“Of all the things I’ve lost in life, I miss my mind the most” is a humorous line found on posters and refrigerator magnets. Less humorous are the real complaints of a common yeast organism called Candida albicans, including mental fogging, the inability to concentrate, a short attention span, a feeling of general spaciness, a loss of former alertness, and poor memory. Candida patients often have to read some things at least three times, and to their despair, might still be unable to retain it.
The symptoms affecting the mind —added to the chronic complaints of low energy, fatigue, depression, irritability, angry outbursts, migraine headaches, bladder irritations and infections, intermittent diarrhea, constipation, bloating, indigestion, allergic reactions, chemical intolerances to foods, skin eruptions, vaginal discharge and itching, menstrual irregularities, severe menstrual cramps, blurred vision, and sinusitis—may make you feel as if you are losing your mind! Your healthcare practitioner may even have hinted that “it’s all in your head” after not being able to discover a specific medical diagnosis to cover your medical complaints. Thousands of people have been labeled mentally or emotionally ill when they indeed have a legitimate health problem.
According to some medical professionals, the cause of these varied medical complaints could be Candida albicans, a generalized yeast infection. In The Yeast Syndrome, John Parks Trowbridge, MD, described Candida overgrowth as a “medical condition … affecting approximately one-third of the total populations of all Western industrialized countries.”
What Is Candida Albicans?
Candida albicans are yeast cells that, in normal circumstances, are only present in the gastrointestinal tract and on the skin, mucosa, esophagus, and small intestine. The Candida yeast cells consume substances such as sugar in order to survive and usually live in harmony with other bacterial flora present in and on the body. Typically, one Candida organism lives in a concentration of millions of other bacteria, within the normal flora of the gastrointestinal tract.
The normal balance prevents yeast from overgrowing and causing problems. Candida is normally controlled by our immune defenses. However, when our internal environment is disrupted by taking antibiotics, helpful bacteria tend to be decreased. Antigens and toxins overwhelm immune system cells and our immunity decreases, causing conditions in which Candida colonization may begin.
The Candida organism exists as a “spore” in the gut, in a somewhat rounded form. When the immune system is weakened, Candida assumes a thread-like shape and goes through the gut (stomach and intestine) wall releasing powerful toxins that may be absorbed into deeper tissues or the bloodstream, and damages the gut wall, allowing foreign substances to enter.
Once the boundary into the bloodstream is broken down, incompletely digested dietary proteins may travel through the bloodstream assaulting the immune system. The immune system then produces antibodies, causing allergic reactions. For example, a cerebral allergy may cause depression, mood swings, memory problems, and changes in behavior.
When Candida multiplies in the intestinal tract, toxins produced find their way into other tissues, resulting in a wide range of problems, including chronic fatigue, headache, and depression. Candida overgrowth can also lead to a “leaky gut” and subsequent food sensitivities.
According to William G. Crook, MD, author of The Yeast Connection Handbook, there is a growing consensus among healthcare practitioners that vulvodynia (chronic vulvar discomfort) and a variety of other disorders, such as fibromyalgia and endometriosis, may also be yeast related. Most people seem to develop these disorders as a result of a weakened immune system, in which viruses are activated, yeasts multiply, food and chemical allergies become activated, and nutritional deficiencies develop. While Candida albicans may not be the root cause, mounting evidence supports the notion that people with these disorders are helped by a sugar-free diet and antifungal medications.
Conditions that Encourage Candida Overgrowth
Conditions that encourage yeast overgrowth include:
- Using antibiotics
- Taking cortisone
- Birth control pills
- Multiple pregnancies
- Worry and/or stress
Eating foods high in mold or yeast content (such as bread, brewer’s yeast, beer, and mushrooms), as well as diets high in refined or simple sugar carbohydrates (such as sweets, chips, and pasta), create an imbalance in our body, producing an environment that fosters yeast growth.
This generalized yeast infection grows more abundantly when our body’s resistance has been lowered due to nutritional deficiency, infection, or environmental toxins.
When you take long-term antibiotics to control against infections or acne or take them repeatedly for colds, many of the helpful bacteria in your digestive tract are killed. Since yeasts aren’t harmed by these antibiotics, they spread out and colonize.
When yeasts multiply and an overgrowth situation occurs, they put out toxins that circulate throughout the body, weakening the immune system and leaving you “feeling bad all over.” With a weakened immune system, you’re more likely to develop respiratory and digestive disorders that your body is unable to fight.
Other factors that weaken the immune system include nutritional deficiencies caused by inadequate intake and/or poor absorption of essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, complex carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.
Excessive worry, obsession, and burying your feelings deep within may also play an important role in the development of Candida overgrowth, as these can gradually lead to a weakened immune system.
Susceptibility to Yeast
Both women and men are susceptible to chronic Candida disorders. Those disorders can affect nine different body systems:
Each of these systems may be affected, with varying degrees of severity over time.
Because Candida is always present in our bodies, every individual has the potential for developing a Candida overgrowth condition sometime during their lifetime. However, about 60% of the yeast syndrome cases occur in women. Reasons for this may be that women go to healthcare practitioners more frequently and receive more antibiotics than men. Also, hormonal changes associated with the normal monthly menstrual cycle, use of the birth control pill, and hormonal changes during pregnancy also contribute to yeast growth.
Candida symptoms typically occur when a person’s immunity becomes compromised due to antibiotics, diet, or other factors. This creates an environment in which the yeasts increase in number and release toxins that weaken the immune system. The body’s defense system becomes ineffective, causing membranes to swell and germs to multiply, and an invasion of deeper tissues to take place. This can cause throat, sinus, bladder, and other infections. Taking antibiotics to combat these infections further perpetuates the yeast growth with a guarantee of continued health problems, unless appropriate Candida treatment is started.
The Endocrine System
Candida upsets the female hormone cycle. Candida can bind hormones producing a deficit within normal cells. When Candida exhausts the endocrine system, it can lead to the development of other medical conditions, such as:
|Addison’s disease||Hypoadrenalism||Pituitary deficiency with amenorrhea|
|Allergic rhinitis||Hypoparathyroidism||Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)|
|Alopecia||Hypothyroidism||Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)|
|Autism||Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura||Schizophrenia|
|Celiac disease||Myasthenia gravis||Sjogren’s syndrome|
|Goodpasture’s syndrome||Pemphigus||Systemic lupus erythematosus|
These disorders are all systemic autoimmune problems that may be linked to Candida.
Many women with chronic Candida experience PMS symptoms that could be related to yeast overgrowth. Women with a history of feeling worse on damp days, chemical hypersensitivities, intolerance to birth control pills, or recurrent vaginitis—and who have received repeated antibiotics—may have yeast-connected PMS. These symptoms may be helped with anti-Candida therapy.
Interference with Hormone Medications
Ineffective oral hormone replacement therapies may be due to gut wall damage caused by Candida. When inadequate hormone blood levels or the poor resolution of PMS or menopausal symptoms occur with natural hormone therapies, it may be a good idea to try other methods of taking the hormones.
In the case of steroidal (i.e., estrogen and progesterone) hormones, the skin absorption is good and symptoms of hormone deprivation may be more easily relieved. Progesterone and estrogen can also be given sublingually, vaginally, rectally, or by injection to avoid absorption problems with the gut.
It has been demonstrated that the Candida organism may bind estrogen, preventing it from filling estrogen receptor sites. Women with Candida overgrowth problems may need more estrogen replacement to get a satisfactory response.
A patient with preexisting yeast-related conditions, (i.e., sinusitis, a tendency toward vaginal infections, or stomach and intestinal problems) may notice that the symptoms get worse when taking progesterone supplementation. It may be that the Candida organism thrives in the presence of progesterone.
Progesterone plays many roles and can contribute to rebuilding impaired adrenal function. When the body converts the progesterone to other hormones, there is less progesterone available to fill progesterone receptors.
Ironically, estrogen side-effects may occur when progesterone therapy is initiated. Estrogen symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and depression sometimes get worse with progesterone replacement, particularly when the dose is small. Progesterone stimulates estrogen receptors for estrogen. The initial stimulation occurs and potentiates the estrogen effect. When an activity is potentiated, the amount of non-converted progesterone may not be enough to counter or balance these symptoms. Higher doses of progesterone may be needed.
When a woman has a Candida overgrowth problem and a hormonal deficit, it is important to treat both of these problems at the same time. It can be done successfully, as long as it is managed properly.
In Candida: Diet Against It, Dr. Luc De Schepper says “starve the Candida, kill the Candida, rebuild the immune system.” Aggressively addressing these steps with proper diet and exercise, antifungal measures, and immune support should be concurrent with progesterone replacement. Begin with low doses of progesterone and build upon that. Eventually, a point of renewed health can be reached. Many patients may exhibit some estrogen deficiency problems, such as hot flashes. When using estrogen supplementation, it becomes a triple management problem trying to address the hot flashes, the Candida, and the progesterone.
Many Candida patients have been diagnosed as having hypoglycemia, which can be a result of Candida overgrowth. Patients may be very stimulated by sugar, crave it enormously, and then have a letdown, even to the point of falling asleep.
In Lick the Sugar Habit, Nancy Appleton is inclined to believe that those metabolic problems and the problems with Candida are created by too much sugar in the diet, to begin with. Diets containing large amounts of refined sugar cause the pancreas to put out extra insulin. Nervousness, weakness, irritability, drowsiness, and other symptoms of hypoglycemia are a result of rapid up and down fluctuations occurring in blood and brain sugar levels. Eating refined sugars feeds the yeast, causing it to multiply. The result is that toxins are produced, which may cause symptoms all over the body.
Cravings for sugar may also be the result of regular monthly hormone fluctuations. Progesterone, testosterone, and hydrocortisone are hormones that aid in glucose regulation. These hormones help move sugar from cell storage into the bloodstream, bringing up the blood sugar level, which may encourage the Candida organism to flare. A hypoglycemic woman with Candida, who also takes hormone medications, may have more significant symptoms of hypoglycemia from the drop in blood sugar occurring as the yeast growth increases.
A woman’s progesterone level increases the week before the beginning of menstruation. Progesterone raises the amount of glucose or sugar in the blood, which is exactly what yeast cells thrive on. It comes as no surprise that women with Candida crave sugar premenstrually because that is exactly what the yeast cells are screaming for. Then, the increased sugar intake often leads to irritability, mood swings, and depression.