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.
How to decrease sugar intake and overcome a sugar addiction
The average American consumes 66 pounds of added sugar, per year, if eating the standard American diet; this translates into about 19.5 teaspoons every day. (1) Added sugar is found in processed and packaged foods and is added for a variety of reasons: It improves taste, balances spicy, bitter, and sour components of sauces and marinades, acts as a preservative, and makes certain foods more palatable so people will eat them. Sugar is added to many foods, not just the ones that are intentionally made to be sweet, so it’s easy to eat a decent amount of added sugar in one day without even touching the sweets. Then we have the holidays that are typically entertained around an assortment of sugary foods, drinks, and desserts. After a full month of holiday parties, events, and gifts filled with peppermint bark, Christmas cookies, chocolate truffles, and other rich desserts, you’ll find yourself starting the New Year with a raging sweet tooth, making the health goal you have set for the New Year that much challenging.
Sugars addictive nature has been well researched, and numerous studies are indicating that it’s addicting in the same way as other drugs of abuse, such as cocaine and heroin. Documentation both in human and animal studies show that drugs of abuse and certain types of palatable foods like high sugar foods, cause a release of dopamine into the nucleus accumbens, which stimulates the brain’s pleasure or reward centers. Further, clinical studies using brain imagining show the same dopamine receptors lighting up in some obese people after ingesting palatable food as when alcoholics and drug addicts use alcohol or addictive drugs. (2,3) Could sugar be the most popular drug? It appears to be that way given the effects it has on the body, minus the short-term side effects. But what about the long-term side effects?
The ingestion of sugar causes inflammation within the body, and when consumed in excess over an extended period, can lead to many chronic diseases, not to mention tooth decay. Some of the top health problems include increased risk for heart disease, cancer, obesity, and diabetes. Some less common side effects that are not usually associated with sugar intake include mood swings, anxiety, depression, memory loss, and impaired learning. The effects of sugar are different for everyone. Some people are more sensitive to sugar than others, and in those highly sensitive individuals, significant behavioral changes manifest that can significantly impair their quality of life. In children, the effects that sugar can have can be seen more on the extreme side from tantrums to outbursts and other behavioral and learning problems.
Improve sugar cravings and decrease sugar intake
Living in a state of gratitude allows for new possibilities in your life to take form. It takes conscious effort to begin shifting your state of being, but when you do, it can dramatically change your life. If you’re trying to improve your health, happiness, or any area of your life, you must first come from a place of gratitude. However, this fast-paced, busy lifestyle that we live in can cause us to easily get disconnected from our body, which can also cause us to focus on what we don’t have or what is going wrong in our lives. Unfortunately, when we get overloaded with everyday life, it sometimes takes a hardship, a decline of health, or a holiday to make us slow down and review what it is in our lives that bring us joy and makes us truly grateful. When we are grateful, it makes us lighter and happier, and when we feel good, it makes it easier to reach our health goals; because let’s face it, in times of stress and negativity, we are the most vulnerable. Let’s first take a look at negative emotions to see why it can be difficult to break away from them so that we can begin living in a state of gratitude.
Negative Emotions Are Addicting
Emotional addictions can be just as powerful as addictions to all drugs of abuse if they become frequent and are repeated long enough. Serotonin, dopamine, and GABA are just a few of the neurotransmitters in the brain that influence our emotions, feelings, and passions. They can easily get out of balance due to a variety of things, such as diet, disease, external stimuli, as well as both environmental and genetic factors. Further, when we experience any strong negative emotion like agitation, worry, judgment, or low self-esteem, the body begins to crave more of the same and will seek out situations that will produce the desired result.
If you’re unconscious of negative thought patterns in your life, they can literally take over and control how you begin to think, feel, and act. For instance, you start your morning with agitation towards your spouse or coworker, only to find you are feeling rushed and overwhelmed to finish a project, which carries on to feelings of sadness about some lack within your life. If you do not put awareness towards this emotional addiction, then it can continue building momentum and carry on with you. Pretty soon, a few days, a week, or even a month passes and you either blow up, have a meltdown, or just crash. Consequently, your health and mood begin to suffer because strong emotions are stored in the body’s tissues and can manifest in disease and illness if suppressed; it’s a vicious cycle. It would make life much easier if we were wired to be addicted to happy thoughts and emotions like we are with negative ones…right!
There are obviously many physiological and physical reasons that one could be emotionally addicted or conditioned to the negative pattern of thinking and feeling, but first, it’s important to recognize this so that you can begin to develop new patterns of thinking and feeling. It doesn’t happen overnight, but with anything, the more you practice and the more you put attention towards it, the easier it becomes.
Exercises to Begin Living in a State of Gratitude
Gratitude is an extremely powerful emotion because it not only produces the feel-good chemicals in the brain and body, lowers cortisol, and improves health, but it can be used in almost any unpleasant situation in life to shift your energy from the negative to the positive. Things in life happen all the time that we don’t always have control over. By incorporating a few of these principles, you’ll find yourself naturally gravitating towards gratuity!
Awareness is being conscious of your thoughts and feelings, the messages that your body is trying to tell you, and the environment in which you are in and the people you interact with. One way to raise awareness is to set an intention in the morning or in the evening to be more present in your day. When you are present, it allows you to be grateful for what you have now, and it draws more of the energy to meet that vibration to you, just like in the Law of Attraction- what you focus on, you attract.
Studies have shown that as long as the necessities of life such as food and shelter are met, additional wealth or material goods have very little effect on happiness. Happiness is not attained by something outside of us; it’s an internal state. Meditation is incredibly powerful in so many ways, but two specific things that it can do is create more happiness and peace in your life and allow connection to happen with your higher self, which is so important in this crazy world! When you are connected with your higher self, your life begins to flow with ease.
3. Act of Giving
We’ve all heard the expression, what you give out you receive back. One way this works is that it elicits feelings of gratitude when you give of your time, attention, words, or actions. It also makes you happy, and when you’re happy, you’re automatically living in a state of gratitude.
4. Verbally Express Your Gratitude
One of the easiest ways to bring more gratitude into your life is by saying it. The next time someone does something nice for you or does something small to show they care, make sure to tell them. It may not seem worth expressing at the time, but words can have a powerful effect, both in how it makes you feel as well as the other person.
So instead of letting the emotional addiction control you, practice allowing gratitude to flow through you and begin to see the leaps in your health and happiness that you’ll make because of it!
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.