Is a Candida Overgrowth Causing Your IBS?

candida
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Visit any IBS self help forum and you are bound to come across a discussion on Candida and IBS. However, the relationship between the two is not nearly as clear-cut as some people think. Here you will find a discussion on Candida and what research has to say about its role in IBS.

What Is Candida?

Our bodies are populated by a world of micro-organisms. This world includes bacteria and fungi. Candida is a fungus, more specifically, a type of yeast found in our mouths, intestines, on our skin, and for women, in the vagina.

Although there are numerous strains of Candida, Candida albicans is the species most commonly identified.

What Is Candidiasis?

When we are healthy, Candida reside within us without causing us any symptoms, as it is kept in check by our immune systems and by the bacteria that also reside within us. Candidiasis refers to invasive infections by fungus – infections in the mucosal membranes of skin (mouth, groin, diaper), of lungs or blood. 

People who have compromised immune systems due to cancer treatment, AIDs, or malnutrition are at higher risk for infections, as are people who have diabetes or who wear dentures.  The site of infection is related to the underlying health condition, e.g. the mouth/esophagus are targeted in AIDS, dentures, cancer patients.

Types of Candidiasis:

A candididal infection is named according to the part of the body that it affects:

Invasive candidiasis is a more general all-encompassing term for severe Candida infections.

Treatment of Candidiasis

Candidiasis is typically treated with either oral or topical anti-fungal medications.

These medications are usually quite effective in eradicating the infection in healthy individuals. Those with compromised health may experience a recurrence of the infection after the course of medication has been completed.

As for the relationship between Candida and diet, there is no scientific evidence to suggest that dietary modifications make a big difference in prevention of candidiasis.  However, many people nonetheless promote a variety of diets, including a "Candida diet, which is essentially a low carbohydrate (sugar) diet, with further restrictions on foods with lactose, "mold proteins" and yeast. However research for the diet is difficult to do due to problems coming up with a "blind" control group. Traditional medical practitioners generally conclude that people feel better on the diet only because it is a healthier diet.

What Role Does Candida Play in IBS?

Candida is part of the healthy flora of the digestive tract. Unlike other parts of the body where a Candida infection can be clearly identified, the picture is not quite so clear when it comes to the intestines.

Overgrowth in the gut is not considered candidiasis – or an infection at all.  Although many hypothesize that yeast overgrowth leads to symptoms, this remains hypothetical only.  Some preliminary research is being conducted using blood, breath, and urine measures to determine the presence of excessive yeast, but problems exist in terms of sensitivity and reliability.

I was able to find one review which specifically addressed the issue of IBS and Candida. The authors state that there is some evidence that yeasts can contribute to IBS symptoms in a certain sub-class of individuals - individuals who have systems that are senstive to the effects of candida. They discuss several theories as to why this might be:

  • 1. Candida acts to stimulate mast cells, leading them to release substances that contribute to inflammation within the intestines.
  • 2. Candida produces "proteases", substances that can interfere with the function of immuglobin. This "Ig" effect can also contribute to gut inflammation.

The Bottom Line

No conclusions can be drawn from a single study; and the lack of subsequent research suggests that further study has not yet been able to show any correlation between Candida and IBS.  Thus for now, it does not appear that any diet or treatments for candidiasis in other parts of the body would have any effectiveness of your IBS symptoms.

 

Sources:

"Yeast Infections " Medline Plus Accessed March 29, 2014.

Santelmann, H. & Howard, J. "Yeast metabolic products, yeast antigens and yeasts as possible triggers for irritable bowel syndrome" European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology 2005 17:21-26.

"Candidiasis" Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Accessed March 29, 2014.

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