Candida bacteria are a natural occurrence in the human body. They can be found in the vagina and gastrointestinal tract and on the skin. Typically, they don’t cause disease. They simply exist among all the other bacteria in the body. However, you can develop an overgrowth of candida and this can affect your health. This is especially likely if you have a weak immune system or you’ve taken a long course of antibiotics but there are other possible reasons.
You may already be familiar with one type of candida overgrowth: the vaginal yeast infection. Three out of every four women develop this condition at least once in their lives. However, as you will see in this article, this is not the only condition that can result from candida overgrowth.
Generally, vaginal and skin infections can be treated easily with antifungal drugs. However, if they aren’t treated or they are very serious, other organs can be affected, and these can be more difficult to manage. If you notice signs of a yeast infection, you should see your doctor so you can get a professional diagnosis and the correct treatment. Below, we’ll discuss candida overgrowth in detail and tell you how it can be treated and prevented.
Candida Overgrowth Explained
Candida overgrowth is also known as candidiasis and it refers to an overgrowth of yeast. The term can be used to describe any type of candida but in most cases, it involves candida albicans. It can result in sore throats, genital yeast infections, oral thrush, leaky gut, and other more serious conditions. Candida can have an impact on key parts of the body like the heart, blood, and brain. In severe cases, yeast overgrowth can lead to death.
Before you begin to panic, you should know that once you get prompt treatment, you can avoid developing serious infections or complications. You shouldn’t attempt to diagnose yourself especially if you’ve never been diagnosed by a doctor as having a yeast infection. Many women assume they have a vaginal yeast infection when they have another condition. However, it is important to know whether you have bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection or even a sexually transmitted disease so you can get the appropriate treatment.
Causes of an Overgrowth of Candida
Otherwise healthy people can develop yeast infections. However, some individuals are at greater risk including:
- Pregnant women
- People whose diabetes isn’t under control
- Immunosuppressed people
- Women who are taking oral contraceptives or receiving hormone therapy
Other Factors to Consider
Diet, medication and hygiene practices also help to determine whether you will develop an overgrowth of yeast.
If you have a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics. While these drugs will get rid of the bad bacteria which are making you sick, they also kill good bacteria that you need. This puts you at risk for candida overgrowth since you need good bacteria to keep your candida levels in a healthy range.
Douching can lead to an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina since it can throw the pH of the vagina out of balance. Also, if you already have a vaginal infection, it can push it further into your body.
Refined Sugars and Carbs
Yeast feeds on sugar so the more sugar there is in your body, the more likely it is that you will experience an overgrowth of yeast. If your diet is high in carbohydrates and sugars like glucose, lactose, and fructose, you need to watch out for excess candida. Excessive alcohol consumption can also increase the amount of sugar in your body.
Candida Symptoms: How to Know if You Have an Overgrowth
If you have a vaginal yeast infection, the symptoms are pretty clear. They include:
- A thick, white discharge
- Watery discharge
- Redness, itching and swelling around the vagina
- Vaginal pain and soreness
- Burning during intercourse
- Repeated urinary tract infections
Candida can also infect the male genitals. While it is often asymptomatic, it can also result in an itching or burning rash around the head of the penis.
Other Potential Signs of Overgrowth
It is important to note that excessive candida can affect the body in other ways, many of which are not commonly known. It can play a role in:
- Mood disorders – If there’s an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the gut, it can affect the neurological system. This means candida overgrowth can play a role in panic attacks, anxiety, depression, irritability, and mood swings.
- Chronic fatigue syndrome – Everyone feels tired from time to time, but chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by fatigue which lasts for six months or more. It is accompanied by headaches, joint pain, and brain fog. People with excessive candida in their bodies often report chronic fatigue.
- Sinus infections – Candida overgrowth can cause post-nasal drip, sinus congestion, sore throat, and other signs of sinus problems.
Types of Candida Overgrowth
Genital yeast infection is the most well-known result of an overgrowth in candida. However, excessive yeast can also present in other ways. These include:
- Oral thrush – Candida is normally present in your mouth, but overgrowth can lead to infections of the mouth, tonsils, and throat. Severe infections can also spread to the esophagus.
- Mucocutaneous candidiasis – Candida can cause fungal skin infections in areas that are warm and moist. Yeast thrives between the toes and fingers, in the armpits, groin, and corners of the mouth, as well as in the area under the breasts.
- Endophthalmitis – Fungus can also lead to inflammation of the eye and endophthalmitis can lead to loss of vision.
- Candidemia – This is a blood infection that can occur if yeast enters your bloodstream. It can also cause infections in your organs and it is a serious condition that can lead to hospitalization and an increased risk of death.
- Endocarditis – This is another serious condition and it involves an infection of the inner lining of your heart. It has a high mortality rate.
How to Treat and Prevent Candida Overgrowth
Candida overgrowth is usually treated with different forms of antifungal medication depending on where the infection occurs. However, lifestyle changes and home remedies can also bring relief and prevent further infections.
If you have a mild to moderate genital yeast infections, your doctor may prescribe a short course of treatment. The medication may be an over-the-counter or prescription pill, cream or suppository. Your doctor may also prescribe a single dose of an oral medication like fluconazole. Some homeopathic remedies can relieve symptoms of mild infections. More complicated infections may require a longer course of treatment.
For fungal infections of the mouth, treatment may come in the form of a liquid, lozenge or pill. Your doctor may ask you to use nystatin or clotrimazole to get rid of your infection. Oral fluconazole may be recommended for more severe cases.
Skin infections are usually treated with antifungal creams like econazole, clotrimazole, and miconazole.
Prevention of Yeast Overgrowth
Of course, prevention is always better than cure. Making changes to your diet can help to promote the presence of good bacteria and kill excess candida. A good place to start is by reducing your intake of foods high in sugar and gluten. Candida thrives on sugar and flourishes in an acidic environment. Cutting back on sugar, bread, peanuts, alcohol, and vinegar and incorporating more healthy fats and high-protein foods can reduce the risk of candida overgrowth. Avocado, chia seeds and some types of fish may be helpful.
If you’re already noticing signs of excess candida, there are foods that can help to kill the fungus. These include garlic, turmeric, and coconut oil, thanks to the anti-microbial properties of the caprylic acid it contains.
Taking probiotics can also help to keep the bacteria in your body properly balanced. You should avoid taking antibiotics as much as possible but if you need to take them, you also need to use a high-quality probiotic to reduce the impact of the drugs. Probiotics support the immune system and they increase the number of good bacteria in your body. Probiotics are available in pill form, but you can also get them in foods like yogurt, kefir, and kombucha.
If you’re a woman who wants to avoid vaginal yeast infections, there are several other things you can do to keep your vagina healthy. For example, you should:
- Avoid the use of strongly scented products around the vaginal area
- Wear breathable cotton underwear
- Avoid wearing tight, restrictive clothing or pantyhose which keep the area around your vagina warm and moist
- Change out of wet clothes as soon as possible
- Change tampons, panty liners or pads often
- Avoid extremely hot baths
Candida overgrowth is quite common and while it can present uncomfortable symptoms, it is usually quite easily treated. The key is to recognize the various symptoms and head to your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. Now that you know the causes of excessive candida and how serious untreated infections can be, you can take the steps necessary to prevent it. Diet and relatively simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference. Reach out to your doctor to find the approach which best suits your needs.