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A bad gut feeling

Candidiasis, a form of yeast overgrowth, occurs when there is a disturbance in the microbiome, leading to a compromised immune system.

Candidiasis is a typical example. Candidiasis is a form of yeast overgrowth. Candida grows inside our bodies, especially the digestive tract (mouth, throat, esophagus, colon), genito-urinary tract, sinuses, lungs, conjunctiva, skin and nails. It grows most commonly in warm, moist environment and on the tissue lining our organs, including mucus membranes. It begins to grow when there is a disturbance in the microbiome which leads to a compromised immune system.

Some of the common reasons for this include antibiotic treatment, chemotherapeutic agents, steroids, hormone therapy, including oral contraceptives, low acid in stomach due to prolonged use of antacids, excessive consumption of processed foods, excess intake of sugar, recurrent infections, diabetes, HIV, chronic stress and nutritional deficiencies. A study published in 2011 in the journal Current Opinion in Microbiology reported that candida colonisation is commonly seen in individuals suffering from gastrointestinal tract diseases like inflammatory bowel disease or ulcers.

The presence of Candida delays healing and exacerbates disease. This vicious cycle in which inflammation promotes Candida colonisation and Candida colonisation delays healing may impact many individuals.

Candida thrives on sugar as a nutrient. While the importance of candidiasis has not been recognised as a major issue, it has a significant role to play in the development of several diseases. Signs and symptoms of candidiasis could be varied and non-specific, most common ones being brain fog, confusion, headaches, fatigue, bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn, skin rashes, oral thrush, rectal itching, cramps or frequent infections. Acute form of candidiasis could be serious and life-threatening. Most people with mild infections tend to live with these symptoms, though chronic and unchecked it can set the stage for serious illnesses, arthritis, inflammatory & auto-immune disorders and even cancer.

Antibiotic overuse can set the stage for yeast overgrowth by killing beneficial bacteria that normally hold candida populations in check. High estrogen levels can also be a risk factor for candidiasis, which is why it is seen more commonly among pregnant women on prolonged use of hormones.

While anti-fungal therapy is most commonly used, it is not free of side-effects and may not always be effective as there are several strains of candida yeast. Drug resistance is also a common issue. Among the conventional therapies is use of specific anti-candida therapy with nystatin, a relatively safe agent. The use of nystatin has diminished over the years due to the newer anti-fungal drugs. In addition, dietary measures are essential. Anti-candida advice includes limiting sugar, carbohydrates, avoiding food containing yeast and increasing intake of prebiotic and probiotic foods. Some of the foods which are known to have anti-candida effects include garlic, oregano oil, virgin coconut oil and apple cider vinegar.

Author is a clinical nutritionist and founder of and Whole Foods India

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