If you feel tired all of the time, are bloated or have strong sugar cravings, you may be suffering from a condition called candida.
We all, men and women, can be affected by candida, at any age. It’s not uncommon for people to experience one or more symptoms of candida and attribute them to another health issue.
Candida is naturally present in our bodies. It feeds on by-products that’s found within the body, like dead tissue and sugar from the diet. But if you have too much of it, then it can impact your mind and body in many different ways.
In this article, we lift the lid on candida, which includes talking you through some of the common causes and symptoms. We also explain the main ways you can be tested and treated for candida overgrowth.
Candida is a yeast that lives naturally in your mouth, gut and vagina. If you have a healthy immune system, it doesn’t usually cause any problems – the friendly bacteria in your gut help basically help keep your yeast levels under control.
When people get thrush, it’s caused by the Candida species of fungus, usually Candida Albicans. More than 70% of healthy people naturally have Candida Albicans living inside their body.1
But if the balance of bacteria changes, for instance, if you become pregnant, are taking a course of antibiotics or are extremely stressed, this can lead to an increase in your Candida levels. And it can result in people experiencing all sorts of different symptoms (more on these below).2
Candida overgrowth is when our natural balance of candida changes and you have higher levels of candida in your body (usually your mouth, stomach or vagina) than you usually would. Candida overgrowth is also referred to as Candidiasis, a candida, yeast or fungal infection and thrush.3
Candida is a yeast that lives naturally in your mouth, gut and vagina. However, certain factors, such as a poor diet, stress, taking antibiotics and pregnancy, can cause your natural candida levels to increase, which can lead to several health issues.
Sometimes the yeast can grow out of hand, known as a yeast overgrowth, and can lead to symptoms such as:
This usually happens if the root cause of the candida hasn’t been identified and tackled. For example, eating too much of the wrong type of food, i.e. refined sugars, carbs and high lactose dairy products, can stimulate candida and other bad bacteria growth.4
This isn’t something everybody tends to experience; it’s mainly more common among older people whose immune systems have become weakened. Symptoms of a UTI include a burning feeling when you urinate, an urge to urinate frequently, cloudy, dark or strange-smelling urine and pain or pressure in your lower abdomen.5 Read more in our guide to UTIs.
When the bacteria in your gut is out of balance, this can cause numerous digestive issues, such as constipation, diarrhoea, nausea, gas, cramps and bloating.6 Read more in our guide to digestion.
Is one of the more common symptoms of candida overgrowth because it often goes hand-in-hand with nutritional deficiencies (see point number 5). Deficiencies in Vitamin B6 and magnesium can cause fatigue. So too can having a poorly-functioning immune system, which is when candida also tends to develop.7 Read more about how to fight fatigue in our guide.
Caused by the fact having too much yeast in your body can impact its ability to absorb nutrients from your everyday diet.
As we know, candida can affect the body’s ability to absorb minerals and nutrients. For example, poor absorption of iron may explain why candida is sometimes linked to hair loss. Read our guide to find out the best treatments for hair loss.
Candida ‘brain fog’ occurs when inflammation prevents the body’s neurons from transmitting information. One of the major toxins that’s produced by candida overgrowth is acetaldehyde, which the liver converts into a harmless substance. When our neurons are ‘blocked’, this can lead to feeling intoxicated and experiencing brain fog, vertigo and loss of balance.8
Strong alcohol or sugar cravings are also a tell-tale sign – this is due to the fact that the yeast feeds, and thrives, on sugars.
If you have genital thrush, you may develop white or grey vaginal discharge that may be thick, and is often described as looking like cottage cheese. It doesn’t have a bad smell.9
Other candida symptoms include: Mood swings, chronic sinusitis, constipation, food sensitivities, PMS and fungal toenails.10
There are all sorts of different symptoms of candida overgrowth, ranging from genital discharge, sugar cravings and brain fog, to digestive problems, fatigue and nutrient deficiencies.
Genital candida overgrowth, which is most commonly referred to as thrush, is a common yeast infection that affects both men and women. It's usually harmless, but it can be uncomfortable and keep coming back. According to the NHS, it’s not classed as a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI).11
Unfortunately, our modern lifestyles make it easy for candida to thrive.
If you think you’re affected, it’s important to tackle candida. Not only are the symptoms unpleasant and debilitating, it is also linked to leaky gut syndrome.
Leaky gut syndrome is when the yeast overgrowth can cause small holes in the gut, which allows tiny food particles to escape into your blood stream. Your immune system doesn’t recognise them and goes on the attack, which may cause you to become intolerant to a range of foods. Over time, you may miss out on important nutrients because you find it hard to tolerate many different foods.
In terms of treating candida, the two main methods of treatment are medication and diet.13
Anti-fungal supplements in addition to supplements that kill bad bacteria can help tackle candida. Some natural anti-fungals are extremely potent and include ingredients, such as caprylic acid, grapefruit seed extract and berberine.14
Probiotics also play a key role in helping balance out your good vs. bad levels of gut bacteria again. Examples of good bacteria that can be found in probiotics, include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.15
Certain supplements are also thought to help naturally fight yeast overgrowth. Examples include garlic and oregano.16
Diet is also very important when it comes to helping bring candida back under control, especially if it’s been triggered by eating candida-causing food, such as lots of sugary, yeasty and dairy foods.
A full-on anti-candida diet can help, but it can restrictive and difficult to follow, so isn’t something to embark on lightly. You have to essentially starve the yeast, which means avoiding all the foods and drinks it feeds on, including:
However, there’s no need to follow an extreme diet, reducing these foods so that you eat them in moderation is usually all it takes to manage candida overgrowth.
Candida overgrowth is most commonly treated with anti-fungal supplements and probiotics and/or diet, depending on how established it is.
Candida is a controversial diagnosis and most conventional doctors don’t recognise it, except in people with seriously reduced immunity, such as those with HIV. Plus, as symptoms are vague and varied, it can be hard to pinpoint. You may even be diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or given a clean bill of health.
If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, it may be worth seeing a nutritionist or naturopath. They can carry out a saliva test to check for candida infection, and a urine test for leaky gut syndrome, and may then recommend diet changes and supplements to help.
Yes, you can. There are a few different ways you can be tested for it by your GP or other medical professional. They include doing a:17
Candida overgrowth can be confirmed by examining your stools, urine or blood for certain tell-tale signs, which include high levels of bad bacteria and toxins released by Candida Albicans.
As the candida cells are killed, something called a ‘die off’ period takes place. For some people, their symptoms can feel worse during this time because it’s when the toxins from any dying pathogens, such, as viruses, bacteria, parasites, and fungi (candida) overwhelm the body’s ability to clear them out.18
Die off symptoms are often reported by many as feeling flu-like or cold-like. Your whole body can generally feel sluggish, especially if it’s working harder to fight something off. This phase usually lasts for around 3 to 7 days, after which people tend to feel gradually better.
When candida overgrowth is subsiding, this is known as the ‘die off’ period when people may feel their symptoms are getting worse. It can take between 3 and 7 days for people to start to feel better.
Candida overgrowth can affect us all, with some people experiencing one or multiple symptoms. Getting your natural candida levels back under control can be achieved by taking candida supplements or probiotics and/or making changes to your diet (e.g. cutting back on sugar, yeast and dairy).
It’s possible for your symptoms to feel worse as your candida levels become balanced again. If you believe you are experiencing candida overgrowth, speak to your GP about the best way to treat it.
Last updated: 13 May 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.