You’ve probably heard of yeast infections—but did you know that yeast in your body can cause more problems than just a little itching?
Candida albicans is a type of yeast that lives in everyone’s body. It is one of only hundreds of species of Candida yeast, but it is the most common. In a healthy person, Candida albicans is primarily found among the microorganisms of the gastrointestinal tract, where its growth is kept in check by the presence of beneficial bacteria and acids in your stomach. When you are in good health, all these types of microflora balance each other out, keeping your digestive system and bowels function at optimal levels.
When things become unbalanced, however, the Candida in your body can grow exponentially, creating a yeast overgrowth that throws off your internal systems and causes a host of health problems.
What causes a yeast overgrowth?
Yeast overgrowth generally happens when something upsets the balance of your digestive system. There are several ways this can happen.
- Digestive inflammation: Inflammation increases the growth of Candida, so if you have a stomach infection or other intestinal complaint, you may develop a yeast overgrowth.
- Antibiotics: If you undergo several rounds of antibiotics in a short amount of time, the healthy bacteria in your digestive system will decrease, and the Candida in your system may grow out of control.
- Compromised immune system: If you have an autoimmune disease or are undergoing chemotherapy, your body is at greater risk for developing yeast overgrowth.
- Diet change: If you make a sudden and dramatic change to your diet, you will alter the microflora in your digestive system. Though this change is temporary, it may be enough for the relationship between yeast and bacteria to become unbalanced.
It’s important to note that it is not the presence of yeast itself that is the problem—everyone’s body has yeast in it, just as everyone’s body has bacteria in it. The trouble arises when your internal balance is thrown off, and the yeast grows out of proportion to the other microflora in your system.
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth
The most apparent symptom of yeast overgrowth is a yeast infection. This occurs when the yeast builds up and begins to affect specific parts of your body, usually warm or moist places like the genitals or armpits. Some versions of this are thrush (a yeast infection in the back of the throat), vulvovaginal candidiasis (a yeast infection of the female genitals), and diaper rash (a yeast infection on a baby’s bottom).
However, a topical yeast infection is not the only health problem that can result from yeast overgrowth. You may also develop many other symptoms that initially seem unrelated. These include:
- Skin conditions, e.g. eczema, acne, or dandruff
- Constipation or diarrhoea
- Gas or bloating
- Anal itching, which may be accompanied by hard stools or mild rectal bleeding
- Frequent urinary or bladder infections
- Peeling, flaking, or cracking around the lips
- Loss of energy or fatigue
- Fungus round the fingers and toes, which may cause nails to peel and crack
How to treat a yeast overgrowth
Symptoms of yeast overgrowth can be treated individually. For example, you can use honey or an antifungal shampoo to treat dandruff, stool softeners to help with constipation, or hydrocortisone to treat thrush around the mouth. But the symptoms will not go away entirely unless you treat the underlying digestive imbalance that is causing them.
Yeast feed on sugar, so the quickest way to limit the growth of Candida in your system is to cut out sugar from your diet. This doesn’t just mean sweets and sodas—you also want to eliminate foods that create high levels of sugar when they are digested. This includes:
- refined sugar
- sugary sweeteners, such as honey or maple syrup
- wheat and rice
- starchy vegetables, including potatoes, sweet potatoes, and corn
- legumes, like beans and lentils
- high-sugar fruit, such as bananas, grapes, pears, dates, apples, and cherries
- sugary drinks, including soda and alcohol
- dairy, which contains the sugar lactose
Because this is an extreme diet, it should not be followed for more than 1-2 weeks, and it is best to consult with a doctor before beginning (to make sure you are staying healthy and continuing to get all your nutrients).
You will also want to support your body with supplements that promote a healthy, balanced digestive system. This could include probiotics (to increase the growth of beneficial bacteria), antifungals (to limit the growth of yeast), and fibre supplements (to improve your digestion and return it to stock). Your doctor will help you decide on the best course of treatment.
Does yeast overgrowth exist?
While studies have been conducted on the effects of yeast growth (especially those of Candida albicans), there has been very little clinical research into yeast overgrowth as its condition. At this point, the majority of evidence is anecdotal and experiential, with patients who suffer from chronic, unexplained problems recovering when treated for an overgrowth of yeast.
Conventional medicine does not yet recognize yeast overgrowth as its disease, outside of traditional yeast infections. However, many holistic and nutritionally-oriented doctors—as well as the naturopath and nutritionist community—recognize yeast overgrowth as a disease that should be diagnosed and treated.
If you suspect that yeast overgrowth may be the root cause of your health problems, talk to a trusted medical professional to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.