Most of us have been prescribed antibiotics at some stage or another. We’ve also been given a prescription for probiotics at the same time, the doctor’s advice being that the two should be taken together to reduce the risk of a yeast infection, such as Candida, also known as thrush. It’s been estimated that as many as 60% of all women have or have had yeast infections and localised Candida overgrowth at some time in their lives.
Your gut is filled with healthy bacteria which assist in optimal body functioning, from stimulating cell growth to training the immune system. Along with a myriad of other microbes, Candida albicans is a fungus that naturally occurs in the body as part of normal gut flora. It’s kept in check by friendly bacteria in the intestines. By literally using the Candida yeast as food, this bacteria maintain a healthy balance within the lower digestive tract.
Broad spectrum antibiotics are none too discriminating and tend to kill off the good bacteria in addition to the bad, which can give rise to an overgrowth of yeast, and this is why probiotics are used to counteract the negative effects of an antibiotic. Other causes of Candida could include the use of some birth control pills, or steroid hormones that can be found in many pharmaceuticals. Another factor that affects the delicate bacterial balance in the gut is eating too much processed food over an extended period (without raw food), allowing Candida yeast the freedom to overgrow.
Even though the prevalence of Candida is high, many don’t know they have it because symptoms are often attributed to other causes. These include fatigue, indigestion, mood swings, muscle weakness, bloating, menstrual irregularities and loss of sexual desire. Because men can also be infected, it’s prudent for your partner to go for treatment as well, to avoid re-infection.
As the yeast continues to grow, it gives off toxins as a result of its metabolism. When Candida albicans reaches a certain point of unrestricted growth, it transforms from a single-celled yeast to filamentous cells that can become invasive and create microscopic holes in the lining of the intestine, causing leaky gut syndrome. The toxins from the intestines form free radicals and this is what moves a yeast infection from mere annoyance to being far more serious and even life-threatening.
A build-up of toxins and free radicals may overload and exhaust the immune system, making the body more susceptible to other infections. The first sign of gastrointestinal Candida is heightened fatigue, followed by irritability. Disconnection from your surroundings or a feeling of being spaced out follows. Symptoms further develop into a loss of concentration, inability to make decisions and a feeling of being overwhelmed. This isn’t much to go on in terms of an accurate diagnosis.
The next set of symptoms is a spreading of what is termed adult onset allergies (never having been allergic to anything before, you begin to develop allergic reactions to anything from smells to your usual toiletries). Allergic reactions continue to worsen until you get the universal reactor phenomenon where allergic symptoms are so widespread, you seem to be bothered by everything. Yeast toxins can cross the blood-brain barrier, and moving from overall allergies to an interaction with brain chemicals, a severe case of Candida may cause delusions, depression, anxiety, violent behaviour and even suicidal thoughts.
Although numerous fungal preparations are on the market to counteract mild infections, and many diets claim to have an effect, what is essential is to address the cause, not just the symptoms. The cause is an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut and this should be dealt with first.
If you suspect you may have a yeast infection, get a definitive diagnosis before you encounter the severe and debilitating consequences. An integrative approach, which would include diet, anti-fungal medication, replacing flora and repairing the gastrointestinal tract, is best to ensure that both the cause and symptoms are tackled in terms of your individual physiology and lifestyle.
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