“Candida” (sometimes referred to as a yeast infection) is the current buzzword or colloquial term for a very uncomfortable and somewhat invasive systemic infection by a microscopic yeast, more properly known as Candida albicans. There is a whole family of Candida yeasts and the one that most people refer to when they mention Candida, is the albicans sub-species. The actual infection is properly named Candidiasis but this is what people are referring to when they say simply Candida. The word albicans actually means white, and the Candida albicans are little white round bodies of microscopic size.
C.albicans is pretty ubiquitous; it is found everywhere in the human body where there is a microbiome. That is, you can find it in the mouth, up the nose, on the vaginal membranes, the tip of the penis, in the colon, everywhere there is a moist mucus membrane to support the yeast and its growth.
The normal balance of yeasts and bacteria usually cause no problem; the bacteria in the microbiomes maintain what is called the ‘acid mantle’ or bio-film, which usually keeps the yeast under control by creating a barrier and through competing for nutrients and space.
Things go wrong when the yeast gets out of its normally harmless biological niche, proliferates and invades the host tissues.
Simply using too much soap or alkaline body cleansers can remove the acidic bio-film (acid mantle) and leaving the delicate membranes with no protection; the yeast will grow rapidly and invade the soft and defenseless mucus membranes. Washing the genitals with strong soap or putting too much bubble bath lotion in the bath can lead to this. This is recognized by most as the very uncomfortable Thrush infection where the yeast has proliferated in the vagina and the vulva, leading to itching, swelling and lumpy white discharge.
Another cause is antibiotic treatment – although life-saving in most cases, antibiotics can wipe out the helpful bacteria which compete with the yeast. This gives the yeast a clear field to reproduce at an accelerated rate as it is an ‘opportunistic organism’ and will take advantage of the lack of competition for food and space. Once again we see this as an incidence of Thrush infection or more severely, it can set the stage for the dysbiosis we see leading to IBS or even IBD in chronic cases.
Chafing or physical injury to the delicate mucus membranes can also leave the host open to invasion by the yeast organisms. Things like soreness from sanitary towels (often experienced after childbirth when there is a prolonged period of vaginal discharge to cope with); chemical abrasion from things like hair removing creams and even soreness from sexual activity can leave the membranes open to invasion by yeast. Years ago, in more restrained sexual climates, Thrush used to be termed the “honeymooners’ disease” as quite often the first enthusiastic encounters of sexual activity among newlyweds caused a little abrasion to the delicate tissues of the genitals and often led to young brides coming home from honeymoon with severe thrush.
During early stages of breast feeding, the nipples can attract an invasion of opportunistic yeasts if they get sore or cracked, and this can often transfer to the baby where it shows up as tiny white spots in the baby’s mouth. These can be unpleasant and sore, making it difficult for the baby to feed comfortably and certainly sore and painful for the nursing mother also.
On the subject of transmission, it must be remembered that when a woman gets thrush, it is also very likely that her male sexual partner will have the overgrowth of C.albicans on his penis also. Somewhat seemingly unfairly(!) men do not seem to develop the same symptoms as readily as their partners and they will often be unaware that they are harbouring large numbers of yeast colonies. The woman gets treated with anti-fungal medicines and then she is re-infected when they resume sexual relations. This perpetuates the transmission-cure-retransmission cycle which can be mystifying until you realize that you have to treat both partners with antifungals (usually topical cream will suffice for the man) at the same time to get the yeast colonies under control and back to normal asymptomatic levels.
Treatment of antifungals for C.albicans has limited success depending on the reason for the initial infection.
If the cause was physical injury or chafing, then simply reducing the numbers of the yeasts with antifungals will usually work and then the injuries can heal, restoring normal biofilm protection.
If the cause was antibiotics, then other factors need to be considered. If you have knocked out your friendly bacteria, then antifungals will only be a temporary solution. Once the antifungals have been discontinued, there is nothing stopping the yeast from proliferating once again as the bacteria has not been restored and it is unlikely that the antifungals will have eliminated every single yeast cell.
Bacteria will not spontaneously reappear after being killed by antibiotic treatments. Rinsing the delicate membranes with a probiotic solution will be helpful and this applies also to breast feeding. Some mothers will open a capsule of probiotics and dust their nipples before a feed; this will also help the baby to grow her own microbiome (it takes around 2 years for an infant to establish a full microbiome).
Candida can be more than just an annoyance
Candida has a more sinister side than the irritating and unpleasant thrush outbreaks. Systemic Candida albicans infection (candidiasis) has far-reaching and devastating consequences.
Initially, the yeast bodies are like round balls, taking in nutrients and letting out their waste product (acetaldehyde) as they go about their business of survival in the host body spaces. When they are environmentally threatened, or there is not enough space to thrive, they will travel around the body tissues by morphing into long, thin strands called hyphae. These hyphal forms will invade the blood stream, other body organs and even the brain. This is what gives rise to the long list of symptoms that go with yeast infection.
For more information see: The Yeast Syndrome, 1986, by Dr. John. Trowbridge, M.D. and. Morton Walker, D.P.M.,
For information about the latest research into this hyphae formation and how to eliminate c.albicans in all its forms, see Taymount Blog Post 16th January 2014: New Treatment For Candida Albicans.
The most distressing part of dealing with Candida albicans is that we see so many people in clinic who have been suffering from the effects of this yeast for a long time, the worst part of which is trying to get their doctor to accept that Candidiasis is a real disease and that really needs treating. Mostly women with the mental fog and depression that it causes will be given anti-depressants and even psycho-therapy. They begin to feel that nobody is taking them seriously and they are being treated as if they are mentally ill when they know there is something wrong with their bodies and they need help with that.
Consider that when the immune system is not working well, the immuno-deficient or immuno-compromised, such as with HIV patients developing full-blown AIDS, it is the Candida which gets completely out of control and is the cause of death in so many. Without the immune system to restrain it, Candida albicans will invade all the mucus membranes of the body; think of the throat, the bronchioles, deep into the lungs; the ears, the eyes. AIDS patients frequently go blind in the last few days of life; the late, great and much-missed Freddie Mercury suffered this sad and terrible effect; the pneumonia that is often on the death certificate is usually caused by the Candida deep in the lungs.
So if Candidiasis can lead to death in the immuno-compromised isn’t it time we took it seriously for those in the early stages of invasion of this unpleasant little fungal lodger?
For a three-pronged approach to treat Candidiasis, click here to see our Candida Protocol: Candida Protocols
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