Oral thrush. Diaper rash. Yeast infection. These are common conditions that also share a common thread. As we know, the body is host to a variety of bacteria and fungi—some useful, some harmful. One of these common fungi—Candida albicans—is the common denominator in these, and other, fungal infections.
What is candida?
Candida albicans (candida) is a fungus that is naturally present on the skin, hair, and nails as well as in the mucous membranes lining the oral cavity and gastrointestinal tract of healthy people. Under certain conditions, candida can multiply and overpower system defenses, causing infection.
Oral candidiasis, or thrush, is an infection in the throat or mouth. Uncommon in most healthy adults, thrush can affect babies less than one month old, the elderly, or people with weakened immune systems.
Because certain proteins in saliva have antimicrobial properties, impaired salivary gland function can lead the way to oral candidiasis. Inhaled steroid medications, poor oral hygiene, and use of dentures are also linked with candida. Be sure to see your health care practitioner if you suspect thrush. Left untreated, it may pass into the bloodstream, which can be very dangerous.
Thrush symptoms and prevention
You may not notice symptoms of thrush at first. Look out for white spots inside the mouth and on the tongue. Thrush may also cause redness or discomfort in the mouth, sore throat and difficulty swallowing, and cracking at the corners of the mouth.
To help prevent thrush, maintain great oral hygiene: floss daily, brush your teeth at least twice daily, clean your toothbrush frequently, and avoid overusing mouthwashes. Diet can also have an impact, so limit refined carbohydrates, such as sugar and white flour. In addition, avoid yeast-containing foods, such as bread, beer, and wine, and add probiotics to your diet. Refrain from smoking.
Parents are familiar with one of the most common forms of candida infection: many diaper rashes involve the candida fungus. Candidiasis often occurs in moist areas of the skin, so the soft skin of a baby’s bottom that is perpetually covered in diapers is fertile ground.
Diaper rash, and candiasis of other areas of the skin in adults, can happen during hot, humid weather; if baby’s diaper is changed infrequently; when we wear tight, synthetic underwear; if we routinely wear rubber gloves; or if we haven’t followed good hygiene practices. Always consult your health care practitioner if you suspect candidiasis.
Diaper rash symptoms and prevention
Symptoms of diaper rash include redness and weepy skin in skin creases, small red spots, and itching or burning. For prevention, focus on keeping skin clean and dry. Use super absorbent diapers for baby. Adults, wear loose cotton underwear and add probiotics to your diet.
Vaginal yeast infections, called vulvovaginal candidiasis, are also very common, and may become recurrent. As candida can be passed through sexual contact, both partners should be treated.
A number of possible causes may be at play, including poor diet (including high sugar intake), stress, lack of sleep, some types of medications (birth control pills, antibiotics, steroids), and diabetes and HIV/AIDS.
Yeast infection symptoms and prevention
If you experience extreme itching, burning, soreness, and redness in the vaginal area, these could be signs of a yeast infection. Other symptoms include white, clumpy vaginal discharge, pain during urination, and painful intercourse.
To prevent yeast infections, wear loose cotton underwear and avoid clothing made from synthetic fibres, pantyhose, and tight pants. In addition, steer clear of fragranced personal products such as bubble bath, sprays, pads, and tampons. Avoid hot tubs and very hot baths, and take off wet clothing (bathing suits and exercise gear) as soon as possible. Add probiotics to your diet.
Other candida connections
Research also connects candida colonization in the gastrointestinal tract with digestive diseases including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and inflammatory bowel disease, as well as a higher incidence of candidemia (a hospital-acquired bloodstream infection) in diabetic patients.
While it may seem logical that a gut bacteria gone amok could lead to digestive tract problems, microbiologists are now studying the impact of bacteria on the health of the entire body, particularly in terms of dysbiosis.
Dysbiosis refers to imbalances in the composition of microbiota or gut bacteria. This imbalance is triggered by a variety of factors, including genetics, lifestyle, various medical procedures, psychological and physical stresses, loss of beneficial bacteria through antibiotic use,
and more. For example, diets high in protein, sugar, salt, saturated fat, sulphates, and artificial sweeteners can trigger dysbiosis. The same is true for diets low in non-digestible carbohydrates that feed beneficial bacteria and come from sources including artichoke, asparagus, banana, chicory, garlic, and onions.
Diet and lifestyle choices can help
Despite the lack of a direct connection of vague symptoms with candida in experiments thus far, candida overgrowth is definitely a factor in dysbiosis and therefore should be addressed through diet and lifestyle choices.
To help support healthy microbial balance in your body, focus your diet on plant foods, lean protein, and adequate intake of anti-inflammatory omega-3 essential fats from deep water fatty fish such as salmon and tuna. Avoid or limit refined carbohydrates, which are linked to candidiasis.
Take daily supplemental probiotics to help restore and maintain microbial balance in the digestive tract. Also, supplement with garlic extract, which may help to inhibit both mucosal and invasive candida infections.
Candida news from the research lab
Researchers continue to investigate new ways to treat and prevent candida. One study found that saponins in clover alter the cell membranes of Candida albicans, leading to cell death. Clover may be useful as a topical antiseptic.
Many essential oils are renowned for their antifungal properties. Rosemary essential oil inhibits candida formation on dentures. Lab research shows that Artemisia abrotanum (wormwood) essential oil inhibits candida formation as well as did the drug Nystatin. Oils from sage, myrtle, and laurel also show anti-candida activity.