Candida Epidemic – On the Rise
By David Gersten, M.D.
Tess was a sweet, intelligent, fifteen-year-old girl who suffered severely from a mysterious illness. Her doctors at Kaiser Permanente told her she was crazy — that there was nothing wrong with her physically. Traditional doctors rarely use comprehensive nutritional lab tests to diagnose a chronic illness. For this reason, the Kaiser docs only found one abnormal lab result in eight months, which gave them no clues. For eight long months Tess ran a fever of 102 to 104 degrees. The final diagnosis? “Pull yourself together young lady. You’re just depressed.”
After Kaiser had given up on Tess as a “loony,” her mother, a long-term patient of mine, asked me to evaluate Tess. Amino acid and immunological testing showed severe metabolic impairment, and an immune system similar to that seen in AIDS patients. Tess definitely was not crazy. But she was very sick. After three weeks on specific nutritional supplements, her eight month nightmare was over. She was finally in recovery. What was Tess’s mysterious illness? Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) caused by a kind of yeast called candida albicans.
The Politics of Yeast
William Crook, M.D. wrote “The Yeast Connection” 15 years ago, and vast amounts of good research have been performed since then. Unfortunately mainstream medicine still believes that candida can only be a problem if you are massively immuno-suppressed, either due to cancer, chemotherapy, or AIDS. Feelings run hot in Medicine.
San Francisco physician, Dr. Robert Sinaiko was sued by the Medical Board of California for treating a boy with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) with Nystatin. Judge Ruth Astle, who has no medical training beyond a five day seminar, presided over the case and decided that there was no basis for treating ADD with anti-candida medicines.
Dr. Sinaiko lost in court, was fined $95,000, given five years probation, and a host of restrictions as a doctor. He was not sued for harming a patient, but for treating candidiasis. He has since closed his practice. One can only wonder. In September 1999, the Medical Board of California concluded that Dr. Sinaiko, M.D. had “departed from the prevailing standard of practice of medicine” by using antifungal drugs and other questionable methods to treat three adults and a nine-year-old child for nonexistent “Candida” problems. Sinaiko was assessed $49,472.79 for administrative costs and placed on five years’ probation with stringent supervisory conditions. However, in 2005 the Medical Board reversed all of its positions and Dr. Sinaiko was able to resume practicing medicine after being unable to practice for 6 years.
If you or a loved one have any of the following symptoms or diseases, candida may be part of the problem:
Fatigue; CFS; Insomnia; Depression; Muscle weakness or pain; Abdominal pain; Hypoglycemia; Asthma; Intestinal gas or bloating; Heartburn or indigestion; Constipation or diarrhea; Sugar cravings; Frequent vaginal yeast infections; Headaches; Pain or swelling in your joints; Loss or decrease in Libido; Menstrual irregularities; Severe PMS; Sinusitis; Eczema; Psoriasis; Impaired memory or concentration; Panic attacks; Attention Deficit Disorder; Allergies.
With a list of symptoms this long, it should be no surprise that an estimated thirty percent of Americans have candida overgrowth (also called “candidiasis”). That’s seventy-eight million people. Now, very few of us will get as sick as Tess was, but we all need to be vigilant.
Let’s look at what candida is and how it can wreak havoc. Within our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts we should have a healthy balance of candida (a kind of yeast) and “friendly” bacteria. When you have just the right balance between the good bacteria and candida in your gut, all is well, and the friendly bacteria are fed by the candida. However, a number of things will throw off that balance, of which antibiotics are the chief offender.
When you take an antibiotic for your strep throat, sinus infection, bladder infection or anything else, that antibiotic kills unfriendly bacteria. The problem is that the friendly bacteria in your GI tract that kept candida in check are also killed. When that happens candida can get out of control, proliferating in your GI tract. Birth control pills, some steroids (prednisone), and stress can all make things even worse. If your immune system is not strong or your gut is not balanced, candida can ruin your health.
How It Hurts You
There are a number of complex mechanisms bywhich candida causes illness. First of all, candida releases a number of toxic chemicals of which acetaldehyde and ethanol are the most common.
Second: Candida overgrowth causes intestinal inflammation and weakens the gut wall, producing a leaky gut. If you have a “leaky gut,” large, undigested food particles can enter your blood stream. When that happens, your immune system mounts an attack on the food . . . and you develop delayed food allergies. If, for example, you develop a food allergy to dairy, each time you eat dairy, your immune system will respond as if dairy is a foreign substance, and whatever symptoms you have will flare up. With delayed food allergies, which account for 95% of food allergies, your body does not begin to respond to the offending food for 6 to 72 hours after you’ve eaten.
Third: over time candida slips directly into the blood stream, causing systemic candida or “candidiasis.” Candidiasis can cause 50 ore more symptoms. Many experts believe that candida can colonize throughout your body. The growth of candida cell colonies is a controversial subject among researchers. Research will someday reveal why numerous trials of antibiotics increase the risk of developing candidiasis so dramatically
Candida overgrowth also causes short peptides (strings of 5 to 10 amino acids) to leak into your system. Many of these peptides act as neurotransmitters. These peptides send very unfriendly messages to your brain. Not only that, they block neurotransmitter receptor sites throughout your body.
Every cell in our body is covered with tiny openings (receptor sites) where other chemicals come to nest. Dr. Candace Pert, who discovered the opiate receptor, has shown that cells throughout our body have receptor sites for endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals our bodies make naturally.
When you are happy (or exhilarated through exercise), your brain releases endorphins throughout your body. This causes receptor sites all over your body to also become “happy.” But with candidiasis, toxic peptides can block your endorphin receptor sites, so your body literally loses its ability to feel good. This is just one example. There are hundreds of toxic peptides that can pollute your body when you have candidiasis.
If we suspect that a patient has candidiasis, we order a stool analysis test. If candida is present, the lab will test to see which specific drugs and herbs among those available will actually kill it. I also order a blood test for candida antibodies. If the IgA result is elevated, that person has candida overgrowth in their digestive tract. If the IgM result is elevated, that person has systemic candida.
Here are the four most important steps in treating systemic candida:
1. Treat with a drug or herb that will kill candida. Among medications, we frequently use Nystatin, Diflucan, or Nizoral. Some herbs include caprylic acid, uva-ursi, plant tannins, undecylenic, garlic, and olive leaf extract. Herbs can be effective in treating intestinal candida, but are not very effective for systemic candida.
2. Replenish your GI tract with lots of friendly bacteria, namely acidophilus for the upper GI tract and bifidus for the lower GI tract. VSL is the strongest probiotic I know of, containing 250 billion friendly bacteria per capsule.
3. Candida diet. Anything that makes candida grow must be avoided including sugars, sweeteners, fruit, bread, aged cheese, and alcohol (beer is the worst). We provide patients with a complete printed list of which foods to avoid and which foods are good for them.
4. Treat food and mold allergies. Food allergies are determined by a blood test.
The results of proper treatment of candidiasis are profound. Tess fully recovered from her serious illness after we put her candida back in balance. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, you should seek out a physician who understands candida, and do the simple testing. Treatment will change your life.
I’ll write more in the future about ADD/ADHD. For now, a word about candida. When I’m asked to evaluate a child with ADD/ADHD, the first question I ask is, “Has your child received a lot of antibiotics?” If so, chronic ear infections are the most common reason for repeated antibiotic treatment. ADD is not a “Ritalin deficiency.” The vast majority of kids I’ve treated for ADD/ADHD as well as the spectrum of illnesses (including Asperger’s Syndrome) have done very well. Sometimes the antibiotic-leaky guy-candidiasis equation is not the whole picture. For now, I hope this is food for thought.
Finally, some things for you to consider. The lab work is essential in making the diagnosis of candidiasis, but here are some other things to consider. Systemic candida can cause a coated tongue, toenail fungus that won’t go away, jock itch, and severe vaginal yeast. If you have areas of yeast that won’t go away, consider those symptoms as the tip of the iceberg.
It should be obvious that what we eat has a great deal to do with our health. Likewise, if we have yeast overgrowth, the food we eat will not be fully absorbed, toxins will flood our bodies, and dozens of seemingly unrelated symptoms can arise. Check out your gut. A healthy gut is the doorway to a healthy body.