Candida overgrowth is a chronic health condition that affects millions of people each year. It can appear on various parts of the body, but is often related to an imbalance in the microorganisms living in the gut. The symptoms of Candida can be difficult to treat unless this gut imbalance is addressed.
If your doctor is unaware of the importance of gut health, he or she may treat the symptoms rather than the cause. Fatigue might be written off as depression, and digestive problems might be blamed on IBS. The underlying cause, an imbalance in the gut flora, might not be recognized or treated.
Just like other syndromes and chronic conditions, the symptoms of Candida can flare up in different places. There are tests for Candida overgrowth but in many cases, patients do much of the diagnostic work themselves.
Looking at the various Candida symptoms that you’re experiencing can give a good indication of whether you have a deeper issue with your gut flora.
What is Candida?
Candida overgrowth, sometimes known as Candidiasis or just Candida, is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of one or more Candida species.
This is frequently caused by some kind of disruption to the delicate balance of microorganisms in your intestines, otherwise known as your gut flora. A change in the environment allows the colonies of Candida in your gut to multiply and overwhelm the ‘good bacteria’ that live there.
As the population of Candida grows, the multitude of toxic byproducts that it releases begin to cause symptoms like fatigue, brain fog, digestive problems, and headaches. These byproducts include acetaldehyde, ammonia, and uric acid.
When the Candida yeast switches to its more virulent fungal form, it grows long branches (hyphae) that can extend into your soft tissue. These can break through the membrane that surrounds your intestinal tract and release those same waste products. This prompts a reaction from your immune system that can cause allergies and other health problems, including increasing your risk for various autoimmune illnesses.
There are many different types of Candida yeast. Some, like Candida auris, are very rare but life-threatening. The most common infection is Candida albicans, although other subspecies like Candida glabrata and Candida parapsilosis are also common.
What Causes Candida?
A high-sugar diet and antibiotics are the most common causes of Candida, but they are certainly not the only ones. You might be surprised to discover some of the other risk factors that can lead to a Candida overgrowth.
The first stage in addressing your Candida overgrowth is identifying the major risk factors for Candida and eliminating them from your lifestyle.
If you’re wondering what causes Candida, here is a list of the 7 most common triggers:
- A High-Sugar Diet
- Chronic Stress
- The Contraceptive Pill
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Chemical Exposure
The 11 Most Common Candida Symptoms
Candida overgrowth symptoms can include fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, sinus infections, recurring yeast infections, mild depression, joint pain, and much more.
The consensus is that many more people are suffering from Candida overgrowth than those few who are diagnosed correctly. You may find yourself suffering from any or all of the symptoms below if you have Candida. All of them can be linked to an imbalance in the gut flora.
Here are 11 of the most common Candida overgrowth symptoms that you may be experiencing. You may have just a handful of these, or you might recognize most of the list. Let’s start by taking a look at these symptoms in more detail.
1. Chronic Fatigue
Do you feel like you’re tired all the time? A gut imbalance like Candida overgrowth could be to blame. A pathogen like Candida albicans can affect your energy levels in at least three different ways.
Candida Overgrowth Reduces Nutrient Absorption
When an external factor like antibiotics disturbs the balance in your gut flora, one of the most immediate effects is on the way that you absorb nutrients. Your gut is the place where much of the digestive ‘heavy lifting’ takes place. It’s here that nutrients are broken down, processed, and absorbed.
If Candida (or another pathogen) has expanded its colonies to the point where it affects this balance, your nutrient absorption can suffer.
Foods can pass through your gut without being properly broken down, and you lose the opportunity to absorb the nutrients they contain. Over time, this can lead to fatigue as your body simply doesn’t get the fuel that it needs.
In fact, researchers have noted that Candida overgrowth is associated with deficiencies in important nutrients like essential fatty acids, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin B6. Low levels in any of these nutrients, especially magnesium, can lead to fatigue (1, 2).
Candida Produces Toxic Byproducts
Candida’s metabolic processes produce a wide variety of chemicals, many of which are toxic to us. These include a neurotoxin named acetaldehyde, which is coincidentally the same chemical that causes hangovers (3).
In a healthy individual, the small amounts of acetaldehyde produced by Candida are easily processed by the liver. In a person with a Candida overgrowth, this is not necessarily the case. The liver becomes overworked as it struggles to process larger amounts of acetaldehyde.
This build-up of acetaldehyde, ethanol, and other toxins can slow down various processes in your body. And don’t forget that the liver is responsible for energy storage too.
In extreme cases, a yeast overgrowth in the gut can lead to a condition named Auto-Brewery Syndrome, or gut fermentation syndrome. In fact, a New York woman was arrested for drunk driving, only to have her conviction overturned for this very reason (4).
The Adrenal Fatigue Connection
This leads us on to the last reason why Candida can lead to fatigue. Things like an overworked liver, a weakened immune system, and chronic fatigue can put pressure on other organs. Burnout and adrenal fatigue are often seen at the same time as Candida.
The reason is that many of your body’s resources are being diverted to process Candida toxins, fight the Candida overgrowth, and maintain your energy levels.
Over time, this can deplete the hormonal precursors that are needed to produce crucial hormones like pregnenolone, cortisol, and DHEA. As your levels of these hormones drop, it can start to affect your energy levels, your libido, and much more.
2. Brain Fog
We’ve already touched on the reason why a Candida overgrowth can lead to symptoms like brain fog, confusion, difficulties with memory, and poor concentration. A chemical named acetaldehyde, one of the toxic metabolites produced by Candida albicans, is to blame (5).
Acetaldehyde is one of many chemicals produced by Candida (by one count, there are at least 79). Others include ammonia and uric acid. But it’s acetaldehyde that is likely to have the greatest effect on your wellbeing.
If your head is permanently ‘foggy’, you struggle to stay focused, and you are more forgetful than you used to be, acetaldehyde could be the culprit (6).
During a Candida overgrowth, there may be too much acetaldehyde in your bloodstream for your liver to process efficiently. This allows it to circulate to your nervous system and brain.
Here are 3 ways in which acetaldehyde can affect your mental focus:
- Red blood cells that combine with acetaldehyde can carry less oxygen to the brain and travel more slowly through blood vessels (7).
- Acetaldehyde can cause a deficiency in vitamin B1, which is crucial for brain health (8).
- Acetaldehyde can damage nerve cells in a similar way to chronic alcoholism or Alzheimer’s (9).
3. Digestive Issues
This Candida symptom takes us right to the heart of Candida overgrowth. It is, after all, a gut-related condition. The changes in your digestive tract are what ultimately leads to all of the other symptoms on this list.
Whatever caused your Candida, whether it was a course of antibiotics or a sustained high-sugar diet, during a Candida overgrowth your gut flora will become imbalanced. As well as weakening your immunity, this can really affect the way that your body digests food.
Those ‘good bacteria’ that normally reside in your gut are a crucial part of your digestive system, responsible for the processing of starches, fibers, and some sugars.
When a healthy gut microbiome is overwhelmed by an opportunistic pathogen like Candida albicans, the small and large intestine can start to function suboptimally.
Digestive issues related to Candida can include:
In the past few years, researchers have drawn links between Candida overgrowth and other diseases of the gut. These include Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastric ulcers, and duodenal ulcers (10).
4. Recurring Yeast Infections
Recurring yeast infections are perhaps the most obvious sign of a Candida overgrowth.
Repeated vaginal yeast infections are a clear sign that something is wrong with your microbiome. If they keep coming back, it’s likely that some kind of gut imbalance is to blame.
More than 75% of women will get a vaginal yeast infection during their lives. And almost 40% will have two or more yeast infections (11).
Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection will vary from person to person, but they can include:
- Pain during intercourse
- White discharge
There’s a characteristic of yeast infections that is very important to note. Even if you clear up the localized yeast infection, Candida albicans has the ability to grow and spread to different areas around your body.
So even though your vaginal infection might have disappeared, the same area may continue to be reinfected until you eliminate your intestinal Candida overgrowth.
UTIs Can Be A Candida Symptom Too
Did you know that urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also be caused by Candida albicans? It typically happens in the very young, very old, or those who are immuno-compromised (12).
If you are under great stress, or your immunity has been weakened for some other reason, your UTI might have been caused by Candida. Symptoms of a UTI include dark urine, pain in the lower abdomen, pain when you urinate, and feeling like you need to urinate when you really don’t.
Male Yeast Infections
Male yeast infections might be less common, but they certainly happen. Symptoms of a penile yeast infection can include a thick, smelly discharge from the foreskin, pain in pulling back the foreskin, an itchy rash around the genital area, redness, and pain when urinating or during sex.
5. Oral Thrush
The mouth is another part of the digestive tract that is particularly vulnerable to Candidiasis. Oral thrush is incredibly common, and in its mild form is frequently undiagnosed until it becomes quite bad. An intestinal Candida infection often occurs at the same time as oral thrush.
The same environmental changes that cause an intestinal overgrowth can also lead to an oral Candida infection. If you take antibiotics or eat a high-sugar diet, they will change the environment in both your gut and your mouth, making both locations more appealing for the Candida fungus.
How do you know if you have the symptoms of oral thrush? You’ll notice white bumps or lesions on your tongue, throat or elsewhere in your mouth (13).
Oral thrush symptoms include:
- White bumps or lesions on your tongue or throat
- Redness inside your mouth or on your gums
- Painful and inflamed areas inside your mouth
- Difficulty swallowing
In a milder form or oral thrush, you might see only a thin, white covering on your tongue. This covering can be removed with a tongue scraper, but soon returns.
Oral thrush can happen to anyone, especially if they follow the wrong diet, but it is most common among the elderly, newborn children, and anyone with a compromised immune system (15). Dentures are a possible cause, along with poor oral hygiene (16).
6. Sinus Infections
Doctors used to assume that almost all chronic sinus infections were caused by bacteria. Newer research suggests that this is not the case. Although acute (short-term) sinus infections are mostly caused by bacteria, many of the longer-term, chronic sinus infections may be fungal infections.
In fact, a Mayo Clinic study looked at 210 patients with chronic sinusitis and found fungal infections in 96% of them (17).
It seems pretty clear that sinus infections might be a Candida symptom, but here’s the big problem. The most common treatment for chronic sinus infections is antibiotics. And antibiotics are pretty much useless for a fungal infection.
Even worse, antibiotics can kill off many of the ‘good bacteria’ that are competing with the fungus, thereby allowing the fungal infection to spread.
If you suffer from chronic sinus infections, improving your diet and rebalancing your gut bacteria may be a far better solution than antibiotics.
7. Food Sensitivities
This is a good time to mention intestinal permeability, or what we know as Leaky Gut Syndrome. This condition is caused when the fungal Candida grows long branches (hyphae) that penetrate the walls of your intestines.
If left unchecked, this results in a highly permeable intestinal membrane which allows food particles and metabolites to escape the intestinal lumen and enter the bloodstream behind the wall.
These particles and bacteria are then identified as foreign substances by your immune system. In the case of bacteria, they may be quickly neutralized. However, your immune system’s reaction to escaped food particles can potentially lead to food sensitivities (18).
As these foods enter the bloodstream, an area where they really don’t belong, your body begins to treat them as threats to your health. When you eat those foods again, your immune system might react to them.
8. Fungal Infections On The Skin And Nails
Just as there are microorganisms inside your gut, there are bacteria on your skin that protect you and prevent pathogens like Candida albicans from spreading in an uncontrolled way. These protective microorganisms are often known as the skin flora or skin microbiota.
The same conditions that lead to an intestinal overgrowth (a high-sugar diet, weakened immune system, etc) can also change the environment on your skin and allow Candida to overwhelm the local flora. Warm, moist areas like the armpits and groin are particularly vulnerable.
This can result in Candida symptoms like the following fungal infections:
- Fingernail infections
- Toenail infections
- Skin rashes
- Athlete’s foot
Topical creams can help with these superficial yeast infections (19). Natural antifungals can also help, with coconut oil being a good, mild example.
As with oral thrush, changing the environmental conditions is the key to eliminating superficial fungal infections in the long run. The same therapies that can reverse an intestinal Candida overgrowth (i.e. probiotics, antifungals, and a low sugar diet) can also help to eliminate fungal skin infections for good.
9. A Weak Immune System
When it comes to a Candida albicans infection, your immune system can play the role of both cause and effect. A weakened immune system is typically what allows an intestinal Candida overgrowth to happen in the first place. But Candida can also play a role in weakening your immune system, all by itself.
Here are three ways this happens:
- An imbalanced gut flora
Your intestines are one of the most significant parts of your immune system. Researchers have found that the bacteria and yeast in your gut ‘prime’ your immune system and keep it ready to fight off pathogens like Candida (20). Without the correct balance of microorganisms in your gut flora, your immune system can be significantly weakened.
- Leaky Gut Syndrome
This Candida-related condition, often known as intestinal permeability, provokes inflammation and a strong immune response. The inflammation and food sensitivities that it causes put pressure on your overloaded immune system (21).
- Adrenal Fatigue / HPA Axis dysfunction
Lastly, Candida can overwork the adrenal glands and disrupt the HPA axis. These important organs (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenals) play a role in regulating your immune system, among other things (22). Health problems like chronic fatigue and nutrient malabsorption can lead to hormonal imbalances that weaken and disrupt the HPA axis. A lengthy Candida infection can affect levels of hormones and neurotransmitters like cortisol that regulate the immune system.
Does any of this sound like your experience? If you find that you are regularly suffering from colds and flu, and you don’t know why, a gut imbalance like Candida might be the cause.
10. Joint Pain
We’ve already discussed acetaldehyde, but this is far from the only Candida metabolite that can cause unpleasant symptoms. Uric acid is another toxic byproduct of Candida albicans, and it can lead to joint pain in various parts of the body.
If it builds up to sufficient levels, uric acid can lead to gout, a form of arthritis associated with pain, stiffness, and swelling in your joints (23).
These attacks can happen relatively suddenly and can occur repeatedly until the underlying problem is addressed. Longer term, high levels of uric acid can do damage to your tendons and joints.
There is also a particular kind of arthritis that is more directly linked to Candida. If a Candida infection is left untreated for too long, there is a chance that it may enter the bloodstream and appear in joints like the knees and hips. This is known as Candida arthritis (24).
11. Low Mood
So far, we’ve discussed a wide range of symptoms that include tiredness, joint pain, brain fog, and more. If you are experiencing a few of these different symptoms, it could be affecting your mood. But there is also a more direct link between Candida and depression.
- Suppressed Serotonin Production
An intestinal Candida overgrowth can suppress production of serotonin, one of the neurotransmitters that boost your mood. Most serotonin is produced in the gut, so a major gut problem is likely to throw this production out of balance (25).
- Reduced Dopamine Levels
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that affects your mood, and low dopamine levels are strongly associated with depression. Candida has a role to play here too, as one of its metabolites (acetaldehyde) binds with dopamine. This, incidentally, is also one of the reasons why alcoholics tend towards depression (26).
- Low B12
Lastly, an overworked liver can reduce your ability to store and use vitamin B12. This important vitamin helps your brain and nervous system to function properly, and low levels have been linked to depression and mental illness.
Less Common Symptoms Of Candida
The symptoms listed above might be the most common signs of a Candida problem, but they are far from the only ones. A chronic gut imbalance can affect your hormone and neurotransmitter levels, your immune system, your liver, and much more.
The signs of Candida overgrowth can also include any of the symptoms listed below. If you recognize a few of these, along with some of the more common symptoms listed above, it might be time to evaluate whether poor gut health might be causing your health issues. If you have a wide selection of seemingly-unrelated symptoms, Candida albicans might be to blame.
- Acid reflux
- Bleeding gums
- Body odor
- Cracked tongue
- Cravings for sugary snacks
- Crying spells
- Flu-like symptoms
- Fungal skin rash
- Inability to focus
- Inability to lose weight
- Itchy anus
- Itchy eyes
- Low libido
- Mucus in stool
- Muscle aches and stiffness
- Panic attacks
- Persistent extreme fatigue
- Poor coordination
- Poor memory
- Sensitivities to fragrances and chemicals
- Sensitivity to light
- Stomach cramps
- Water retention
Check out our Candida Questionnaire to see if you might have excess Candida in your gut or elsewhere.
How To Treat Your Candida Symptoms
Your Candida treatment will largely depend on what symptoms you are experiencing. Remember, though, that these symptoms are often related to an underlying intestinal Candida infection. You can treat the symptoms of Candida, but they will keep coming back until you rebalance your gut.
Any treatment of Candida symptoms should be combined with a full Candida protocol, including an anti-Candida diet, to fix the problems in your gut.
Restoring balance to your gut microbiome
If you want long-lasting relief from your Candida overgrowth symptoms, you need to address what’s going on in your gut. The best way to do that is by addressing it in multiple ways. Here are the three elements that you need to include as you treat your Candida and restore your gut health.
Diet is the most common cause of an intestinal Candida infection. A high-sugar diet, full of inflammatory, low-nutrient foods, is exactly what Candida albicans needs to thrive (31). By adopting a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet, you can reduce inflammation in your gut and deprive the Candida of what it needs to survive. Take a look at our list of foods to eat for some ideas. Here are some basic principles of the Candida diet.
- Avoid added sugars
- Eat non-starchy vegetables
- Eat low-sugar fruits
- Eat lots of fermented foods
- Minimize your caffeine
- Eat gut-healing foods
- Enjoy healthy proteins and fats
- Stay away from gluten
- Minimize or avoid alcohol
- Maximize your nutrition
- Drink lots of water
Probiotics help to maintain acidity in the gut and crowd out the Candida yeast by competing with it for resources. Research has also shown that ‘good bacteria’ in the gut will help to boost your immunity (32). These are all important factors in fighting a Candida overgrowth. You can try probiotic supplements or probiotic foods.
Natural antifungals help to break down the biofilms that Candida uses to protect itself. When used in combination with probiotics and a low-sugar diet, they work alongside your immune system to restrict and reverse the growth of Candida albicans. Good examples are caprylic acid and oregano oil.
Treating Localized Candida Infections
Once you’ve sorted out your gut health, you can take a look at some natural ways to treat localized infections. Examples of these infections are vaginal yeast infections or nail fungus.
How To Treat Vaginal Candida Infections
Here are some natural treatments that you can use to treat vaginal yeast infections. If you suffer from recurring yeast infections, remember that fixing your gut health is a good way to prevent them.
- Antifungal baths
Run a hot bath and add a few drops of tea tree oil or oregano oil. Start with a small amount (oregano oil, in particular, is very potent) and gradually increase it over the course of a few days.
Plain probiotic yogurt is full of beneficial bacteria like strains of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. You can apply the yogurt externally, just like you would a cream from the pharmacy. Some people soak a tampon in the yogurt and leave it overnight.
- Coconut oil
You can apply coconut oil externally just like any cream. Depending on the room temperature in your house, your coconut oil may start off either solid or liquid. If it’s solid, you can simply warm it in your hands for a few seconds before applying. Just like yogurt, coconut oil can also be applied internally by using a tampon.
Some sources recommend using whole garlic cloves to treat vaginal yeast infections (33). If you choose to try this, carefully peel a garlic clove, clean it thoroughly, coat it with coconut oil and insert it in the frontal cavity of the vagina. Do this before you go to bed, then it will dissolve during your sleep and you can remove any remnants in your morning shower.
- Boric acid
Boric acid is available from pharmacies in powder form and can be packed into empty gelatin capsules for use as suppositories.
- Tea Tree Oil
Research has shown that tea tree oil is able to impair Candida’s ability to adhere to human cell surfaces (27). Use it topically, and be careful as it is very strong.
How To Treat Male Yeast Infections
The natural treatments here are similar to those used for vaginal Candida, although adapted for male yeast infections.
- Antifungal baths
Run a hot bath and add a few drops of tea tree oil or oregano oil. Start with a small amount (oregano oil, in particular, is very potent) and gradually increase it over the course of a few days.
Rub some plain yogurt on the affected area. Make sure that you buy plain yogurt that contains active cultures.
- Coconut oil
Rub some coconut oil on the affected area. Extra virgin or virgin coconut oil is best. It contains three natural antifungals, including caprylic acid, and is an effective antifungal (28).
- Apple cider vinegar
Purchase some cotton swabs and swab the affected area with apple cider vinegar.
How To Treat Topical Candida Infections
Here are some natural treatments that you can use to treat fungal infections on your skin and nails.
- Topical treatments
Treatments like tea tree oil, oregano oil, or even minced garlic can be very effective when applied topically. For fungal infections, paint tea tree oil or oregano oil on your nails twice a day for 2 months, or until the fungal infection disappears. Fungal nail infections are very difficult to eliminate and may take a few months.
- Other strategies
Keep your feet and hands clean and dry, especially the areas around your nails and between your toes. Change your socks every day, and take them off and walk barefoot when you can. The more airflow your feet get, the faster the infection will go!
How To Treat Oral Thrush
The best natural treatment for oral thrush is coconut oil. It contains three different antifungal compounds, including caprylic acid and lauric acid.
Simply put some coconut oil in your mouth, swish it around for a few minutes, then spit it out (29). Do this twice a day for 2 weeks or until your oral thrush is gone.
Note that coconut oil can be a solid or a liquid, depending on the temperature. If it’s winter or you live in a cold climate, you may find that it’s completely solid. Don’t worry! Just place it in your mouth and it will rapidly dissolve into a liquid.
How To Treat Fungal Sinusitis
Here are two natural treatments for fungal sinusitis. Most sinus infections have some kind of fungal component, and you might continue to struggle with them if you use antibiotics to treat them.
- Sinus Rinse
Rinsing your sinuses with a ‘Neti pot’ is a great way to remove fungi and bacteria from your nasal cavity and fight the excess mucus associated with a sinus infection. Tilt your head to the side, pour the saline water into one nostril, and allow it to drain out of the other. It’s easier than it sounds and it can give incredibly fast, lasting sinus pressure relief.
- Essential oils
Peppermint and rosemary essential oils are frequently used to combat nasal and sinus discomfort (30). The best way to get these into your sinuses is to steam them. Add a few drops into a glass bowl and then fill it with boiling water. Cover your head with a large towel, lean over the bowl, and breath naturally.
The Bottom Line
There is a long list of Candida symptoms, and these symptoms can appear in many different parts of the body. Infections in various areas such as the gut, genitals, and skin may all be linked.
Treating individual symptoms can be effective in the short-term, but for long-term relief, you may need to change your diet. The Candida diet is a low-sugar, anti-inflammatory diet that could help when combined with probiotics and natural antifungals.
For lots more information on the symptoms of Candida, take a look at our Ultimate Candida Diet treatment plan. It contains a detailed five-step plan to rebalance your gut flora, beat Candida, and get your health back.
Beat your candida in 60 days with this detailed 5-step program
If you're looking for a more comprehensive Candida treatment plan, check out the Ultimate Candida Diet program, written by Lisa Richards and Dr Eric Wood. This plan is based on the latest research into Candida Related Complex, and contains everything you need to know to beat your Candida overgrowth.