Is a Candida Overgrowth Causing Your IBS?

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Candida and IBS can coexist, but the relationship between the two is not clear-cut. Here you will find a discussion on Candida and what research has to say about its role in IBS.

A woman curled up in her bed with stomach pain
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Overview

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 in humans.

When we are healthy, Candida resides in moderate amounts in the body without causing us any symptoms. It is kept in check by our immune systems and by the body's natural bacteria. 

Candidiasis refers to invasive infections by this fungus—infections in the mucosal membranes of skin (mouth, groin), lungs, or blood. 

People who have a compromised immune system due to factors like 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 often related to the underlying health condition—for example, infections of the mouth or esophagus affect people who have dentures.

Types

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

  • Mouth/Throat: Thrush (oropharyngeal candidiasis)
  • Bloodstream: Candidemia
  • Esophagus: Candida esophagitis
  • Vagina: Genital or vulvovaginal candidiasis
  • Skin: Cutaneous candidiasis

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

Treatments

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 the 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 restrictions on foods with lactose, "mold proteins" and yeast. Research about the effectiveness of this diet is difficult to carry out due to problems coming up with a "blind" control group. Traditional medical professionals generally conclude that people feel better on the diet only because it is a healthier diet.

Role of Candida 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—and it isn't considered 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 sensitivity and reliability are not established.

In 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-group of individuals who are sensitive to the effects of candida. They discuss several theories as to why this might be:

  • Candida acts to stimulate mast cells, leading them to release substances that contribute to inflammation within the intestines.
  • Candida produces proteases, which are substances that can interfere with the function of immunoglobulin and contribute to gut inflammation.

A Word From Verywell

There is not a strong correlation between Candida and IBS. Thus it does not appear that any diet or treatments for candidiasis in other parts of the body would have any effect on your IBS symptoms. But, when you have IBS, you should talk to your healthcare provider about all of your symptoms because you can have other conditions in addition to your IBS- and they will need to be treated.

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