Candida albicans is a fungus that is found in the body in over 70% of the population, and it naturally colonizes the gastrointestinal tract, oral cavity, and reproductive tract of healthy individuals. We want it in balanced proportions within our microbiota because an imbalance can cause a myriad of chronic symptoms and infections, some which can be life-threatening. It’s only when disruption occurs to the immune system, the intestinal barrier, or the local microenvironment of the individual that Candida can proliferate and become a problem. Infections from Candida happen when it invades and damages epithelial cells or when it penetrates through epithelial barriers. (1) An imbalance in the intestinal microbiota, better known as dysbiosis, is closely linked to many diseases as well as the cause for many symptoms. However, Candida is just one of many causes for the development of dysbiosis.
As a healthcare practitioner, Candida conversations have come up often in practice. It’s something that is well known and often gets blamed as the cause for many ailments. You may have even decided to do a Candida cleanse when it was suspected to be the root of your issue. A quick search online linking your symptoms to a Candida overgrowth can very easily result in numerous articles that make it quite convincing that this is indeed your problem. However, if you did a Candida cleanse and you continue to have the same symptoms, then there are likely a couple of things going on. If you didn’t get testing done to confirm that it was Candida, then there is a possibility that your symptoms weren’t due to a Candida overgrowth. Another possibility is that the Candida cleanse was not effective at restoring balance either due to the protocol that was followed or by not following it long enough. Or it could just be that there is something else going on either in isolation or in conjunction with a Candida overgrowth, which most often is the case. If the conditions were favorable to allow Candida to overgrow in the first place, then it’s highly likely there could be other imbalances within the microbiota or damage to the barrier integrity that could be at play.
Symptoms of Candida
The most common symptoms typically associated with a Candida overgrowth are a vaginal yeast infection and oral thrush. However, given that Candida is a highly adaptable species, under certain circumstances, it can cause infection throughout different organs within the body. It can cause digestive issues like that found in irritable bowel syndrome such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and intestinal pain. (2,3) Other signs and symptoms of Candida can include depression, irritability, anxiety, joint pain, hormone imbalance, chronic fatigue, headaches, respiratory problems, bladder infections, and skin issues; (3) however, this is just a partial list. Overall, the symptoms are nonspecific and can manifest in many ways.
Testing for Candida Overgrowth
Functional lab testing is very useful to help get to the root of an issue, and it is something I often utilize with my clients. My philosophy is why guess when you can test, and it is the foundation of Functional Medicine. Two tests that I use to look for an overgrowth of Candida are a stool test from BioHealth Laboratory and an Organic Acids Test (OAT) from The Great Plains Laboratory that detects D-Arabinitol. Both can help to identify yeast, but I also do a comprehensive assessment and do not solely rely on the test itself when determining the best plan of care. If you suspect Candida may be your problem or you completed a Candida cleanse and you still have symptoms, then it’s worth seeking out a functional health practitioner that can order one of these tests for you. If you have confirmed that Candida is not the culprit, then consider the following conditions that are linked to many health problems.
Conditions With Overlapping Symptoms Or That Commonly Follow a Candida Overgrowth
Symptoms of a Candida overgrowth can be very similar to the following imbalances, and they can also commonly accompany a Candida overgrowth. Since dysbiosis can make one more susceptible to other microbes, consider investigating into the following if you’re not getting better.
Parasitic infection- You don’t have to travel out of the country to get parasites. Millions of people in the United States are affected by a parasitic infection each year. (4) Parasites can enter the body through contaminated food and water, undercooked meat, and improper hand washing. Symptoms of foodborne parasitic infection can include diarrhea, abdominal and muscle pain, weight loss, skin lesions, neurological symptoms as well as many other symptoms depending on the organism. (5) Also, depending on the person’s immune status, some organisms may cause no symptoms with the symptoms only appearing once the individual becomes immunocompromised. (6)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)- SIBO is just like the name implies, it’s an overgrowth or an increase in the number and alteration in the type of bacteria in the small bowel. It is a complex condition that has many potential causes some which include low stomach acid, autoimmune disorders, prior bowel surgery, diabetes, narcotic and proton pump inhibitor use. Some of the most common symptoms of SIBO are diarrhea, flatulence, abdominal pain, and bloating. However, it is possible there may be no gastrointestinal symptoms present, which can make it even trickier to diagnose. (7,8) You can perform a breath test that measures both exhaled hydrogen and methane to determine the presence of SIBO, but looking at your symptoms as a whole is just as important with the interpretation of these tests.
Leaky Gut- Leaky gut or intestinal permeability simply put is when the tight junctions within the gut don’t work properly, which can cause foreign substances to leak into the bloodstream. These foreign substances can be undigested food, toxins, and bacteria. Symptoms vary widely from person to person and are extremely broad. A few symptoms associated with intestinal permeability include bloating, gas, cramps, food sensitivities, aches, and pains. (9) The gut infections and imbalances mentioned above can lead to a breakdown of the gut barrier, but other potential causes include food sensitivities, medications, stress, and exposure to toxic mold. There are also a number of different diseases that have been found to be associated with alterations in the intestinal barrier. (10) Identifying and treating the underlying condition while addressing diet and lifestyle factors are critical to building up the health and ecology of the gut microbiome. I typically don’t test for intestinal permeability as I tend to focus on the underlying causes and will address that. Once the underlying causes are addressed, and diet and lifestyle modifications are made to assist in balancing and healing the gut, symptoms will typically resolve.
Because the symptoms of a Candida overgrowth along with a handful of other conditions are nonspecific, it makes it very challenging to treat appropriately without the right tests. Further, you may not be as diligent about following a specific protocol that’s aimed at restoring balance if you are not 100% sure that it was your problem to begin with; this is why it’s so important to know what you’re up against! Various functional lab tests can help to determine the cause of your symptoms. All of the conditions mentioned above can be tested using saliva, breath, urine, or stool samples, and they are often completed in the comfort of your own home. In some cases, insurance may not cover for these tests. If insurance does not cover, don’t let this deter you from getting tested. If you have been suffering from chronic, recurrent infections or symptoms, then it’s worth the price of paying out of pocket because it can save you from paying the cost later in life.
I'm Meagan Reynolds- a registered dietitian and certified functional medicine practitioner in Nashville, TN who teaches people how to reclaim their health so they can be the brightest version of themselves. My specialty is in thyroid disease and the many symptoms associated with it. I'm passionate about helping my clients find the root cause of their symptoms and supporting them on their healing journey.