast or fungus that lives on and inside the human body. There are many different species of Candida, and some are more likely to affect our health than others. Small amounts of the Candida fungus typically exist on the skin, and inside the mouth, vagina, and gut. In small amounts, Candida are harmless and cause no symptoms. In fact, they may even play a necessary role in our gut microbiome.
Typically, the bacteria living on and in the body, combined with the efforts of the immune system, help to keep Candida populations under control. However, certain factors can cause this fungus to multiply out of control, resulting in a Candida infection, which is called “candidiasis.”
What is Candidiasis?
Candidiasis is the medical term for a fungal infection caused by Candida. Not all species of Candida cause infection, but many of them can, and typically, Candida albicans is the species that is most likely to cause a Candida overgrowth.
When Candida has grown out of control, it is known as candidiasis, or a Candida infection. Usually a Candida infection affects the mouth, throat, vagina, and gut, but if not treated, or if the population grows significantly out of control, it can lead to a more serious health condition called Invasive candidiasis.
Invasive candidiasis is a serious infection that can affect the blood, heart, brain, eyes, bones, and other parts of the body. Candidemia, a bloodstream infection with Candida, is a common infection in hospitalized patients.
What Are the Symptoms of Candidiasis?
Knowing that you have a Candida infection is not always something that is easy to figure out. Some of the signs and symptoms of Candida are minor, and may not cause enough alarm to seek out further testing from a medical professional. Some symptoms may resemble other types of conditions, which can also add to the difficulty in diagnosing Candida. The most common symptoms associated with a Candida infection are:
- Abdominal pain
- Digestive issues
- Sugar cravings
- Leaky gut
- Oral thrush
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Yeast infections
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Sinus infections
- Joint pain
- Muscle pain
- Skin and nail fungal infections
What Is SIBO?
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), also sometimes referred to as blind loop syndrome, is a digestive condition that occurs when there is an increase in the overall population of bacteria in the small intestine. Often this includes pathogenic bacteria that are not native to the digestive tract.
SIBO often occurs when something causes an obstruction that slows the passage of food and waste in the digestive tract, creating a suitable environment for bacteria to breed.
What Are the Symptoms of SIBO?
Common signs and symptoms of SIBO often include:
- Abdominal pain
- Pain in stomach after eating
- Excess gas
- Digestive issues
- Loss of appetite
- Diarrhea and loose stools
- Unexpected weight loss
What Is the Difference Between Candida & SIBO?
While Candida and SIBO are both conditions that effect the gut, and are also both the overgrowth of a certain type of microorganism, they differ in that they are entirely different species from each other, and they effect the gut in different ways.
Candida is a type of yeast, which is a single-celled fungus. SIBO is caused by the overgrowth of certain types of bacteria in the small intestine. They may cause some similar symptoms, such as gas, bloating and other digestive issues, but many other symptoms are unique to each organism.
Candida vs SIBO Symptoms
The symptoms of SIBO vs Candida share some similarities, but are ultimately quite different. Being different organisms altogether, each will also require a different approach to treatment.
How Do You 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.
Beneficial bacteria in your gut are primarily responsible for keeping yeasts like Candida under control and preventing them from causing an infection. When you do not have a healthy gut microbiome that is full of beneficial bacteria, it doesn’t matter how many times you kill the overgrowth of Candida, they will just grow back since nothing is there to prevent them from doing so.
To really stop a yeast infection at the root, you need to follow a very specific process. First, in order to successfully get rid of a yeast overgrowth you need to starve the yeast. Yeast, being a form of fungus, feed on sugar as their primary fuel source. If you remove sugar from your diet, it will rob the yeast of its food. This will weaken the yeast population. You can check out our article “Candida Detox Diet: Anti-Candida Foods” for more information.
Once the Candida have been weakened from an anti-Candida diet, the next step is to kill the remaining yeast with powerful antifungal compounds—such as those found in herbs like Oregon grape root and goldenseal or in certain antifungal medications.†
After killing off the Candida yeast, the third step is to recolonize the gut with beneficial bacteria. This is primarily done by adding probiotics and prebiotics to your diet. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can be found in fermented foods or supplements. Prebiotics are a type of indigestible fiber that acts as food for probiotics and helps them to grow. You may also need to heal some of the damage that Candida have caused to the gut and focus on repairing the gut lining with compounds like butyric acid, colostrum, and L-Glutamine, and herbs like licorice root and slippery elm.
The final step is to maintain your gut health long term so as to prevent another infection from occurring. This is a complex topic, but essentially it is recommended to:
- Avoid toxins and foods that harm your gut (junk food, processed food, food high in sugar, food grown with pesticides, food allergens, etc.).
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet filled with plenty of organic fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains. Make sure to eat plenty of fiber and include fermented foods in your diet in moderation. You may also want to supplement with a Multi-Strain probiotic for a while to help restore balance in your gut microbiome.
- Drink plenty of good quality water each day.
- Avoid overeating or following unhealthy eating habits.
- Follow healthy lifestyle habits like exercising regularly, sleeping well, and finding healthy ways to manage stress.
How Do You Treat SIBO?
Often, SIBO is caused by complications in abdominal surgery that allow for outside bacteria to grow in the small intestine. Doctors will try to correct any surgical issues that may be causing SIBO whenever possible. In other cases, treatment focuses on eliminating the bacterial overgrowth and restoring balance in the digestive system and microbiome.
Most people treat bacterial overgrowth with antibiotics, powerful compounds that kill bacteria. In the short-term, antibiotics can significantly reduce the number of abnormal bacteria. In the long run, however, antibiotics also kill off the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which can lead to many other digestive issues. Therefore, it is critical that after a round of antibiotic treatment you replenish your gut bacteria with beneficial probiotics.
Making sure your body is getting the essential nutrients that it needs is also an important part of treating SIBO. SIBO can cause obstructions in the small intestine that make it more difficult for your body to absorb nutrients from the food passing through. This can lead to malnutrition and weakened immunity. Correcting the nutrient deficiencies caused by SIBO often includes taking nutritional supplements like vitamin B-12, calcium, iron, and other vitamin supplements.
It is important that the bacteria is eliminated, however, so that one can utilize the nutrients from their vitamin supplements and can effectively correct any nutritional deficiencies they may have.
In both the case of SIBO and Candida infection, diet and gut health are important factors. When you eat a nutrient-rich diet with plenty of fiber and probiotics, and avoid toxins and habits that harm gut health, you support the health of your gut microbiome.
When your gut microbiome is healthy, digestive function is optimal, as is your immune function and other important body systems and functions. This can keep organisms in the gut under control and prevent infection.
Conversely, eating a poor diet full of toxins and junk food, low in fiber, and lacking essential nutrients will create an imbalance in your gut microbiome. When this happens, many body systems suffer, and the imbalance of beneficial bacteria allows for harmful microorganisms to grow out of control.
Taking care of your gut starts with an awareness of the gut microbiome and the factors that contribute to, or harm, the health of this important ecosystem. The dietary and lifestyle choices we make each day can either contribute to our health or to our illness. In order to protect yourself from gut infections like Candida and SIBO, make a dedicated effort to properly care for your gut microbiome.