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What Is Candida?

By Gray Rollins

Candida is yeast, considered a normal part of our bowel flora, generally found in the mouth, throat, intestines and genitourinary tract. Its purpose is to fight off harmful bacteria that it encounters in the body.

Its presence in the body, then, is not problematic and is balanced by a well-functioning immune system and friendly bacteria. If the immune system ceases to function properly, or the level of friendly bacteria in the body becomes too low - as can happen when too many antibiotics are introduced to the body - then Candida overgrowth may occur. Other things that contribute to Candida overgrowth are toxic metals - such as mercury found in dental amalgams; genetic disorders; hormonal imbalance brought on by pregnancy, birth control pills or thyroid disorder; and even drinking too much alcohol which kills the friendly bacteria and allows Candida to grow.

The symptoms of Candida overgrowth range from uncomfortable to debilitating. Yeast infections, an overgrowth of Candida in the genital region, and thrush, a fungal infection in the mouth, are two of the most familiar conditions associated with Candida. Other symptoms of Candida overgrowth can range from hair loss to chronic fatigue. Milder symptoms of Candida include body rashes, acne, thrush and yeast infections, food allergies, sinusitis and tonsillitis. More problematic symptoms are fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and psoriasis. Candida may also affect mental and behavioral responses; forgetfulness, confusion, sleeplessness, depression and anxiety. Finally, the most severe symptoms of Candida can include hives, high blood pressure, and even malfunction of the endocrine, digestive and circulatory systems.

Candida releases toxins into the blood; among them, ethanol, which may cause symptoms of alcohol intoxication, and acetaldehyde which can damage organs and contribute to memory loss and distorted thinking. Obviously, Candida is not to be taken lightly; and it is contagious. It cannot be airborne but can be transmitted via sexual contact. If the other party has a healthy immune system, however, the Candida will be killed and the person will not suffer any symptoms.

It is also difficult to diagnose for a number of reasons. It shares symptoms with other conditions such as gluten intolerance and hypothyroid - and any combination of these can be present simultaneously, adding to the difficulty of diagnosis. Even healthy people have Candida present in their systems, so simply establishing its presence does not make for a diagnosis. Available tests are able to recognize only a few of the 150 known strains of Candida. The cells in the specimen may die while waiting for analysis resulting in a false "normal result. Along with the test, then, other factors have to be considered before a diagnosis can be made. The doctor must consider if the patient has a history of factors that are known to result in Candida infections and establish that there are symptoms present associated with it. Additionally, the knowledgeable physician will experiment with dietary and antifungal therapy to see if the there are reactions consistent with Candida overgrowth.

Once the presence of a Candida infection has been established there are a variety of ways to alleviate symptoms and bring the Candida under control. Any antibiotics must be discontinued. Anti-fungal treatments, such as fluconazole, nystatin and ketoconazole may be prescribed. Changes to the diet, such as elimination of sugars and white starches, and the addition of essential oils and acidophilus, may be recommended in order to restore balance to the system. While the diagnosis and treatment of Candida may be difficult, the return to good health is well worth the journey.

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