In our intestines we have about 500 different species of micro-organisms, mostly bacteria. Usually bacteria are thought to be the bad guys which make us ill, but in fact we need these tiny tenants to keep food bugs and upset stomachs at bay and to produce a number of useful substances for our health. These good guys are called “the intestinal flora”. There are also fungi among them. These can be yeasts, similar to the ones we know for baking bread or making wine or moulds similar to the tasty ones, which make cheeses. Or they can be the black stuff which causes food to ferment and decay. Usually their numbers are small.
Candida is a kind of yeast, a tiny single celled organism, which in normal circumstances is a harmless part of our intestinal flora. However, sometimes when we are not so fit these Candida yeasts can develop the ability to get nasty, grow into large numbers and cause symptoms.
There is more than just Candida
Candida is a much used general term. Usually it refers to Candida albicans. Yet there are many more species like Candida parapsilosis, or glabrata. Sometimes symptoms can also be caused by moulds like Aspergillus niger or Geotrichum (milkmould). It is essential therefore to know which of these many possibilities is the cause of the problem, and that is why an accurate analysis is needed before treatment should begin.
Why do we get Candida?
Usually our own friendly bacteria keep fungi in our intestines at bay. Just sometimes our little helpers are weakened, for example by treatments with antibiotics, cortisone, hormones, other drugs or too much sugar in our diet, or our immune system is weak for some reason. In this case the fungi can cause symptoms rapidly.
Isn’t Candida Harmless?
I’ve heard that “Candida is harmless.”
All practitioners will have heard the argument that candida needs no treatment as it is harmless and everybody has it. This is only partially correct. Candida is indeed a harmless symbiont in everybody’s intestinal flora – providing the number is low and the fungus metabolises only carbohydrates.
If, however, the conditions for the fungus become too advantageous, these microbes can perform what is called a metabolic switching. This means they can produce a protein digesting enzyme which enables them to cling to the intestinal walls whereupon their number will increase greatly and no diet will get rid of them.
This is why BTS provides you with a full cell count and an enzyme analysis to identify the scale of problem your patient has.
Typical symptoms of a Candida infection
When an uncontrolled overgrowth of Candida or other fungi occurs in the intestinal tract, we can get many and sometimes seemingly unrelated symptoms. The most common is heavy bloating, especially after eating. Diarrhoea or constipation may also be part of the picture; frequently these alternate. Nausea and acid regurgitation can be present as well as extreme tiredness, lethargy, sweet craving, depression, allergies, recurrent colds, eczema, palpitations, recurrent vaginal thrush, recurrent cystitis and many more.
Why does Candida cause all these symptoms?
Once Candida or other fungi have managed to overgrow our healthy intestinal flora, they usually develop the ability to cling to our intestinal walls, which makes them very persistent. An important part of our immune system is located in our intestines. Here the white blood cells get trained to distinguish bad from good and then they migrate to distant parts of the body to do their work. The fungal overgrowth can irritate this system heavily and may cause the immune system to react allergically to different substances, especially foods. The local irritation can also cause the ”tight junctions” between the gut wall cells to become leaky (Leaky Gut Syndrome), so that incompletely digested food molecules can slip into the blood stream and also cause allergic reactions. In addition to this the fungi give off gas and toxins, especially when they are well fed. The gas results in heavy bloating, especially after a meal rich in carbohydrates, and the toxins stress the liver and nervous system, thus causing the chronic tiredness.
Candida is not always the culprit
Even if you think you clearly recognise your own problems in this description, fungi may not be the cause at all. These symptoms can also be caused by something completely different. A safe diagnosis is essential; otherwise you could waste money and possibly loose valuable time by “barking up the wrong tree”.
The safe diagnosis
Micro-organisms are far too small to be seen by the naked eye and even if they are grown in a dense layer, completely different kinds can look alike. That is why the only safe way to diagnose intestinal Candida is a stool analysis in a specialised micro-biological laboratory. Our diagnoses are done by a German laboratory, which has many years of experience and performs regular research on the subject. This laboratory will not only identify the exact species of fungus but also investigate if it is a harmless or an invasive kind.
Can a diet kill Candida?
Often the advice is given to treat Candida overgrowth with a strict sugar and carbohydrate free diet. As these fungi live on sugar and carbohydrates the diet will certainly reduce the number of cells but in most cases it can’t reverse the fungi’s ability to cling to the intestinal walls. So Candida will use its fungal ability to rest when it is starved and start replicating again when its food supply gets better. In extreme cases of carbohydrate deficiency the fungi can even switch to protein digestion, leaving us with an impossible dietary challenge.
After a safe diagnosis the detected fungus should be treated with an appropriate naturopathic anti-fungal remedy, an appropriate diet, and proper hygiene measures and anti-relapse precautions have to be taken.