Sometimes in practice, I'll have clients come to me with symptoms like bloating, yeast infections, and heavy sugar cravings — and we'll find out through testing with the GI-MAP, that there is an overgrowth of yeast in the gut.
In this article, you'll learn about Candida (a type of yeast that lives naturally within the gut microbiome) — how it can overgrow and cause symptoms, and how to rebalance the microbiome.
What is Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast that is naturally found in our gut microbiome. In an ideal situation, candida would live symbiotically with our beneficial flora in the microbiome, and not manifest with any issues.
The most prevalent type of candida is Candida Albicans, which is a strain most commonly the culprit of things like fungal infections, yeast infections etc.
Candida is called an "opportunistic" pathogen, though it occurs naturally within our systems, meaning that when it has the opportunity to overgrow and multiply, it can start to cause problems for us.
Symptoms Associated with Candida Overgrowth
While some of the symptoms associated with an imbalance or overgrowth in Candida, could also be associated with other types of imbalances in the gut microbiome, there are some more telltale signs of this imbalance.
Here are some signs and symptoms associate with a candida overgrowth:
yeast infections, UTI's
fungal infections on the skin like tinea versicolour
skin conditions like perioral dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, etc.
brain fog, memory issues, trouble focusing
sugar or carbohydrate cravings
irregular bowel movements (constipation, diarrhea)
mood imbalances: irritability, anxiety, etc.
What causes a candida overgrowth?
There are a number of factors that can lead to overgrowth of candida in the gut — here are a few:
1. Overconsumption of refined sugars and carbohydrates
As this is candida's preferred source of fuel, overconsumption of these foods can lead to a proliferation of candida. While sugar alone is usually not the culprit, it can become an issue when bthere are not enough good bacteria to keep the candida in check.
2. Overconsumption of alcohol
Alcohol consumption has been shown to negatively impact the composition of the gut microbiome, and can compromise immune function — two factors that can influence the body's ability to manage an overgrowth of candida.
Likewise, some alcohols contain yeast, which in some cases may be bothersome for those who have an overgrowth of this pathogenic yeast.
3. Stress (especially chronic stress!)
Stress can weaken the immune response, and shut down important digestive functions. Both of these factors can set the stage for candida to overgrowth within the gut.
4. Antibiotic and medication use
Antibiotic and certain medication use can cause imbalances in the microbiome, and impact the populations of our protective, beneficial species. This can also create the environment for candida to thrive, and overgrow. Antibiotic use combined with high sugar intake is the most common trigger I see for candida overgrowth.
How can we rebalance the microbiome?
1. Reduce your intake of refined sugars and carbohydrates
As refined carbohydrates are Candida's preferred source of fuel, reducing your intake of these foods can help to slow the proliferation and overgrowth of this yeast.
While simply reducing your intake of sugars won't necessarily resolve an overgrowth of candida on its own (other interventions may be required!), it can definitely slow the growth when you remove the food source.
Here are some foods to consider avoiding while navigating a candida overgrowth:
refined and simple sugars, including barley malt, artificial sweeteners. (Small amounts of raw honey are ok)
processed/refined flours and simple carbohydrates (ie. wheat flour, rice flour)
tropical fruits (banana, pineapple, mango)
high sugar condiments such as BBQ sauce and ketchups
2. Reduce your intake of yeast-containing foods
There are certain yeast-containing foods that can be helpful to avoid while trying to rebalancing the microbiome, and eradicate a candida overgrowth.
Here is a list of foods to consider avoiding in the meantime:
all dairy products except ghee and butter
foods high in yeast, mold or fungus such as cheese, dried fruits, melons, peanuts, corn and rye
soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar-based pickles/sauerkraut
baked goods that contain yeast, including bread (even gluten-free)
3. Incorporate anti-fungal foods
Certain foods have anti-fungal properties, which can help to reduce populations of candida within the gut microbiome. If you suspect you have a candida overgrowth, you can incorporate these foods daily, as much as possible:
4. Try a probiotic like Sacchromyces boulardii
This is a really special single-strain probiotic. It is actually yeast itself!
This might seem counter-intuitive at first if we're thinking of yeast overgrowth here, but S. boulardii has been shown to have an antagonistic effect against candida, inhibiting populations of this species.
In some cases, the use of Saccharomyces boulardii can exacerbate symptoms associated with a candida infection, but in most cases, it will be beneficial in fighting an infection. I recommend discussing the use of this with your practitioner or primary health care provider!