Candida Yeast: A Balanced Perspective
The term “Candida” or “Yeast Syndrome” has been popularized as a broad diagnosis that supposedly accounts for all manner of symptoms: fatigue, depression, hormonal imbalances, and a long list of others. In order to discuss this topic without resort to unreliable information, it is best to first clarify terms.
Medically speaking, a systemic yeast infection occurs only in people who are immune-suppressed: AIDS patients, organ transplant patients and cancer patients under treatment. It occasionally will occur in young children as well, because their immune system is not yet fully functional. The hallmark of this kind of systemic yeast infection is thrush, a white coating in the mouth and tongue, composed of Candida albicans (usually), which is indeed a yeast. The existence of yeast in the bloodstream is a very rare finding and is usually indicative of serious illness (meaning you’d be in the hospital – not just feeling slightly off your game.)
Dysbiosis: The Real Battle
On the other hand, a more accurate term, dysbiosis, refers to an imbalance in the organisms (flora) living in your gut. Composed mostly of bacteria but including also some yeast and other types of organisms, these friendly flora are essential to the health of your digestive tract, your immune system, even your respiratory tract. In fact, there are more bacteria in your digestive tract than there are human cells in your body! And your stool is composed of mostly water and these friendly bacteria.
Natural practitioners recognize that an imbalance in the flora of the gut – “dysbiosis” – can have far-reaching and significant health consequences. This most commonly occurs as a result of overuse of antibiotics; steroids including prednisone; oral contraceptives (“the pill”); and contact with pathogenic organisms while traveling. Fortunately, in many cases it is relatively simple to correct dysbiosis if the proper measures are taken, which, if other factors impacting health are taken into account at the same time, will result in an improvement in overall health.
Candida and Confusion
Unfortunately, the term “Candida” or “Yeast” has been used as a catch-all term for any condition that does not readily fit another medical diagnosis. Some natural practitioners seem to apply this diagnosis to every patient who walks in their door, which results in a great deal of confusion. The same problem occurs in books and websites that show a long list of symptoms – many of which most people will experience from time to to time – and say that if you have “X” number of these, you almost certainly have Candida! The only problem is, many people have had many of those symptoms; and unfortunately, there is no adequate laboratory test to diagnose Candida – making it difficult to determine whether “Candida” is really the issue or not.
Separating the Wheat from the Chaff
Let us go back for a moment to the many patients who are told that they have Candida, or who self-diagnose the condition from their reading on a website or in a book. Frequently, a big part of the treatment is a diet free of wheat products; sugar; starches of any kind; milk; alcohol; fruit; fruit juice; and a whole host of other food groups that supposedly encourage yeast (vinegar and mushrooms are often included in the “no-no” list.) At the same time, the patient is given supplements (anywhere from a few to a shopping cart full) that are meant to kill candida; if they are seeing a medical doctor, they may be given a prescription anti-fungal (all yeast are fungi.) Then, if they feel better in a few months, this is taken as confirmation that they had yeast.
There is a problem with this conclusion – what has actually been proven is that if you avoid all those foods and take those supplements, you feel better – but it has not been proven why you feel better (again, there is no reliable test to tell you that yeast were present before the treatment, and that they are absent after the treatment.). The confusion arises because: a person with a sensitivity to dairy or sugar or wheat, or blood sugar instability, or intolerance to fruit sugar or consumed yeast will certainly feel better on that diet, often dramatically so. Many people mistakenly believe they have systemic candida when in fact they have a sensitivity to a specific food – and they may in fact be able to enjoy dairy or fruit or pasta or some other common food – just not the foods that actually do cause symptoms – without suffering any negative consequences. But as a result of incomplete information and inadequate diagnosis, they may avoid all of the supposedly “yeast-feeding” foods for years, unnecessarily, living in fear of a condition they never had!
I take candida, yeast, dysbiosis, probiotics, the health of the digestive tract, and the ramifications of antibiotics and steroids seriously. However, it is always best to avoid inaccurate generalizations. The more specific the information I give you about what impacts your health, the more power you have to take care of your health. The role of diet, friendly flora, nutritional and herbal supplementation, and proper diagnosis (clinical or laboratory) are essential to my practice. Please explore the rest of this website, to learn more about the general philosophy and practice of naturopathic medicine. Of course, I am happy to meet with you to discuss your particular situation, and to explore with you how I can help you feel your best.