What is a Yeast Overgrowth?
Yeast overgrowth is a problem that occurs when Candida, which is a type of yeast (or fungi), gets out of balance with the normal good bacteria found in your digestive tract.
According to an Intestinal Fungal Dysbiosis research study published in the journal Gastroenterology, Candida can develop into an overgrowth of yeast and can cause digestive and other problems. Many people think of yeast infections as a female issue, yet yeast is an organism that can colonize any orifice or surface. In the mouth, it is known as thrush. In the digestive tract, it is often called a yeast overgrowth or simply candida.
At very low populations, yeast is considered normal flora in the digestive tract. However, normal does not necessarily mean good. Yeast can invade tissue and has the potential to have a major impact on this ecosystem. Its growth inhibits the growth of good bacteria, and when it overgrows, which is seen in our clinic more commonly than previously thought to exist, it produces the toxic effects of IBS and can cause many other symptoms in its host.
Candida will take advantage of every opportunity it has to flourish. If your good bacteria are diminished, for whatever reason, or if you ingest things that help yeast to flourish, Candida will likely pounce. And once it gets hold, it can be very difficult to eradicate.
What Causes a Yeast Overgrowth?
Yeast infections, or yeast overgrowths, are a common result of antibiotic use. Antibiotics kill bacteria, not yeast. For micro-organisms such as yeast and bacteria, survival is largely about competing for territory, so yeast thrive when you take antibiotics.
Only antifungals kill yeast. Taking antibiotics kills off bacteria that are in direct competition with yeast for territory in your digestive tract. This is similar to any other battlefield. Everyone wants territory. In this scenario, yeast can flourish, potentially creating an environment where there is more yeast than is desirable.
Diet can affect Candida symptoms, too. Since yeast feed upon sugars, a diet high in sweets, alcohol, starches, and refined carbohydrates can increase its growth. As a result, when treating yeast some health practitioners recommend special Candida diets that are low in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
What makes yeast bad? There are many reasons that yeast can negatively impact your health. The worst are that it can directly destroy tissue by feeding upon it and it can produce toxins that are bad for you. Others are that it can create inflammation, and it can ferment the food you ingest in ways food is not normally broken down by good bacteria, leading to IBS symptoms like gas and diarrhea.
Some species of yeast are bad simply because they take up space, thereby crowding out the good bacteria and depriving your body of all the health-giving benefits that friendly bacteria provide. This can result in the poor digestion of food and the poor absorption of nutrients.
What Are the Symptoms of a Yeast Overgrowth?
Yeast can cause a large number of symptoms, including all of those IBS like gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. But these are just a few of the symptoms known to be caused by Candida. There are many others that affect other parts of the body, or your entire body. The average Candida sufferer reports about twenty different symptoms.
Many sufferers give up trying to find out what is wrong with them because their symptoms seem unrelated, so it is a frustrating and confusing condition to describe and endure.
In addition to digestive issues, many people with Candida or an overgrowth of yeast describe having symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, headaches, skin breakouts, and other symptoms.
This does not necessarily mean these people have yeast throughout their body. That is highly unlikely. However, the yeast in their digestive tract can create toxins that affect the rest of the body.
Testing for a Yeast Overgrowth
The latest advances in stool testing are relatively good at discovering if yeast is causing your digestive problems. It is very important to undergo proper testing as soon as possible, as it can become a chronic condition if the fungus is allowed to take hold.
The most accurate way to test for Candida is to do a DNA analysis of a stool sample. There are other tests that can also shed light on whether or not you have a yeast overgrowth. Many doctors aren’t up to speed on this type of testing, nor for that matter do they even suspect yeast.
At the IBS Treatment Center, we now use DNA stool testing to measure genetic material from organisms in the digestive tract. This is by far the most advanced method for detecting Candida or yeast and eliminates much of the guesswork. It also quantifies the amount of yeast present, telling us exactly what we are dealing with.
If your tests are positive, you will need to be treated with the correct antifungal agents. However, if the tests are negative they do not completely rule out a yeast overgrowth. In our experience yeast don’t consistently shed via the stool, and may be present even when the test results are negative. Therefore we also take into account the patient’s history and many other factors when assessing for a yeast overgrowth.
What the Research Says About Yeast Overgrowth
People have been talking about yeast in the digestive tract for decades. But it has taken a long time for science to finally catch on. An article about a yeast study appeared in Wired magazine that focused on the fungus inside becoming a new health frontier. But we still have a long way to go with regard to our scientific understanding of Candida. Most of our knowledge comes from the clinical experience of treating yeast in patients.
As the research community learns more about yeast, it will surely increase awareness of the problems it can cause.
Treating Yeast Overgrowth
Once you have yeast, it can be very difficult to eradicate. Serious yeast overgrowth may require long term treatment with strong antifungal medication.
Antifungal medications do not always have to be pharmaceutical. Many natural antifungals are also very effective. The proper treatment is determined as part of the lab test for yeast. It’s important to know that all treatments vary in effectiveness depending on the strain of yeast present and it’s resistance to antifungals. There is no one size fits all treatment for Candida.
Probiotics, good bacteria such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, may help keep the bacteria in your gut in balance. But they may be ineffective at treating Candida once it’s established. They also have the potential to stir up an existing Candida problem and make it worse. Usually, the yeast must first be treated with an antifungal.
If you’re fortunate, then treating your yeast overgrowth will eradicate it or adequately lower the levels in a relatively short amount of time. But when the overgrowth is really significant, it can take months of treatment and hard work to get yeast under control. Ultimately it is worth the effort, but it may take considerable guidance in order to get the results that you want.
Preventing a Yeast Overgrowth
The best way to treat a yeast overgrowth is by preventing it in the first place. Make sure your friendly bacteria are well established, so that Candida does not have a chance to grow and spread. While using antibiotics, you should always replenish the intestines with good bacteria by taking a high quality probiotic.
The same is true for many other medications. Steroidal medications greatly increase the likelihood of developing a Candida overgrowth, as do other immune suppressing medications. Acid blockers such as PPIs (Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec) alter the natural ecosystem of the digestive tract and also increase your risk for a Candida overgrowth.
Diet is also extremely important. Yeast thrive on sugars and refined carbohydrates. You probably already know this, but may have never stopped to think about it. When you use yeast to make bread or beer, they feed on the sugars, which allow them to multiply and thrive. The same thing happens in your digesting tract. Avoiding these kinds of foods will help prevent a yeast overgrowth.
Repopulating the digestive tract with good bacteria requires both a good diet, which not only helps you avoid Candida, but also helps to feed good bacteria. A highly quality probiotic is also important. These types of probiotics contain many different species of good bacteria, not just two or three, and have tens of billions of organisms per capsule, maybe more. And you’ll need to take them for months, Like reestablishing the health and natural state of any ecosystem, it takes a concerted effort and lots of time, but ultimately it is doable.
Yeast and its Relation to IBS
In our practice we have found that yeast are a significant cause of IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, gas, bloating and abdominal pain. They are highly opportunistic organisms, and thrive as a result of our modern day lifestyle. They are one of the most under-estimated causes of common digestive problems.
Fortunately, working with an expert on this topic and undergoing the proper testing and treatment will help you to not only determine whether or not Candida is causing your symptoms, but will help you to properly treat it, regain normal digestion and get your life back. At the IBS Treatment Center, we are highly skilled at testing and treating yeast overgrowth.
IBS and Yeast FAQs
Can Candida be mistaken for IBS?
IBS is a very broad label with hundreds of causes. IBS literally means that something is irritating your digestive system. One of the causes of irritation of the digestive system is Candida. So in a sense Candida can be mistaken for IBS.
Can IBS cause yeast infections?
IBS can be caused by a yeast overgrowth, but IBS does not cause a yeast infection.
How are IBS and candida related?
A Candida overgrowth in the digestive tract is one of the many possible causes of IBS.
Should you consume nutritional yeast if you have IBS?
Nutritional yeast will not help your IBS. In some cases it can make your IBS worse. This is true if you have an allergy to yeast, which was supported in a gastroenterology medical research study by the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
Should you consume baker’s yeast if you have IBS?
Like nutritional yeast, baker’s yeast will not help your IBS. In some cases, it can make your IBS worse, which is true if you have an allergy to yeast. This was found in a the same research study in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology cited above.
Do chronic yeast infections cause IBS?
Chronic yeast infections normally refer to vaginal yeast infections. These do not cause IBS. However, if you have a yeast overgrowth in your digestive tract, that can cause IBS.
Dr. Stephen Wangen is the award winning author of two books on solving digestive disorders, and a nationally recognized speaker on IBS. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio. He was recently named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.