What Is Candida Overgrowth?
Candida is a yeast (a type of fungus) that is commonly found in the digestive system, vagina, and on the skin. When Candida is at a proper level it aids digestion and nutrient absorption but many adverse side effects like acid reflux and heartburn can occur with Candida overgrowth (candidiasis).
Candida symptoms are rarely life-threatening though very serious problems can occur especially if the immune system or compromised digestive system allows the Candida infection to invade other areas of the body, such a the blood, heart, bones, brain, eyes, and other areas.1
There are over 20 species of Candida that can cause yeast infections in the human body. Candida albicans is the most common. Candida symptoms will differ depending on the location of the infection.
Have you been experiencing any of the following Candida symptoms?
- Digestive Problems
- Oral Thrush
- Sugar Cravings
- Brain Fog
- Sinus Infections
- Food Intolerances & Allergies
- Chronic Fatigue
- Skin and Nail Fungal Infections
- Vaginal Yeast Infections and Urinary Tract Infections
- Mood Disorders
- Hormonal Imbalance
- Weak Immune System
These are just a few of the more common Candida symptoms. There is good news! Candida overgrowth can be cured by diet! I’ll cover each of these candida symptoms and more, then let you know about some Candida natural treatment options.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
Candida overgrowth can be caused by:
1. Broad-Spectrum Antibiotics
2. Diets High in Carbohydrates and Sugar
Diets high in carbohydrates and sugar feed Candida and promote its growth.
3. Excessive Intake of Alcohol
Alcohol also feeds Candida by increasing glucose levels in the blood. Alcohol also weakens the immune system and puts stress on the liver. A compromised immune system and liver will struggle in fighting off the growth of Candida.
4. Birth Control Pills
The effects of birth control pills can lead to Candida overgrowth and as well as a recurrence of Candida infection. Estrogen in the birth control pill stimulates glycogen production within the vagina. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose and makes a perfect food source for Candida which can lead to Candida overgrowth.2,3
5. Heartburn Medicine
Heartburn medicines reduce stomach acid. Candida does not thrive in the presence of strong stomach acid. Alternatively, low stomach acid allows the growth of Candida. Unfortunately, Candida is a cause of acid reflux and other digestive problems which prompt many to take heartburn medicines.
6. High-Stress Levels
High stress can disrupt the natural balance of the digestive system and allow the growth of Candida.
7. Weakened Immune System
People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop Candida and have a harder time fighting off Candida overgrowth.
8. Cancer Treatments
Similar to antibiotics, cancer treatments kill off the healthy gut bacteria that keep Candida in check.4
12 Candida Symptoms Of Overgrowth
The health issues below are common warning signs that you might have Candida overgrowth. It’s unfortunate, many people who suffer from these symptoms don’t realize their ailments originate from Candida overgrowth. Some of these symptoms originate directly from the overgrowth of Candida itself and others indirectly through liver toxicity brought on by the toxins produced by the Candida infection.5
1. Digestive Problems
Acid reflux, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, ulcers, or other digestive problems are common Candida symptoms.
Healthy gut bacteria and Candida aid with digestion and the absorption of nutrients BUT…
- Candida overgrowth kills healthy gut bacteria that help keep Candida in check. Healthy gut bacteria also aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Without adequate levels of healthy gut bacteria, the digestive process is compromised.
- Candida overgrowth can slow the digestive process causing digestive problems such as constipation, cramping, acid reflux, heartburn, and other stomach issues. The slowing of the digestive process causes an increase of food in the intestines and delays the emptying of the stomach as food is digested. This increase in volume leads to pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) weakening its ability to close tightly enough to keep the stomach contents from refluxing into the esophagus or beyond in cases of silent reflux. The LES is a valve at the junction of the esophagus and stomach that is designed to open when food is swallowed and close after to keep stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus.
- Candida overgrowth causes low stomach acid. Which leads to:
- A reduction in the ability to synthesize certain digestive enzymes.
- A reduction in the ability to break down proteins into amino acids.
- Slow digestion and constipation which increases the volume of material in your intestines as well as abdominal pressure on the LES.
- Reduced ability to absorb nutrients from food that will keep your digestive system running properly.
- Candida overgrowth can cause diarrhea. Yes, the other extreme to constipation can also occur.
- Candida overgrowth causes gas leading to abdominal pain, intestinal cramping, abdominal bloating, belching, flatulence, acid reflux, and heartburn. The increased abdominal pressure as gas builds causes pressure on the LES which can weaken the LES closure and allow acid to reflux into the esophagus where esophageal irritation produces the pain we know as heartburn. Belching can also force stomach acid into the esophagus as gas escapes. The gas produced by Candida can also be responsible for the development of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Liver toxicity can occur from toxins produced by Candida overgrowth as well as the dying off of Candida. Liver toxicity is another cause of bloating after meals that can create pressure on the LES and cause acid reflux.
- Candida overgrowth breaks down the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract. This intestinal damage can lead to leaky gut, a digestive disorder where intestines compromised by bacteria overgrowth allow unwanted bacteria and other molecules to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. Leaky gut can lead to many different immune disorders even depression.6
It is from Candida overgrowth in the digestive system that all other Candida symptoms originate. When Candida takes over the intestinal tract, healthy gut bacteria and the body’s immune system are unable to fight off the infection by themselves. A treatment plan must be established to eliminate Candida overgrowth.
2. Oral Thrush Infection
Oral thrush is a Candida infection in the mouth. Common oral thrush symptoms are:7
- White coating on tongue, inner cheeks, gums, or tonsils
- White bumps in the mouth
- Cracking in the corners of the mouth
- Cracks and bumps may be tinder and bleed slightly
- Bad breath
Are you at risk of contracting oral thrush? In addition to the Candida overgrowth causes listed above, oral thrush risks are high for people who:
- Have intestinal Candida overgrowth.
- Use oral corticosteroids.8
- Wear dentures and do not clean their dentures properly or take them out before going to bed.
- Exchange saliva with someone who has oral thrush. Oral Candida is infectious.
- Have unprotected oral sex with someone who has a Candida infection like a vaginal yeast infection, penile yeast infection, or anal yeast infection.3
- Smoke heavily.
- Who excessively cleanse their mouth. This can kill off good bacteria that keep Candida in check.
Oral thrush is a common infection. If oral thrush is left treated and did not originate from intestinal Candida overgrowth, it can spread to the intestinal tract.
If you have oral thrush that has not spread to other areas of the body, it can be naturally treated by:
- Gargling with coconut oil and a few drops of clove essential oil, oregano essential oil, lavender essential oil, myrrh essential oil, or any other antimicrobial or antibacterial essential oil.
- Gargling with salt water.
- Using a new toothbrush each day or one that is completely disinfected each day.
- Avoiding the scraping of any lesions to prevent further infection. Use of a soft toothbrush can help.
- Avoiding the use of antibacterial toothpaste, mouthwash, spray, or breath freshener that can kill the good bacteria in your mouth that’s helping fight off the Candida infection.
It is also a good idea to implement the same steps that kill off intestinal Candida overgrowth. This will help treat oral thrush and deter the Candida infection from spreading. See the “6 Tips to Naturally Treat Candida and Restore Your Health” below.
3. Sugar Cravings
Sugar cravings are a sign of Candida overgrowth. Candida overgrowth compromises the digestive system causing nutritional deficiencies. When the body struggles to properly process food and absorb nutrients, severe sugar cravings can occur. This exacerbates Candida overgrowth. Candida feed on sugar.
Candida Risk in Diabetics
The risk of Candida overgrowth is greater in diabetics. Sugar levels in the digestive system of diabetics are typically higher than those without diabetes. These elevated sugar levels feed Candida increasing the risk of overgrowth.
4. Brain Fog / Memory Issues
Candida can cause brain fog symptoms like difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and mental confusion. These neurological symptoms result from toxins like acetaldehyde that are produced by Candida as well as the dying off of Candida.9
Acetaldehyde is produced by Candida as it converts sugar into energy through the process of fermentation. Acetaldehyde then combines with red blood cells, enzymes, proteins, enzymes and more to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream thus reaching other parts of the body like the brain.
How does Candida overgrowth cause brain fog?
- Acetaldehyde is a neurotoxin that promotes damage to brain structure and neurological function.
- Red blood cells that have combined with acetaldehyde carry less oxygen to the brain.
- Acetaldehyde can cause vitamin B deficiency. Lack of vitamin B1 can damage brain cells and cause brain fog.
- Candida die-off increases liver toxicity. Toxins normally filtered by the liver can then accumulated in the brain to cause brain fog.
Check out more Candida die-off symptoms below.
5. Sinus Infections
Do you have a chronic sinus infection? This is a sign of Candida overgrowth though somewhat hard to diagnose in those who regularly suffer from sinus infections and seasonal allergies.
Be careful how you chose to treat a sinus infection. A round of antibiotics is the common treatment choice for a bacterial sinus infection. Antibiotic treatment will not work if the sinus infection is from Candida. It can actually make the infection worse by killing off healthy gut bacteria that are working to keep the Candida infection under control.
Yes, you can get a yeast infection in your sinuses.
6. Food Intolerances & Allergies
Have you developed new sensitivities to allergens or foods like gluten, dairy, eggs, or other? A compromised digestive system and toxic liver due to Candida overgrowth can cause the body to react differently to foods causing food allergies and intolerances to occur where they had not previously.
In the case of food intolerance, Candida can cause leaky gut syndrome, a condition that allows unwanted food particles to cross through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream. The immune system sees these particles as foreign substances that it needs to combat. This reaction by the immune system can potentially lead to food sensitivities.
7. Chronic Fatigue
Chronic fatigue syndrome can be caused by many factors.10 Candida overgrowth is one of them. If your fatigue is not improved by rest and you also have other Candida symptoms, you may have a Candida infection.
Candida overgrowth affects energy levels in several ways:
- Candida overgrowth impairs nutrient absorption. If we don’t get the proper nutrients to fuel the body, fatigue occurs.
- Candida overgrowth leads to liver toxicity. Toxins that the liver can’t filter put a strain on organs and the immune system as resources are diverted to deal with the toxins and fight the Candida infection. This robs you of energy leaving you chronically fatigued.
8. Skin and Nail Fungal Infections
Candida can also overwhelm your protective skin flora to cause Athlete’s foot, fungus in the toenail, skin rashes, eczema, psoriasis, and other skin issues. If you chronically experience skin and nail fungal infections, they may be originating from a Candida overgrowth of the digestive system.
9. Vaginal Yeast Infections and Urinary Tract Infections
Even though Candida infections like vaginal yeast infections, penile yeast infections, and urinary tract infections may initially be localized, they can spread to other areas of the body. If you have Candida overgrowth, what seems to be localized Candida infections will likely recur or infections may show up in new areas of your body.
It’s important to remember that Candida infections can be sexually transmitted.
10. Mood Disorders
Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks are common mood disorders. They can be caused by Candida overgrowth but are more difficult to diagnose as a symptom of Candida since they are connected to many other conditions.
How does Candid overgrowth cause mood disorders?
- Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that boosts mood. The bulk of serotonin production occurs in the digestive tract. An intestinal overgrowth of Candida can suppress the production of serotonin.
- Dopamine is also a neurotransmitter that boosts mood. Low dopamine levels are tied to depression. The neurotoxin, acetaldehyde, produced by Candida converts dopamine into the neurotoxin salsolinol. Salsolinol also contributes to the destruction of dopaminergic cells in the brain. (Recent studies suggest the mental manifestations created by the damage done to dopamine levels and dopaminergic cells in the brain may be a contributing factor in the development of Parkinson’s disease.)13
- Candida overgrowth can lead to liver toxicity. When the liver is toxic your ability to use and store B vitamins is impaired. Even if your intake of vitamin B12 is adequate, B12 will not absorb well if your liver is toxic. Also, Candid overgrowth kills healthy gut bacteria that aid in digestion and nutrient absorption. Low B12 symptoms not only include moodiness and depression but fatigue, brain fog, headaches, anemia, and weakness as well.14
- A toxic liver can greatly impact chemicals in the brain that affect emotional health. Mood swings, irritability, anxiety, depression, outbursts of anger, and panic attacks can all be due to a toxic liver.
11. Hormonal Imbalance
Candida produces a waste product that mimics estrogen. The presence of the mimicked estrogen fools the body into thinking adequate hormone levels have been achieved and the body decreases estrogen production. This creates a hormone imbalance that can cause symptoms of:
- Low libido
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Water retention
- Early menopause
- Chronic fatigue
- Muscle mass and strength loss
- Brain fog
- Muscle and joint pain
- Low motivation
Many symptoms of a hormone imbalance overlap with other symptoms of Candida overgrowth and are common symptoms experienced by women during a normal monthly cycle. It’s important to pay attention to your body. You might be able to detect a difference in hormone changes caused by Candida overgrowth.
12. Weak Immune System
A weakened immune system can allow Candida overgrowth to occur and Candida can weaken the immune system as well.
How does Candida weaken the immune system?
- The digestive system is directly tied to the immune system. Nutrients that keep your body healthy and functioning properly are provided through the food you digest and adequate stomach acid levels along with good bacteria fight off bad bacteria that are introduced into your digestive system through the food you eat. When Candida overgrowth occurs, the digestive system can’t provide the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy immune system and bad bacteria entering your body through foods weaken the immune system.
- Candida overgrowth can cause leaky gut syndrome by breaking down the mucous membrane of the gastrointestinal tract causing intestinal permeability. This allows unwanted bacteria and other molecules from the intestines to enter the bloodstream leading to acute inflammation and food sensitivities. The immune system becomes overworked in response.
- Candida overgrowth can affect hormone levels and neurotransmitters that regulate the immune system.
- Candida overgrowth can cause liver toxicity, in turn, weakening the immune system as it fights to combat the effects of these toxins.
A healthy digestive system is important to overall physical health and your ability to fight against Candida infections. If you regularly feeling weak, sick, and fatigued, Candida overgrowth could be the cause.
6 Tips to Naturally Treat Candida and Restore Your Health
Candida overgrowth isn’t hard to eliminate. You can treat Candida overgrowth with these simple tips involving a Candida diet and natural supplements.
Tip 1. Eliminate Foods That Feed Candida
Starve Candida by removing sugar, carbohydrates, and alcohol from your diet. This includes fruit and dairy. Lactose in dairy is a form of sugar. These foods feed Candida and contribute greatly to its growth.
Foods to which you’re having an allergic reaction will need to be eliminated as well. Reduction in food allergens will reduce the stress put on your immune system and improve your body’s ability to heal from the Candida overgrowth.
Tip 2. Kill Off Candida with Antimicrobials and Antibacterials
There are many different foods, spices, natural supplements, and essential oils with antimicrobial and antibacterial properties that can fight Candida. Here are some popular ones to consider:
- Organic, extra-virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil kills off Candida through both internal and topical use.
- Essential oils for fighting Candida overgrowth:
- Herbal antibacterials are helpful in killing off Candida.16 Some common herbal antibacterials include:
- Enteric coated peppermint oil: Peppermint can cause acid reflux and heartburn by prompting the LES to relax. The enteric coating prevents the peppermint oil from being released until it has passed beyond the stomach.
- Turmeric – Theracurmin
- Fennel Seed
- Pau d’Arco Bark
The bonus to many of these antimicrobial and antibacterial foods, essential oils, and natural supplements is that they are also anti-inflammatory agents that can fight against the inflammatory conditions caused by the toxins introduced by the Candida infection.
Tip 3. Restore Healthy Gut Bacteria
Healthy gut bacteria help keep Candida under control. It’s vital to restore gut flora by reintroducing healthy bacteria to the digestive system.
Probiotic supplements and unpasteurized, fermented foods have the healthy gut bacteria you need to help restore gut flora and fight Candida overgrowth. Some fermented foods to consider are sauerkraut, miso, kimchee, and kombucha. Yogurt and kefir should be eaten later in the treatment process. The sugar (lactose) found in these dairy sources will feed the unhealthy bacteria.
Tip 4. Replace Vitamins and Minerals
Candida overgrowth causes nutritional deficiencies. Nutritional supplementation is important for repairing your digestive health and immune system after Candida overgrowth.
L-glutamine, anti-oxidants, vitamins A, B, C and E, zinc, calcium, magnesium, chloride, zinc, thiamine, omega-3 fish oil and other vitamins will facilitate healing. Replacement of these vitamins and minerals through individual supplements or by taking a high-quality multivitamin can improve the health and performance of the digestive system and restore the health of your immune system.
Vitamin C also protects against the neurotoxin acetaldehyde produced by Candida and its potential for causing liver toxicity.17
Tip 5. Replace Hydrochloric Acid, Digestive Enzymes, and Bile
Candida overgrowth can cause low hydrochloric acid levels that can be supplemented with Betaine HCl. Normal hydrochloric acid (HCl) levels deter Candida overgrowth. If stomach acid is low, unhealthy bacteria will grow in the intestines.
Low stomach acid inhibits the breakdown of food and synthesis of certain digestive enzymes thus reducing the digestive system’s ability to break down proteins into amino acids. Taking digestive enzyme supplements can aid in overcoming Candida overgrowth and restoring health.
Digestive bitters are also an option for improving digestive health. Digestive bitters stimulate the production of stomach acid (HCl), pancreatic enzymes and bile from the gallbladder. There are even digestive bitters blends with antibacterial herbs that help to kill off Candida and other harmful bacteria.
Examples of available digestive bitters:
Tip 6. Liver Cleanse
There are many different liver cleanses including:18
- Taking milk thistle, dandelion root, and/or beet root to help cleanse the liver of toxins, heavy metals, alcohol, birth control pills, antibiotics, and many other medications like those from cancer treatments.
- Liver flushes
Don’t forget to eat healthy foods! These go a long way in helping detox the liver.
Candida Die-Off Symptoms You May Experience
When you remove a Candida overgrowth, you’re killing off the yeast infection. This causes a flood of toxins to be released causing a variety of symptoms known as a Herxheimer reaction or die-off reaction as they overwhelm the liver and immune system. Some of the main symptoms of the Candida die-off reaction are:
- Brain Fog
- Chronic Fatigue
- Sinus infection
- Gas and bloating
- Nausea and dizziness
Many of these symptoms are the same as ones you may have with Candida overgrowth. This is because in both situations your body is being overwhelmed by toxins. As you recover from Candida overgrowth, your energy and mental clarity will return and the symptoms caused by the Candida die-off process will pass within a week or two. It’s important to continue on a high protein, high fiber, low sugar, low starch diet after recovery to prevent future Candida overgrowth.
Additional reading: Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and Heartburn
2) Dennerstein, GJ, & Ellis, DH. “Oestrogen, glycogen and vaginal candidiasis.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, August, 2001.
4) DiNubile, MJ, Hille, D, Sable, CA, & Kartsonis, NA. “Invasive candidiasis in cancer patients: observations from a randomized clinical trial.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Journal of Infection, June, 2005.
7) “Candida infections of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, August 4, 2017.
8) Fukushima, C, Matsuse, H, Tomari, S, Obase, Y, Miyazaki, Y, Shimoda, T, & Kohno, S. “Oral candidiasis associated with inhaled corticosteroid use: comparison of fluticasone and beclomethasone.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, June, 2003.
12) “Penile Yeast Infection: Symptoms, Treatment, and More.” Healthline, (n.d.).
13) Epp LM, & Mravec B. “Chronic polysystemic candidiasis as a possible contributor to onset of idiopathic Parkinson’s disease.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Bratislava Medical Journal, 2006.
15) D’Auria, FD, Tecca, M, Strippoli, V, Salvatore, G, Battinelli, L, & Mazzanti, G. “Antifungal activity of Lavandula angustifolia essential oil against Candida albicans yeast and mycelial form.” Oxford Academic, Medical Mycology, Volume 43, Issue 5, 1 August 2005, Pages 391–396.
17) Sprince, H, Parker, CM, Smith, GG, & Gonzales LJ. “Protective action of ascorbic acid and sulfur compounds against acetaldehyde toxicity: implications in alcoholism and smoking.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Agents and Actions Journal, May, 1975.