Yeast and fungal infections, also called Candida, are very common. Candida is a medical term for a micro-organism found naturally in the body.

Everyone has Candida, a form of yeast. In healthy individuals with a strong functioning immune system, it's harmless. It is when the balance of the intestinal environment changes from a compromised immune system or other reasons that Candida multiplies out of control and causes harm, often silently, and affects your health.

The infection can be topical, systemic or localized to certain areas of the body, most commonly the feet, nail beds, vaginal tract, uretha, belly button, ear canal, mouth, skin folds, sinuses and intestines.

Candida can compromise one's health and cause systemic problems, infecting internal organs including the thyroid, adrenal glands, bowel, bladder and kidneys, uterus, lungs, esophagus and bone marrow.

Chronic Candida can eat away the intestinal mucosa and enter the blood stream where it can then be deposited around the body. When Candida changes from a yeast to a fungus, it can create root-like tendrils that infiltrate the GI tract causing leaky gut syndrome and various food sensitivities.

What causes Candida?

• Birth control pills; steroid drugs, ulcer meds, HRT.

• Diets high in refined sugars and carbohydrates, dairy products, alcohol and processed foods.

• Exposure to environmental toxins.

• High levels of emotional and mental stress. Acute and chronic stress elevates cortisol. Excessive cortisol, in turn, raises blood sugar. The fungus doesn't care whether the increased sugar in your body is from eating a candy bar or to having an episode of extreme stress; it will use the sugar as fuel to reproduce itself.

• Mercury dental fillings and heavy metal body burdens.

• Overuse of antibiotics.

• Sleep deficiency and lifestyles short on rest.

• Weakened immune system.

I have found Candida to be on the increase in my practice, and the main reason why is diets that are excessive in carbohydrates and sugar, which so many people consume, and high stress lifestyles.

Candida loves sugar. Sugar is a fuel source for yeast (and parasites). When you eat carbohydrates - even whole grains - they are eventually broken down into glucose, a simple sugar. Over-eating carbs, sugar, alcohol, peanuts and pasteurized dairy products encourage Candida growth. Candida loves the dark, warm and moist environment of the intestines. It attaches itself to the intestinal wall and, when it is in the fungal form ,tries to bury itself deep into your intestinal lining.

Do you have Candida?

While there are a variety of tests practitioners use to identify yeast overgrowth, including stool tests, blood tests, live blood cell tests, urinalysis, etc., these tests may or may not detect Candida. One test that is reasonably effective is the Candida Allergy Test/IgG. However, the simple most effective way to know if you have a yeast problem is by your symptoms through a questionnaire.

Candida is the most dangerous of all the germs that can take over your intestinal tract after being treated with antibiotics, Cipro or doxycycline.

Candida questionnaire (answer yes or no):

1. Are you a recovering alcoholic?

2. Are your symptoms made worse by eating aged cheese? Drinking beer?

3. Are your symptoms made worse by eating high carbohydrate or sugary foods?

4. Do you crave carbohydrates (sugar, bread, sweets, starches, alcohol)?

5. Do you crave corn chips or related products?

6. Do you crave peanut butter?

7. Do you experience rectal itching? Itchy skin?

8. Do you experience sinusitis or chronic sinus infections?

9. Do you experience unexplained depression? Foggy brain? Trouble concentrating?

10. Do you experience frequent headaches, joint and muscle pain?

11. Do you have abdominal or digestive complaints? Severe bloating or gas?

12. Extreme sensitivity to chemicals, perfumes, smoke, or other odors?

13. Have you at anytime in your life been bothered by persistent vaginitis, prostatitis, or other problems affection your reproductive organs?

14. Have you ever had athlete's foot, Ringworm, "jock itch," nail fungus, dandruff or other chronic infections of the skin or nails?

15. Have you at anytime had hives, psoriasis, eczema or chronic skin rashes?

16. Have you or are you undergoing chemotherapy?

17. Have you taken antibiotics repeatedly in the past?

18. Have you taken tetracycline or other antibiotics for acne for one month or longer?

19. Is there a green or white colored tinge to your tongue in the morning?

20. Women: Have you in the past or are you currently taking birth control pills? Do you suffer from serious PMS, menstrual problems or endometriosis, bladder infections?

Yes to five or more of these questions, indicates high probability of Candida.

Find out if Candida could be your root cause to a lot of your symptoms: start with a glass of water by your bed. As soon as you wake up, before you put anything in your mouth, spit into your glass with your first morning saliva. Look for stringy or ropey legs hanging down, cloudy saliva at the bottom or cloudy saliva specs floating. Check the glass for approximately 15 minutes. If your spit floats then you are probably free of an overgrowth of Candida. If you see legs, you more than likely have Candida.

Candida is overlooked by the medical establishment because its symptoms so closely mimic those of other conditions. Likely candidates for Candida overgrowth is someone whose medical history includes: steroid hormone medication such as cortisone, or corticosteroids, often prescribed for skin conditions such as rashes, eczema, or psoriasis; prolonged or repeated use of antibiotics which are frequently given for urinary and ear infections, sinusitis, bronchitis, and other infections; ulcer medications such as "Tagamet" and "Zantac" or oral contraceptives. Certain illnesses such as diabetes, cancer, and aids can also increase susceptibility to Candida overgrowth.

Not all practitioners treating Candida have a complete picture of what is needed for success. It's important that you have a thorough understanding of the intricacies of Candida yourself and the most effective way to approach treatment before trying any particular remedy. By randomly choosing products without understanding the true nature of this beast can actually hinder your progress in eliminating yeast overgrowth.

A nutritious diet, nutritional support, lifestyle modifications, a healthy-functioning liver and a strong immune system are the keys to healing from Candida.

Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at


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