In Part 1 of this series, I covered what Candida is (and isn’t) and how it could be present in your body. In Part 2, we’re going to cover the symptoms and root causes. Be sure to look for Part 3 (all about how I treat Candida in my practice!).
Sugar cravings, brain fog, joint pain, fatigue… these are just some of the nonspecific symptoms often attributed to chronic Candida overgrowth.
But the problem is these same, ambiguous symptoms can be caused by multiple conditions! So how do you know if a Candida diagnosis is really something you should pursue?
Today, I’m going to dig into the symptoms that send up red flags for Candida in my practice – and I promise, it’s a lot more than “exhausted mom craves dark chocolate before bed!”
I’m also going to talk about the risk factors and root causes that make a Candida overgrowth more likely.
Here, There, Everywhere: Candida Symptoms
The most striking characteristic of Candida is its complexity. While no two people with chronic Candida may have the *exact same* symptoms, they will all have a variety of seemingly unrelated symptoms – ranging from “annoying” to “life-altering.”
Here are just some of the places you might have Candida-related symptoms:
- Central nervous system,
- Gastrointestinal tract (digestive)
- Genitourinary tract
- Endocrine glands
- Muscles and joints
- Respiratory system
How could one condition cause so many different symptoms?
How Candida Can Mess With Your Whole Body
This gets kind of complicated, so I’m going to try and make it as simple as possible to understand.
Candida can produce acetaldehyde and ethanol (AKA the same compound we drink in alcohol!) when the yeast in the gut ferment sugar and carbs. In fact, Candida can produce so much ethanol, it can cause your blood alcohol level to rise and make you drunk. (This phenomenon is called Auto-Brewery Syndrome).
Then, when the ethanol or acetaldehyde is oxidized, it requires that Nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) be changed from its oxidized form (NAD+) to its reduced form (NADH). It’s basically like drinking a 6-pack daily – but without the fun part!
(You may have heard about NAD as an anti-aging supplement. NAD is a really important cofactor and levels reduce over time, as we age. Some promising research suggests that raising NAD levels can reverse mitochondrial damage – aka the effects of aging!)
OK, here’s what all this means: chronic Candida causes the production of a bunch of alcohol inside your body. To get rid of the alcohol, NAD+ is converted to NADH. Over time, this leads to lower levels of NAD+ in the body – and that can lead to a cascade of symptoms.
Low NAD+ levels are linked to chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s vision loss, and premature aging. Higher levels of NADH can lead to less mitochondrial energy production, lower levels of serotonin, and problems metabolizing proteins, fats, and carbs.
But that’s not all…
Acetaldehyde produced by Candida can also impact the membranes inside your body. Membranes are the outer layers of cells and act as “gatekeepers” of your cells – keeping bad stuff out, letting good stuff in, and transmitting messages.
When this happens to the cells in your gut, you develop “leaky gut” – aka increased intestinal permeability. Leaky gut causes by Candida can further complicate the symptoms caused by Candida.
If You Have Candida, You Might Also Have…
Here are some of the most common symptoms of Candida I see in my clinic:
- Sugar cravings – yes, this one is “overplayed” but real! Candida will send signals along the gut-brain axis to make you crave more sugar.
- Allergies – Candida releases chemical mediators like histamine, leukotrienes, and prostaglandins that all lower your body’s white blood cells’ effectiveness. You might have rhinitis, chronic hives (urticaria), or asthma. Candida can also cause chronic stuffiness.
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease – individuals with high Candida burdens appear to be more prone to intestinal inflammatory diseases.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome – this occurs as an effect of acetaldehyde.
- Formaldehyde Sensitivity – formaldehyde is processed through the same detox pathways as acetaldehyde, and with that system overburdened, you may have trouble detoxing formaldehyde.
- Histamine sensitivity and intolerance – again, histamines are processed through same detox pathways as acetaldehyde. This can lead to food intolerances, rashes, and hives.
- Central Nervous System Symptoms – especially common is trouble with short-term memory, a result of acetaldehyde lowering the availability of acetylcholine (an important neurotransmitter)
- Rashes – dermatitis, psoriasis, eczema, hives, jock itch, diaper rash are all common symptoms. Especially on nails, in skin folds, and in the area of the groin or genitals.
Root Causes & Risk Factors for Candida
There’s no way I could cover every potential symptom of Candida, but if you read anything on the above list that was a little too familiar, keep on reading.
Now it’s time to talk about the most common risk factors and underlying causes for Candida overgrowth.
This is a BIG list, but I’m taking the time to write them all out because most people have multiple predisposing factors – and for each one you have, the likelihood of Candida becoming a problem for you increases.
Risk factors are cumulative. That means, the more times you take antibiotics (for example), the more the ratio between opportunistic yeast and good bacteria shifts. Eventually, Candida levels will rise above a threshold and symptoms develop.
#1: Antibiotics or Steroid Use
The number one cause of Candida overgrowth is prolonged use of antibiotics (especially broad spectrum). The worst offenders are penicillin, clindamycin, vancomycin, metronidazole, Cipro, keflex, zithromax, augmentin, bactrim and erythromycin.
These drugs kill both aerobic bacteria and anaerobic bacteria. Anaerobes help prevent yeast colonization by inhibiting the ability of Candida to adhere to the gut wall. They can also lead to decreased digestive secretions and altered pH.
Corticosteroids work by suppressing the immune system, so it’s understandable why can predispose to yeast!
#2: Hormone Changes
Any change in hormone levels put you an increased risk for Candida overgrowth:
- Oral contraceptive use has been shown to increase Candida in the oral microbiome , which leads to the gut (in fact, studies show that just brushing teeth 3 x daily reduced levels of Candida in the stool!)
- Estrogen replacement therapy (for any reason)
- Pregnancy not only causes increased levels of estrogen – but also causes natural immunosuppression and increased cortisol levels to keep the mother’s immune system from attacking the fetus. This creates an ideal environment for Candida to take hold!
Candida thrives on a diet rich in glucose – the simple sugar found in foods like bread, pasta, and refined sugar. Dietary glucose is necessary to start the process of candida invading tissues.
But please know: this doesn’t mean the answer to Candida is simply a zero-sugar diet! More on this in Part 3!
Diabetes and high blood sugar also put you at increased risk for Candida overgrowth.
Finally, alcoholism – or even just frequent alcohol use – increases risk of Candida. Beer, wine, and other fermented alcohols promote Candida colonization, and all alcohol inflames the gut lining, making you more prone to inflammation, dysbiosis, and leaky gut.
In those already genetically prone to alcoholism, research has suggested that Candida overgrowth (and the Auto-Brewery syndrome it can cause) can even lead to a Candida-perpetuated form of alcoholism. (Other research has also established the connection between intestinal fungal overgrowth and alcoholic liver disease.)
#4: Nutrient Deficiency
Nutrient deficiency goes hand-in-hand with some of the other risk factors listed here. Low stomach acid (which can be caused by antibiotic use, stress, antacids, or PPI drugs) can cause incomplete digestion of the food you eat.
Poor diet (like too much sugar or refined carbs, and not enough fruits and veggies) can lead to nutrient deficiency, too.
Iron, zinc, and biotin deficiency are all risk factors. Both too much and too little iron (anemia) can predispose you to Candida. Iron stimulates yeast overgrowth, but low iron can interfere with the white blood cell’s ability to function and fight infection.
#5: Environmental Factors
Pesticides like glyphosate have been shown to disrupt the microbiome, reducing beneficial bacteria that help to protect you from Candida overgrowth.
High levels of stress dysregulate the HPA Axis, and can cause abnormally low or high cortisol levels. We know stress is associated with an increased risk of vaginal Candida – and I suspect if we studied it, we’d find it also tracks with gut Candida.
#6: Gut Health
If you already have altered bowel flora – aka dysbiosis – you’re at increased risk for Candida.
Overgrowths of H. pylori and Streptococcus facilitate Candida overgrowth.
This is why it’s so important to treat those other bacterial overgrowths and gut dysbiosis alongside Candida. If you’re trying to clear Candida without addressing overall gut health, it’s like chasing your own tail! (More to come on this topic in Part 3).
#7: Impaired Immunity or Underlying Disease States
If you have Candida, overgrowth, it’s a major sign your immunity is decreased. Likewise, if you have known decreased immunity, you’re at increased risk of Candida.
Conditions like thyroid dysfunction and diabetes can also predispose you to Candida overgrowth.
Most people have multiple risk factors and symptoms for Candida overgrowth. If you count up all your symptoms and potential risk factors, what number do you come up with?
If you have more than one or two, be sure you read Part 3 of this series, where we’re going to discuss how you can find out if you actually have Candida overgrowth – and if you do, what to do about it!
I’ll share the tests and protocols I use with patients in my own practice – so don’t miss Part 3!