What Exactly is Candida?

From yeast infections to diaper rash, the word “Candida” appears in many places...including on our food sensitivity tests. On its own, Candida is simply a type of fungus that is commonly found in your gut’s microbiome. However, candida overgrowth can develop into more serious health concerns.

Candida is all over our environment and candidiasis is an opportunistic infection,” says Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D. “It all comes down to susceptibility.”

While there are hundreds of species of Candida, most reported infections are limited to only five of those species. Candida albicans is the most widely acknowledged, however, other species of Candida may be detected in an infection as well.

Types of Candida Overgrowth

While there are various ways to develop a Candida overgrowth, an infection will generally manifest in one of five ways:

  1. A yeast infection.
    Vaginal yeast infections impact approximately 1 million U.S. women each year and 75 percent of women will get at least one yeast infection in their lifetime. In most cases, Candida is not easily transferred from person to person, which is why it is not considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI). For those experiencing symptoms, such as genital itching, burning or swelling, testing for Candida is a great way to get some answers.
  2. Gastrointestinal candidiasis.
    Though not as common as vaginal yeast infections, candida overgrowth in the GI tract is often overlooked. While Candida albicans is naturally found in the gut, an excess can result in symptoms that closely resemble those caused by food sensitivities. Dietary choices such as consuming lots of sugar may also impact the development of GI candidiasis by creating a suitable environment for Candida to grow, Meletis says.
  3. Oral thrush.
    Oral candidiasis, otherwise known as “thrush,” is another common form of Candida overgrowth. While oral thrush can occur in anyone, Meletis says, it’s commonly found in infants and those who have recently taken antibiotics. Because antibiotics wipe out all bacteria – good and bad – your body becomes more susceptible to other types of infection. Poor oral hygiene, reduced immunity and dental accessories (such as dentures) can all increase the risk of oral thrush, he says.
  4. Cutaneous candidiasis.
    While Candida generally prefers warm, moist areas to grow, you can still develop a Candida infection in the skin and nails. This is particularly common in the form of diaper rash in infants, Meletis says. However, warm weather, poor hygiene, tight clothing and a weakened immune system all contribute to increased risk, he says.
  5. Sinus candidiasis.
    While not a lot of research exists on sinus-specific candidiasis, there is growing interest around the concept of fungal sinusitis. Not only do our sinuses provide ideal conditions for Candida to grow, Meletis says, but they’re also closely connected to our digestive tract. Something as simple as acid reflux or post-nasal drip could be the reason Candida reaches our sinuses, he says.

Causes and Diagnosis

While there are various forms of candidiasis and the infections may emerge in different ways, the causes are often interconnected. For example, the same Candida that grows in your gut could be the root cause of both oral thrush and sinus candidiasis.

"Candida is ubiquitous in our environment,” Meletis says. “Every time you swallow your saliva, yeast is entering your digestive tract.”

While Notch’s food sensitivity panel isn’t diagnostic of Candida overgrowth or a yeast infection, Meletis says, it can provide insight on whether or not further testing is warranted.

“If a person doesn’t appear to be reactive to yeast on their food sensitivity test but is showing a high Candida score, this can be suggestive of Candida overgrowth or exposure,” he says. “If you’re symptomatic, it’s definitely worth further examination.”

So while this common fungus may be in all of us (whether we like it or not), it’s important to monitor for Candida overgrowth and address symptoms before they develop into something more serious. If you think you might have candidiasis, we recommend discussing additional diagnostic methods with your healthcare provider.

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