So I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what candida IS and thought I would spent time actually talking about what candida is, where it comes from, all that jazz.
What is a fungus?
OK, so very simply, candida is a fungus. A fungus is any member of a group of organisms that includes yeasts, rusts, mildews, molds, and mushrooms. Many are able to live on their own in soil or water, but some, like (you guessed it!) candida, take on parasitic or symbiotic relationships with plants or animals (they feed on the host. Yes. Getting very sci-fi, very fast).
What is candida?
Candida is a type of fungus that is VERY prevalent. In fact, candida is the #1 most common cause of fungal infections WORLDWIDE. There are 17 different species of candida. The species responsible for yeast infections specifically is called “Candida albicans.”
But here’s the thing. Candida itself is not necessarily a bad thing (say what?). It actually serves a helpful purpose (in small amounts). Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrition absorption. It’s when there’s an overgrowth of candida that there starts to be issues. Like those little suckers got on a power trip and suddenly wanted to colonize. Hello, infection.
That’s when candida becomes “candidiadis.”
“Candidiasis” is the name for the infection caused by the fungus, candida. Ya following?
What happens to the body when candidiasis occurs?
Candida can infect the internal organs of the body like the kidneys, heart or brain. More commonly, it affects outside the internal organs in areas like the mouth or vagina.
When it is overproduced, it actually breaks down the intestinal wall and penetrates the bloodstream. That’s where things get dangerous, because the candida then releases toxic byproducts into your bloodstream. This is what causes many different health issues like yeast infections, leaky gut syndrome, digestive issues, or even depression.
Candida is a sneaky shapeshifting, resilient mofo (admirable, really). It responds to changes in temperature and/or acidity levels by changing size/shape to protect itself (from a rounded yeast cell to then a elongated hyphal cell).
This is a problematic because these fucking hyphal cells have a new superpower: they can then penetrate the gut lining (starting to see where leaky gut comes from?).
Once its in the bloodstream, candida starts making itself at home. It moves from just the gut to other parts in your body. Like a parasite (although it is NOT technically a parasite), it starts going on a free-for-all colonization expedition (not unlike the white imperialists, but convo for another time). It infiltrates the skin, mouth, ears, thyroid, or reproductive organs.
What are the symptoms of candidiasis?
And ok, that’s all terrifying, but how does that end up feeling? The outcome of all that nasty colonization?
Well, for one, yeast infections (why at least I’m primarily here).
In the vagina, it feels like…well…super itchy. You might experience burning, pain, redness, swelling and/or irritation down there, especially when you pee. From personal experience, it feels like you don’t want anything to touch your entire vulva (area around the vagina) and at the same time want to ice and scratch it to get rid of the itchiness. Oh, and discharge is often a component of this. Smelly, yeasty, thick, white, discharge. Yeah.
It mostly happens to women, but can also happen to men, too (manifests as an itchy rash on the penis. But only occurs about 15% of the time a man has unprotected sex with a woman, so much less likely to happen). Same kind of feeling. Plus, it’s possible to pass yeast infections back and forth between men and women. Also women and women. And men and men. Hooray.
Candidiasis also can occur in the mouth, which is something that I (happily) have less (actually no) personal experience with.
WebMD says that it can cause white or yellow patches on the tongue, cheeks, roof of mouth, or anywhere else within the mouth, and similarly, redness, soreness, pain, cracking, and general discomfort. Seems like it’s not so much an itchiness thing though, so there’s that!
What are the contributing factors to candida overgrowth?
In other words, what causes candidiasis to occur?
In the vagina, candidiasis fundamentally is caused by an imbalance in pH. From what I understand, the vagina is honestly a quite delicate environment that requires a very specific pH to be happy and healthy (i.e. not yeasty or BV-y — more on BV, or bacterial vaginosis later). When that pH balance is disturbed, too much yeast can grow, and BOOM, yeast infection!
Unfortunately, there are actually a LOT of things that can disrupt this pH balance.
This list includes, but is not limited to:
- Use of hormonal birth control
- Hormonal fluctuations (personally, I find myself much more susceptible to yeast infections right before my period, and this is something I see happen frequently with other women as well)
- Hanging out in sweaty gym clothes (yeast thrives in a warm, wet environment)
- Certain lubricants or spermicides (many of them are NOT vagina friendly! read labels! I’ll make a post about this later)
- Semen (yeah ok EW but this I now know also does affect vaginal pH)
- Vaginal fluids from a partner (yes, women who love other women, you are not scot free, unfortunately)
- Lowered immune system
- A high sugar diet
- Stress (affects immune system)
So, what can you do treat it?
Oh man, this is another post (or probably several). I mean, it’s really what this whole blog is about. For now, I’ll just say that the conventional treatment that the doc will give you is a prescription antifungal like fluconazole. There are a lot different antifungal medication, and you can spot a antifungal medication because it ends in “zole,” as in “fluconazole,” “clotrimazole, “miconazole.” All medications that I’ve been prescribed and taken, BTW.
Pills: The street name for “fluconazole” is Diflucan. It’s a pill that’s taken orally and needs to be prescribed by a doctor (or PA depending on your state’s regulations). For many people, I think this just ends up working for them (which is awesome if this is you!). It worked for me the first time I took it, and a few times after. Eventually, I was taking 6 at a time, and they stopped working for me.
Creams/tablets: Clotrimazole and miconazole are both names of creams that are either inserted vaginally as a tablet, or a cream. Usually, they give you an applicator where you shoot the tablet/cream up like a tampon applicator before you go to bed. It’s messy and not cute. I’ve gotten both of these prescribed by a doc, but you can also buy them OTC. Miconazole, for example, is what Monistat is. You’ve probably seen the commercials for it — it’s the med that’s available at CVS. In my experience, it’s both messy and not particularly effective, but nice because it doesn’t require a prescription.
OK, that’s all for now! Hope you know a little more about candida, candidiasis, and how this whole jam happens.