Explaining Yeast Overgrowth: Causes, Symptoms, and Solutions for Candida

by Dr. Susan Tanner, MD

In previous articles we have mentioned quite a bit about “candida”, its symptoms and the impact that yeast overgrowth can have on all of the body’s systems. Often, when Candida comes up with my patients, I am asked questions like,

“Is all yeast bad?”

“What does yeast overgrowth do to the body?”

“Is Candida just in the gut?”

Today, I am going to try to answer those questions and try to explain some of the fundamentals of Candida, so that you can better understand how to keep yeast in check for improved health and sustained wellness.

Candida Basics

Candida albicans is the full name of the yeast that can plague the system and cause many ill effects on the body. In small amounts, candida was thought to be helpful in the intestinal tract for protecting against typhoid fever. But, overtime, the combination of the widespread use of antibiotics, nutrient-poor/sugar-rich diets, and exposure to environmental toxins have allowed candida to reproduce at a very rapid rate. It can inhabit not only the intestinal tract, but also the sinuses and respiratory passages as well.

The symptoms and impacts of candida were brought to the awareness of many by the great book, The Yeast Connection, by William G Crook in 1983. This tome described in great detail the far-reaching impacts that candida can have on the body and mind and became the “go-to” reference on yeast for many years. The book explained very confounding symptoms of candida overgrowth that many individuals experienced and gave a dietary and treatment protocol that still works very well to this day.

Candida Symptoms

In looking at the widespread impact of candida and the symptoms it can cause, the list is rather long and vast. There is a soup-to-nuts list that can include everything from vertigo, brain fog, headaches, fatigue, and chronic sinus issues to itching, digestive upset, increased sensitivity to both foods and inhalants, and joint pain, just to name a few! There are some studies that indicate that an allergic sensitivity to the candida in the system can also disrupt other parts of the immune and hormonal systems.

There is a vicious cycle with candida being more prevalent in those with compromised immune systems and the presence of the candida actually suppressing the immune system too—so, it can become one of the “which came first chicken or egg” scenarios. In the very severely immunocompromised, such as patients who have active HIV or are on massive chemotherapy, candida can even present as an active infection in the blood stream and can be deadly, but the vast majority of patients that we see have much more subtle, yet life-impacting symptoms.

The Evolution of Our Understanding of Candida

Back when oral antibiotics were first becoming more readily available, the medical community recognized the fact that the antibiotics killed off normal bacteria, and, as a result, yeast would then overgrow. This overgrowth occurred particularly in the digestive tract. Some early antibiotic formulations actually contained nystatin, an anti-yeast medication. Then, the FDA decided that combination products would not be allowed. The nystatin was removed, and for some reason, the entire issue was never really addressed in mainstream medicine. Because antibiotics were (and still are) given for so many infections, including viruses for which they have no value, candida yeast has been able to gain a foothold in many a person’s system. Women with significant candida overgrowth may actually pass it along to their children during childbirth, allowing a very early start to imbalances in their child’s gut. Not only antibiotics, but steroid medications such as prednisone and Decadron are notorious for upsetting the bacterial balance in the body and often allow significant candida overgrowth.

There are other studies that suggest that the presence of and then allergic sensitization to candida causes increased reactivity to hormones in general, particularly the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. This sensitivity, not imbalance necessarily of these hormones, has been described as a rationale as to why so many women are now affected by endometriosis and PMS. Reduction of the candida yeast overgrowth definitely seems to help both situations.

In the nasal passages and airways, candida yeast can cause huge inflammation, reduce immunity and allow secondary bacterial infection. This situation often arises when the mucous membranes have been impacted by environmental mold or chemicals. With that, we get back to the absolute necessity of a mold-free environment to effectively treat these infections.

One thing that we as integrative physicians have found is that patients who are infested with candida have tremendous food cravings, particularly for sugar and refined carbohydrates. One of my colleagues described candida cravings as each little yeast cell having a mind of its own, demanding to be fed. This can make healthy diet and weight loss efforts even more difficult.

Determining if Candida Symptoms are an Issue for You

There are several ways to determine if yeast is a culprit in your health issues. If you have cultured yeast from your nose on a mold plate the answer is quite evident. Yeast in the gastrointestinal tract can be a bit harder to identify, but my preferred diagnostic for this is an organic acids test done on first morning urine. This test can find the by-products of yeast metabolism in the gut, which are then excreted through the urine. Without testing, a symptom checklist found in Dr. Crook’s book can tell you quite a bit but is, of course, subjective and not objective. Nevertheless, it can be a good place to start.

Treating Candida

Once you are ready to tackle your candida, the steps are clear but require diligence on the part of each and every patient. The basics are:

  1. Clean air. You will not get better if you are breathing mold spores into your system.
  2. Clean water. Do not drink chlorinated water. Chlorine actually kills off bacteria, but not yeast, and allows it to flourish even more.
  3. Clean food. Ah! Many find this to be the hardest step as you must adhere to a clean diet for some time, and in chronic cases, possibly for life. This includes avoidance of sugar, alcohol, high glycemic fruits and vegetables, and foods prone to mold.
  4. Quality probiotics added to your nutritional regimen. Klaire Therabiotic Plus, as well as products intended to improve the immunity of the gut, such as colostrum are helpful.
  5. Nasal rinses with antifungal agents in them to kill yeast in the nasal passages. CitriDrops Dietary Supplement can be added (2-3 drops per nasal rinse).
  6. Prescription antifungals. These can be taken both orally and in nasal sprays, and are often used to help speed recovery. A physician familiar with these should be consulted.

Questions? Comments? Please write to us below, or email us at newsletter@sinusitiswellness.com. For medical consults or to reach Dr. Tanner for advice about diet or treatment for Candida, please visit her website at thebodynexus.com.