Candida (also known as thrush) is a fungal disease which can affect many parts of the body, but is particularly likely to affect warm, damp areas such as the genital region.
Symptoms of Candida are diverse, and may include:
Vaginal or penile discharge which may be yellow-white in colour and smell unpleasant
Itching and burning of the affected areas (particularly the vaginal region and nappy rash areas in babies)
Small white patches on the gums, tongue, lips and inside the cheeks which may or may not be painful, and cannot be scraped off (this is a common symptom in infants)
Diarrhoea or constipation, bloating and flatulence, abdominal pain
Adverse reactions or a worsening of symptoms after eating certain foods
Depression, anxiety, irritability, inability to concentrate, pre-menstrual syndrome
Recurrent episodes of cystitis
Damaged and painful fingernails and/or toenails (tinea)
Cravings for sugar, bread products and alcohol
Candida is caused by the yeast-like fungus Candida albicans which normally lives in healthy balance with other (benign) bacteria and yeasts that inhabit our mouths, bowels, skin and other mucous membranes.
When this natural balance is upset, Candida multiplies dramatically and lodges deep into the tissues, causing an outbreak of thrush. Candida imbalance may be present for long periods without causing symptoms, especially in men, but may become troublesome due to hormonal changes, stress, emotional factors, or an unbalanced diet.
Factors that may trigger Candida overgrowth include:
The oral contraceptive pill
The use of cortisone and other steroids
Poor dietary habits
Oral thrush occurs most frequently in babies and older people (where it may be due to ill-fitting dentures, cuts or abrasions) and in those with depleted immune systems (for example due to HIV).
The naturopathic approach to Candida infection is to improve resistance to infection, whilst at the same time addressing the overgrowth of the Candida organism.
Probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus bacteria are “good” bacteria that normally inhabit the digestive tract and the vagina. Probiotic supplementation may help to address the imbalance caused by an overgrowth of Candida, and may help relieve digestive symptoms such as flatulence and diarrhoea.
The mineral chromium assists the body with sugar utilisation and may help to reduce sugar craving symptoms; (if you are diabetic, discuss this with your healthcare professional before using it)
The herb garlic has anti-fungal properties and is prescribed to assist with fungal infections such as Candida
Echinacea stimulates the body’s resistance and may help to reduce susceptibility to infection.
A diet free of yeast and sugar will help your body to fight Candida infection. Avoid bread, alcohol, mushrooms and yeast spreads, as well as sugar in any form. (Hint – when checking ingredient lists, words ending in -ose, such as maltose, lactose and glucose, generally refer to forms of sugar).
Garlic and onions display antimicrobial actions and should be eaten liberally to assist the body to fight the infection. Yoghurt containing live probiotics such as acidophilus and bifidus is also a valuable addition to the diet.
It is also important to boost your immune system by eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
In babies it is essential that treatment is combined with regularly changed nappies and that the skin is kept dry.
Candida is more likely to develop in warm, moist environments. Try to wear cotton rather than nylon underwear, and always ensure a baby’s nappy is changed as quickly as possible.
A healthy diet and lifestyle combined with good hygiene will reduce the likelihood of developing Candida. Avoid excessive amounts of yeast-based foods such as bread and try not to eat too many sugary foods.
Many antibacterial, corticosteroid and immuno-suppressive therapies increase susceptibility to Candida, as do pregnancy, diabetes and some other diseases. Consult with your healthcare professional if you have concerns in this regard.
In certain individuals, such as those with depleted immunity, Candida infection may require immediate medical attention.
Recurrent thrush is sometimes due to an infected sexual partner – both people may need to be treated before the situation is resolved.
Recurrent thrush in babies may indicate that the mother’s nipples are infected. Your healthcare professional will prescribe a suitable topical preparation.