In the past 20 years, overgrowth in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract of the usually benign Candida albicans has become increasingly recognized as a complex medical syndrome known as Candidiasis, or yeast syndrome.
Candidiasis (Yeast Syndrome)
Normally, C. albicans can live harmoniously in the creases and crevices of the digestive tract (and vaginal tract in women). However, when this yeast overgrows, our immune system mechanisms are depleted, the normal lining of the intestinal tract is damaged, allowing the body to absorb yeast cells, particles of yeast cells and various toxins.
The overgrowth of C. albicans is believed to cause a wide variety of symptoms in virtually every system of the body, with the GI, genitourinary, endocrine, nervous, and immune systems being most susceptible. Some of the most common symptoms that patients with Candida Overgrowth may experience include fatigue, allergies, headaches, immune system malfunction, behavioural problems (such as concentration difficulties, hyperactivity, irritability and aggression), depression, chemical sensitivities, and digestive disturbances (such as diarrhoea, stomach ache, gas pains, bloating and constipation).
Causes & Risk Factors
This opportunistic infection commonly results from the use of antibiotics, oral contraceptives, steroid drugs, and other immune suppressive drugs and/or conditions. Anything which affects our beneficial gut bacteria (including gut inflammation) can also increase the risk of a Candida overgrowth.
Children with impaired immune systems and inflamed intestines are particularly vulnerable to invasions by fungi, especially yeast of the Candida species. Fecal cultures and other lab-tests often identify overgrowths with C. albicans. Indeed, some research indicates that Candida species and other fungi may be a significant cause of many of the untold behaviours and health problems we see in autistic spectrum disorder. Many of the children's medical histories document numerous episodes of ear infections and repeated use of antibiotics. As a result, the beneficial or "probiotic" flora is likely to be killed off; allowing the proliferation (or overgrowth) of yeast in the gut.
There are many safe ways to treat Candida Overgrowth. These include taking probiotics (supplements which repopulate the intestinal tract with beneficial bacteria) and the use of anti-fungal nutraceuticals or prescription drugs to combat stubborn Candida (such as Nystatin and Fluconazole - prescription only). Treatment protocol should also involve the strict adherence of an anti-candida diet. Yeasts (including Candida) feed on sugar, and so the aim of the anti-candida diet is to remove these foods on which candida thrive - namely sugar and yeast.
Antifungal Treatment Options
Some other supportive antifungal treatment options include:
- Chromium - this essential micro-mineral plays a vital role in blood sugar regulation (i.e. glucose metabolism) within the body. Chromium has the ability to enhance the effects of insulin (the hormone responsible for glucose delivery into the cell) and has shown to reduce sugar/carbohydrate cravings. Candida species are known to feed off foods rich in sugar (and refined carbohydrates)
- Molybdenum - this essential trace element functions as a cofactor for a number of enzymes in the body. Molybdenum plays an important role in the break down of toxic metabolites (e.g. acetaldehyde) that are produced by yeasts, such as Candida, into a form that can be excreted by the body. Acetaldehyde has shown to affect neurological, metabolic, endocrine and immune systems, and is a common cause of 'brain fog.'
- Caprylic Acid - this naturally derived from coconut oil. It has shown to contain anti-fungal (as well as some anti-bacterial and anti-viral) properties and is used to treat Candida overgrowth. This is available in capsule form.
- Saccharomyces boulardii - this is a natural grown yeast that kills other yeasts and then clears out of your gut when you stop taking it. This can be purchased without a prescription and works similar to antifungal medications.
When we start anti-fungal treatments, natural or prescription, patients or parents need to know they (or their child) may experience what is called "die-off" side effects. As the yeasts are killed by anti-fungal agents and/or starved by lack of sugar there is an abnormal release of toxic by-products, creating side effects that may often seem like those of "flu'. Symptoms include fever, irritability and body aches and pains, as well as an increase in hyperactivity, "stimming" and other ASD behaviours.
Please note - yeast can be very difficult to eradicate. It may take prolonged duration of antifungal use and/or trial of multiple agents. DMSA, lipoic acid and other sulfur-base oral medicines can potentially create yeast overgrowth, even in children who did not have problems previously.