Yeasts are one-celled fungi that normally reproduce by budding. Candida, one of many types of fungi that dwell on and in the human body, is usually found in small amounts in the mouth, intestines, and skin. While the fungus causes no problems when at normal levels, Candida can trigger an infection called Candidiasis if it grows uncontrollably.
Researchers describe it as the most common cause of human fungal infections. As NIH researchers A. Raz-Pasteur et.al. explain, Candida albicans is the most common culprit in fungal infections affecting humans, but other Candida species have become a significant cause of infection. The most common types of Candidal skin infections are superficial or in mucous membranes. Cutaneous Candidiasis is an infection that usually comes from Candida organisms that form colonies in oral, gastrointestinal, vaginal, and cutaneous surfaces.
Candida Overgrowth and Its Symptoms
While healthy bacteria usually control Candida growth, disruptions in bacteria levels or challenges to the immune system can lead to overproduction of Candida. Some of the causes of Candida overgrowth are stress, diabetes, immune system weakness, consumption of excess sugar and refined carbohydrates, high consumption of alcohol, use of antibiotics, and use of oral contraceptives.
Candida overgrowth can cause numerous health problems. Here are some common Candida symptoms and their health-related conditions.
Candidiasis in the mouth or throat often caused by an overgrowth of Candida albicans, most often affects newborns, elderly people, and people with weakened immune systems. Researchers A. Akpan and R. Morgan claim that poor oral hygiene and removable dentures can substantially increase your risk of developing the disease. Carla Garcia-Cuesta et.al. describe the symptoms as “white, bumpy patches on the tongue, inner cheeks, gums, tonsils, or throat,” while R. V. Lalla et.al. discuss painful lesions that might bleed if scraped and redness or soreness of the mouth and tongue. Researchers caution that bad cases of oral Candidiasis can “spread to the esophagus and cause pain or difficulty swallowing.” They add that another symptom is fatigue, possibly because the disease may be brought on by nutritional deficiencies, particularly insufficient essential fatty acids, vitamin B6, and magnesium.
Invasion of Skin and Mucous Membranes
Leo Galland, MD of the Gesell Institute of Human Development relates that Candida albicans often invades skin and mucous membranes. When broad-spectrum antibiotics and immunosuppressant drugs are used after cancer chemotherapy, organ transplantation, and open-heart surgery, the resulting overgrowth of Candida can cause death.
Weakened Immune System
Candida infections are common when the immune system is weakened, making people tired. One study suggests that prolonged Candidiasis of the gut may cause chronic fatigue syndrome. When Candida infects the mucous membranes, it depresses T cell and natural killer cell function. The immune dysfunction found in this disorder has been considered the primary underlying causal factor. It is proposed that chronic intestinal candidiasis may be an agent that leads to immune depression in many CFS patients, and therefore it could be a causal factor in CFS.
Imbalanced Gut Bacteria
Both “good” and “bad” bacteria live in the human digestive system. The “good” ones aid digestion by processing starches, fibers, and sugars. Imbalance of bacteria in the digestive system causes bloating, constipation, diarrhea, nausea, gas, and cramps.
A 2011 study published in Current Opinion in Microbiology links an overgrowth of Candida to diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, reporting that “Candida colonization delays healing of inflammatory lesions and that inflammation promotes colonization. These effects may create a vicious cycle in which low-level inflammation promotes fungal colonization, and fungal colonization promotes further inflammation. Both inflammatory bowel disease and gastrointestinal Candida colonization are associated with elevated levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokine IL-17. Therefore, effects on IL-17 levels may underlie the ability of Candida colonization to enhance inflammation.”
Chronic Sinus Infections
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of eight adults in the United States suffers from chronic sinus infections. These 37 million people have symptoms such as headaches, a runny nose, nasal congestion, and impaired ability to smell. While most short-term sinus infections are caused by bacteria, fungi have been implicated in some long-term, chronic sinus infections. A Mayo Clinic study showed that 96% of 210 people suffering from chronic sinus infections—those lasting more than one month—had fungi in their mucus, sometimes resulting in polyps, small growths in the nasal passages that affect breathing. The researchers say that Candida is the problem in sinus infections that last longer than one month.
Skin and nail infections: Candida can also cause infections on the skin and nails. While bacteria on the skin usually keep Candida from growing out of control, a change in environment can enable Candida overproduction. For example, moisturizers, soaps, and cosmetics can change skin conditions, causing itching, rash, athlete’s foot, toenail fungus, and ringworm. In an article published in Clinical and Molecular Allergy researchers explain that fungal infections such as athlete’s foot (tinea pedis) are common in patients with immune system issues or diabetes mellitus. The condition can be a complication for patients with allergy and asthma. In any case, fungal conditions affecting the skin affect quality of life.
Joint conditions: Candida overgrowth can affect the joints. A Candida infection that enters the bloodstream and travels through the body can infect the joints and cause arthritis, “a debilitating form of deeply invasive candidiasis,” according to researchers from the International Osteoarticular Mycoses Consortium. It usually occurs in people with immune system problems, infects hips and knees after surgery or if Candida overgrowth is not treated for a long time and causes pain, stiffness, and swelling. Other ramifications of Candida overgrowth are bone infections, or osteomyelitis, which can cause pain and tenderness, according to researchers studying Candida osteomyelitis in children and adults.
Candida as a Vaginal Yeast Infection
Normally, the vagina contains a balanced mix of yeast, including Candida and bacteria. An overgrowth of Candida in the vaginal tracts of women can lead to yeast infections. Yeast overgrowth can come from use of oral contraceptives, hormone therapy (which elevates estrogen production), or antibiotics that alter the pH level, as well as pregnancy and uncontrolled diabetes.
While men can also get genital yeast infections, they are far less common. Researchers led by J.D. Sobel say that vaginal yeast infection is the second most common vaginal infection in North America. Candida can also cause a urinary tract infection, which is more likely in elderly, hospitalized, or immune-compromised people, or in neonates.
According to the Mayo Clinic, three out of four women will get a vaginal yeast infection (also called vaginal Candidiasis). Many women will have a yeast infection at least twice.
Symptoms include itching and irritation in the vagina and vulva, burning sensation during intercourse and urination, redness and swelling of the vulva, vaginal soreness and pain, vaginal rash, and vaginal discharge. A complicated yeast infection might entail severe symptoms, including extensive redness, swelling, and itching that become tears, cracks, or sores. It might happen four or more times per year. It might involve a type of Candida other than Candida albicans.
Candida albicans is the usual culprit in most yeast infections, and common treatments can solve the problem. When other varieties of candida fungus cause yeast infections, they pose treatment difficulties and may require more powerful treatment options.
Men also get yeast infections, causing a condition called balanitis—inflammation of the head of the penis, says James M. Steckelberg, M.D., of the Mayo Clinic. He attributes yeast infections in men to moist skin, lack of circumcision, and sex with a female partner who has a vaginal yeast infection, contributing to an overgrowth of candida.
Symptoms of balanitis are moist skin on the penis, with a thick, white substance collecting in skin folds; sections of shiny, white skin on the penis; redness, itching, or a burning sensation on the penis. It is more likely if people use antibiotics for a long time, have diabetes, have a compromised immune system, are overweight, or practice poor hygiene.
How to Treat Candidiasis
To reduce the risk of genital yeast infections, clinicians suggest that people wear loose cotton underwear and loose-fitting pants or skirts, avoid wet clothing for extended periods of time, avoid hot tubs and very hot baths, maintain good hygiene, and minimize the use of antibiotics. In a 2014 study, researchers claim that food consumption is an important consideration in preventing recurrent Candida infections in order to balance “good” and “bad” bacteria. The researchers advocate avoiding refined sugars, carbohydrates, and high-lactose dairy products while consuming garlic, coconut oil, curcumin, xylitol, aloe vera, pomegranate, kombucha, and probiotics.
If changes in the diet are not enough to reduce Candida growth and avoid infections, antifungal drugs are the most common form of treatment. They work most effectively when administered early. Most male yeast infections can be cured with over-the-counter antifungal medications, while female infections have become somewhat more difficult to treat.
Although some types of Candida have become resistant to first-line and second-line antifungal medications, precautions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are helping to solve the problem. The agency is monitoring trends in antifungal resistance by surveillance, species confirmation, and antifungal susceptibility testing. It is also working with genetic sequencing and other laboratory tests to find and comprehend specific mutations that can be linked to antifungal resistance in Candida.