Updated: Sep 6, 2022
by Andrea Nakayama
As you know well by now, I'm a firm believer that you are not what you eat, but what your body can do with what you eat. In other words, you are what your body can break down and absorb. In many ways, you are also the sum of your parts. Sure there are the usual digestive parts – your mouth and esophagus, your stomach and intestines – but your digestive system is also host to a vast number of bacteria, protozoa, and fungi.
Candida is one of those fungi.
While in some ways it's true that we're all the same on the inside, just as our parents told us, there are a good number of ways in which we're vastly different. The human body is made up of about 10 trillion cells. Yet there are approximately ten times as many microorganisms living right within your intestines. In fact, it's your gut and other mucous membranes, like your respiratory tract and your urogenital tract, that create a home for those bacteria, protozoa, and fungi. There's really nothing to be grossed out about when thinking of sharing your body with these tiny organisms. It's natural, normal. This part of your body called your microflora is home to hundreds of different kinds of microorganisms, all designed to live in a symbiotic and non-harmful relationship with you.
In fact, these little organisms do quite a lot to keep you alive and enable you to thrive.
They train your immune system
They prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can make you sick
They create a barrier from exposure to all sorts of agents that you come into contact with every day
They produce antibiotic-like substances that are anti-fungal and anti-viral
They regulate the growth and development of the gastrointestinal tract
They produce vitamins for you and even manufacture certain hormones Thank you little critters!
Most of the flora and their concomitant organisms take residence in your colon. The largest populations of organisms that dwell there tend to be bacterial, as opposed to the protozoa or fungi that may also inhabit the terrain. Yet this is where we all differ. Though you and I both have a colon (unless, of course, it's been surgically removed), the culture and populace of your flora are likely very different than mine. For instance, an overburdened bacterial population in your microbiome may have allowed for yeast overgrowth, whereas I may have a proliferation of a certain type of bacterium, throwing my flora out of balance and allowing for autoimmunity to occur. There will also be a variance between each and every one of our bacterial composure at the most basic level, between the good and the bad – the commensal and the opportunistic. There are a significant number of factors throughout your life that will affect the composition of your flora, starting before birth. A baby's first opportunity for colonization is by the flora of his or her mother in the passage through the birth canal. In utero, the fetus is primarily sterile, with some possible initial exposure now thought to come from cultures in the amniotic fluid. But when the mother's water breaks and the birth process begins, so does the primary settlement of the body's mucosal surfaces, inside and out, in a period of about 48 hours.
That's just the beginning. Your microflora grows and morphs from there, throughout your life.
Other factors that will influence your microflora population include:
type of delivery
breast or bottle-feeding
use of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals such as birth control, steroids, and hormone replacement therapy
chemotherapy and radiation
drug and alcohol use
part of the body
overall health and immune status
It's even been shown that the same individual factors such as hormonal fluctuations, dietary changes, abrupt shifts in stress levels, and sexual activity can elicit alterations in the population of the microflora. I draw this all out for you to provide you with some context.
When it comes to Candida, context is everything.
It's sometimes hard to understand why your roommate or your husband or your best friend can eat a hot fudge sundae without experiencing immediate fatigue, brain fog, and bloating. Or why is it that your sister doesn't suffer chronic health challenges like persistent skin irritations and anal itching, sustained upper respiratory infections, anxiety, and fibroids even though she stops for a jumbo chocolate chip cookie on the way back to the office from lunch every single day?
I'm telling you, it really is all about context. It's the context in which the yeast within you has to grow.
In many ways, our health boils down to that microscopic internal environment and the ways in which yours is unique to you at this very moment. Your flora is like the sum of your experiences. You've collected a little of this, a lot of that; you've distributed some of your organisms and unknowingly exterminated others. What you carry inside your gut is a recipe that you and only you could have created. It's an environment that was influenced by your mother and her microscopic environment and for which you became the landlord soon after birth. Candida is a condition that has gotten a lot more attention in the last decade or so, and with good reason. As I noted above, Candida albicans is a yeast or fungus. We've always had some of the yeast present in our bodies at any one time, and everybody has some – no matter their age or gender.
Candida doesn't discriminate. And candida isn't the problem, the environment is.
Candida was first recognized at the turn of the last century, where there is some documentation of the yeast seen in the stool of children who had chronic bacterial infections. In a healthy person, Candida is a harmless agent. Yet fluctuations in the internal bacterial environment that influence immune health enable the yeast to grow past its tipping point, past the point where its actions are kept in check by the host climate. In these circumstances, the same strains of Candida that grow as harmless commensals can become pathogenic, invading the mucosa and causing significant damage. Candida is an intelligent and networked organism. It's considered a dimorphic fungus – meaning it can change shapes, oscillating between a bud and hyphae (the latter looking more like a little sperm), depending on its surrounding habitat. Dimorphic literally means "with two shapes". It's the longer filaments, the hyphae, that can burrow their roots through the mucosal barriers and into your tissues to initiate what's called a "leaky gut" – a situation where one of the body's most important boundaries and barricades between the inside and the outside world has been breached. Without suitable restraint, any number of elements, including improperly broken down constituents from the food you've eaten, can make their way into the bloodstream and wreak further havoc on your health. This may appear as inflammation, allergies, asthma, eczema, food intolerances, headaches, joint pain, and mind challenges such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, and problems with memory or focus. Within the proper mucosal atmosphere, Candida is designed to gain power and proliferate. The environment that will support its growth is one where there's a lot of undigested sugar and starch for it to feed on as well as a climate that has a lower pH, or is more acidic. Sugar, starches, and simple carbohydrates in the diet contribute to both of these generative factors, which is why diet is such an important part of an anti-Candida protocol. Since the yeast is a part of the microflora lodged in the mucosa, and much of this mucosa is situated in the gut, we're brought right back to my very first belief: you are not what you eat, but what your body can do with what you eat. When a favorable environment for yeast overgrowth exists in the microflora, then what you do with that pie a-la-mode is make more yeast. And as you make more yeast, you put more strain on your immune system to try to gain back some balance. This leaves you tired and inflamed and can cause confusion among your immune cells as they try to discern self from other.
As the yeast "feeds" on the sugars in its environment, it begs for more.
It's like a growing child. Its need for more sugars manifests as your sweet tooth.
I like to remind my clients that what feels like a lack of willpower when trying to avoid sweets or carbohydrates may be something much more sovereign to contend with – a growing and hungry pathogen. As the yeast feeds it also metabolizes. The by-products left behind from the yeasts' feast are perhaps more dangerous to your health than the yeast itself. These are toxic chemicals and dead yeast cells classified as mycotoxins, or little fungal poisons, that can be released into your bloodstream. Alcohol and acetaldehyde are two such toxins. The release of these into the blood will undoubtedly leave you feeling fuzzy and hungover. Gliotoxin is another mycotoxin left behind by Candida metabolism. This little poison interferes with your body's abilities to produce key antioxidants and suppresses the function of your immune system by thwarting the production of white blood cells. Thinking about Candida through the lens of its offenses can be overwhelming. It sounds like the scary monster in your worst childhood nightmare. And yet it doesn't have to be.
This is where you get to become an environmentalist.
This is where you get to do what I like to call "backing it up" so that we can alter the habitat within you and make it one that is less hospitable to opportunistic growth and more conducive to balance.
(this is an excerpt from a chapter of the book I co-authored with Ricki Heller called Living Candida Free and is not for reproduction) Let's all be environmentalists. It's the best thing we can do for ALL of our clients!