This is a guest blog post by Andrea Nakayama. I think many of you suffering from fatigue, bloating, constipation, dull mood or grey-ish skin will learn a lot from it!
I’m a firm believer that you are not what you eat, but what your body can do with what you eat. In other words, you are what your body can break down and absorb.
In many ways you are also the sum of your parts. Sure there’s the usual digestive parts – your mouth and esophagus, your stomach and intestines – but your digestive system is also host to a vast number of bacteria, protozoa and fungi.
Candida is one of those fungi.
While in some ways it’s true that we’re all the same on the inside, just as our parents told us, there are a good number of ways in which we’re vastly different.
The human body is made up of about 10 trillion cells, remarkably, approximately ten times more microorganisms living right within your intestines. In fact it’s your gut and other mucous membranes, like your respiratory tract and your urogenital tract, that create a home for those bacteria, protozoa and fungi.
There’s really nothing to be grossed out about when thinking of sharing your body with these tiny organisms. It’s natural, normal.
This part of your body called your microflora is home to hundreds of different kinds of microorganisms, all designed to live in a symbiotic, non-harmful relationship with you.
In fact, these little organisms do quite a lot to keep you alive and enable you to thrive.
- They train your immune system
- They prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that can make you sick
- They create a barrier from exposure to all sorts of agents that you come into contact with everyday.
- They produce antibiotic-like substances that are anti-fungal and anti-viral
- They regulate the growth and development of the gastrointestinal tract
- They produce vitamins for you, and even manufacture certain hormones
Thank you little critters!
Most of the flora and their concomitant organisms take residence in your colon.
The largest populations of organisms that dwell there tend to be bacterial, as opposed to the protozoa or fungi that may also inhabit the terrain. Yet this is where we all differ. Though you and I both have a colon (unless, of course, it’s been surgically removed), the culture and populace of your flora is likely very different than mine.
For instance, an overburdened bacterial population in your microbiome may have allowed for a yeast overgrowth, whereas I may have a proliferation of a certain type of bacterium, throwing my flora out of balance and allowing for autoimmunity to occur.
There will also be a variance between each and every one of our bacterial composition at the most basic level, between the good and the bad – the commensal and the opportunistic.
There are a significant number of factors throughout your life that will affect the composition of your flora, starting before birth. A baby’s first opportunity for colonization is by the flora of his or her mother in the passage through the birth canal.
In utero, the fetus is primarily sterile, with some possible initial exposure now thought to come from cultures in the amniotic fluid. But when mother’s water breaks and the birth process begins, so does the primary settlement of the body’s mucosal surfaces, inside and out, in a period of about 48 hours.
That’s just the beginning. Your microflora grows and morphs from there, throughout your life.
Other factors that will influence your microflora population include:
- use of antibiotics and pharmaceuticals such as birth control, steroids and hormone
- type of delivery: breast or bottle feeding
- chemotherapy and radiation
- drug and alcohol use
- part of the body
- overall health and immune status
It’s even been shown that within the same individual that factors such as hormonal fluctuations, dietary changes, abrupt shifts in stress levels and sexual activity can elicit alterations in the population of the microflora.
I draw this all out for you to provide you with some context.
When it comes to Candida, context is everything.
It’s sometimes hard to understand why your roommate or your husband or your best friend can eat a hot fudge sundae without experiencing immediate fatigue, brain fog and bloating.
Or why is it that your sister doesn’t suffer chronic health challenges like persistent skin irritations and anal itching, respiratory infections, anxiety and fibroids even though she stops for a jumbo chocolate chip cookie on the way back to the office from lunch every single day?
I’m telling you, it really is all about context. It’s the context in which the yeast within you has to grow.
In many ways our health boils down to that microscopic internal environment and the ways in which yours is unique to you in this very moment.
Your flora is like the sum of your experiences.
You’ve collected a little of this, a lot of that; you’ve distributed some of your organisms and unknowingly exterminated others.
It’s an environment that was influenced by your mother and her microscopic environment and for which you became the landlord soon after birth.
Candida doesn’t discriminate. And candida isn’t the problem, the environment is.
In a healthy person, no matter their age or gender, Candida is a harmless agent – we’ve always had some of this yeast present in our bodies. Yet fluctuations in the internal bacterial environment that influence immune health enable the yeast to grow past its tipping point, past the point where its actions are kept in check by the host climate.
In these circumstances, the same strains of Candida that grow as harmless commensals can become pathogenic, invading the mucosa and causing significant damage.
Candida has filaments that can burrow their roots through the mucosal barriers and into your tissues to initiate what’s called a “leaky gut” – a situation where one of the body’s most important boundaries and barricades between the inside and outside world has been breached.
Without suitable restraint, any number of elements, including improperly broken down constituents from the food you’ve eaten, can make their way into the bloodstream and wreak further havoc on your health.
This may appear as inflammation, allergies, asthma, eczema, food intolerances, headaches, joint pain and mind challenges such as depression, anxiety, mood swings and problems with memory or focus.
The environment that will support Candida’s growth is one where there’s a lot of undigested sugar and starch for it to feed on, as well as a climate that has a lower pH, or is more acidic. Sugar, starches and simple carbohydrates in the diet contribute to both of these generative factors, which is why diet is such an important part of an anti-Candida protocol.
When a favorable environment for yeast overgrowth exists in the microflora, then what you do is make more yeast. And as you make more yeast, you put more strain on your immune system to try to gain back some balance.
This leaves you tired and inflamed and can cause confusion among your immune cells as they try to discern self from other.
As the yeast “feeds” on the sugars in its environment, it begs for more. Its need for more sugars manifests as your sweet tooth.
I like to remind my clients that what feels like a lack of willpower when trying to avoid sweets or carbohydrates may be something much more sovereign to contend with – a growing and hungry pathogen.
As the yeast feeds it also metabolizes.
The by-products left behind from the yeasts’ feast are perhaps more dangerous to your health than the yeast itself. These are toxic chemicals and dead yeast cells classified as mycotoxins, or little fungal poisons that can be released into your bloodstream. Alcohol and acetaldehyde are two such toxins.
The release of these into the blood will undoubtably leave you feeling fuzzy and hungover. Gliotoxin is another mycotoxin left behind by Candida metabolism. This little poison interferes with your body’s abilities to produce key antioxidants and suppresses the function of your immune system by thwarting the production of white blood cells.
Thinking about Candida through the lens of its offenses can be overwhelming. It sounds like the scary monster in your worst childhood nightmare. And yet it doesn’t have to be.
This is where you get to become an environmentalist.
This is where you get to do what I like to call “backing it up” so that we can alter the habitat within you and make it one that is less hospitable to opportunistic growth and more conducive to balance.
Andrea Nakayama, CNC, CNE, CHHC is a functional nutritionist, health writer, educator, and the founder of the thriving online nutrition enterprises, Replenish PDX and Holistic Nutrition Lab.
Her work is regularly featured in a variety of health, nutrition and wellness blogs, online summits and radio shows, particularly on the topics of thyroid, autoimmune, and digestive health issues. She has been featured in a variety of publications nationwide, including Martha Stewart’s Whole Living magazine, and the June 2014 edition of Oprah’s O Magazine Andrea’s exposure and recognition in the field continues to grow, having been voted a “crowd favorite” and highlighted as a featured speaker in Sean Croxton’s 2014 Second Opinion Series – the Digestion and Thyroid Sessions. Andrea is the a co-founder of The Hashimoto’s Institute and co-author of “Living Candida-Free“, with chef and blogger Ricki Heller, now on bookshelves and available at amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and on iBooks
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