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Candida is controversial. While some experts believe that candida overgrowth can make you very ill, others say it doesn’t cause any problems unless you have a severe immune disorder.
If you think you might have candida in your gut, the best way to find out is to do a gut health test. There are many different kinds of candida tests.
Read on to find out more about candida, the symptoms of candida overgrowth, and which test might be best for you.
Candida is a type of yeast that lives inside your gut. You have over 1000 types of different microbes in your gut: mostly bacteria, viruses and yeasts. This is called your microbiome.
In an ideal world, all of them would live together in harmony in a beautiful ecosystem, each of them fulfilling their role in keeping us healthy as part of an interconnected network.
But in reality, most of us today in the Western world are living with imbalanced microbiomes, as a result of processed food, stress, and toxins in our environment. Our microbiomes are far less diverse (they contain far fewer species of microbes) than people living closer to nature in parts of the developing world.
In less diverse microbiomes, certain species of microbes dominate more than they would do in a diverse microbiome. Some species appear to be ‘opportunistic’: they take over when they ‘see’ an opening. Candida is one of those.
So if you have an overgrowth of candida, it’s a sign your microbiome needs support. Research has told us that almost everyone has some level of candida in their guts. It’s only when it grows beyond normal levels that it causes problems.1
Many doctors and specialists insist that because candida is a normal resident in your gut, it doesn’t cause any problems, unless it becomes systemic (it escapes from the gut and invades other parts of your body). This is called ‘systemic candidiasis’, and usually only happens if someone has a depleted immune system.
But research has found that antibiotics can cause candida overgrowth in your gut, even if you’re healthy.2 In fact, studies carried out as far back as the 1980s have shown that by killing off the bacteria that would usually keep candida ‘in check’, certain antibiotics allow it to run riot.3
If you’d like to find out if candida has overgrown in your gut, take one of our Gut Health Tests.
For a candida stool test, you’ll need to make a stool sample which will go to a laboratory. There, technicians will look for evidence of candida in the stool. They usually do that either through culturing or PCR technology.
Culturing involves examining your stool sample under a microscope to see if there’s candida growth. They’ll take a small sample and let it incubate for a few days so that any yeast in your stool can grow. However there’s evidence that candida is unculturable,4 so this may be ineffective.
Healthpath uses PCR technology to test for all bacteria and yeasts, including candida. Most microbes that live in your gut are obligate anaerobes, which means they die in the presence of oxygen.
This PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test looks for the genetic fingerprint of microbes, which remains after they have died. This is a far more sensitive test than the old fashioned technique of looking through a microscope.
Candida is impossible to see in your stool.
You might have read on the internet that someone has found candida in their stool, but it’s very difficult to know that what you’re seeing in the toilet is candida.
If you’ve seen any of the following in your stool, it’s possible that it’s candida, but it could just as easily be something else:
Mucus appears in your stool because your gut is irritated or inflamed. That could be as a result of candida, but it could also be because of an imbalanced microbiome, food intolerances or an allergy.
Strings, froth or foam can also be mucus, from a wide variety of causes.
The symptoms of candida in the gut overlap with many other conditions and imbalances, so it’s hard to know that your symptoms are down to candida overgrowth.
One study5 found that people with candida overgrowth in their small intestines—known as small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO)—were much more likely to suffer from the following symptoms than people without SIFO:
However, many other conditions—like SIBO, parasite infection or H. pylori infection, for instance—can also cause these symptoms.
Candida overgrowth has also been found to be involved in the following conditions:
The only way to know if you have candida overgrowth in your gut is to do a test, but it’s important to say that even if you do have high levels of candida in your gut, it’s not necessarily to blame for your symptoms. Candida overgrowth almost always exists as part of a general gut dysbiosis.
As we said before, a healthy gut keeps candida in check. Antibiotics often cause candida overgrowth because they wipe out the friendly bacteria that keep your microbiome in balance: this has been proven through multiple research studies.11
While candida overgrowth isn’t life threatening, it can cause uncomfortable symptoms, and there’s growing evidence that it’s involved in the development of allergies.12
Many experts still say that candida is only a problem in ‘immunocompromised’ people, with underlying disorders such as AIDS, or if they’re having chemotherapy. But recent research has revealed that people with less obvious immune problems are also more likely to get fungal infections, like people on steroids, very young or very elderly patients, diabetics, or people with chronic alcoholism, malnutrition, or any chronic debilitating disease.13
Right now, we don’t have a perfect test for candida overgrowth. That’s because it exists in most people’s guts without a problem: it’s the quantity that matters. However, most stool tests, including our Gut Health Tests, will reveal the level of candida in your gut, along with levels of potentially pathogenic bacteria, parasites, other types of fungus and various markers of digestive and immune function.
To find out more about how stool testing might help you on your health journey, read our blog Stool testing: the ultimate in-depth guide.
If you’ve ever wondered how the NHS uses stool testing to help people with their digestive health, check out Stool testing on the NHS: all you need to know.
Studies have shown that candida can overgrow throughout your whole digestive tract, from your mouth to your anus.14
As far as we know, there are no tests available to the public that detect candida specifically in your stomach. A gastroenterologist may be able to take a biopsy of your stomach tissue and test it for candida, but it’s not a common procedure.
The best way to test for candida overgrowth in your large intestine is with a stool test, but this won’t reflect levels of candida in your small intestine, or anywhere else in your gut.
There are many types of candida tests, and the results mean different things.
However, a positive result on any candida test means that you would benefit from taking steps to balance your microbiome, because a balanced microbiome naturally keeps candida at bay.
If you want to get a candida test, there are a lot to choose from. While some have quite a bit of evidence behind them, others have none at all.
As far as we’re aware, the NHS doesn’t carry out candida stool analysis. If your doctor suspects that you have a candida infection in your mouth, anus, skin, or anywhere where it’s visible, they will probably give you a prescription for an antifungal agent, like Nystatin or Fluconazole.
There are many testing companies on the market that will send you a home test kit for candida: Verisana is one example. You can choose from a stool, blood or saliva test.
Candida blood tests work by detecting the antibodies that form your immunity to candida. The test recognises when levels of these antibodies are particularly high, signalling an overgrowth of candida.
The problem is that the antibodies can be high because you’ve had candida overgrowth in the past: it’s not necessarily an accurate reflection of where your levels are now. It’s usually quick to get your results, and easy to collect your sample, but it tends to be less reliable than a stool analysis.
Some health practitioners like to use a test called an ‘organic acids’ test. This looks at the metabolites of your microbes (including yeasts and bacteria). This urine test looks at the waste products your microbes produce to estimate their levels, so your practitioner can link them to your symptoms.
Organic acids tests reflect candida levels anywhere in your body. This is partly a good thing, as it’s currently very difficult to test for candida overgrowth in certain places in your body, like your small intestine or stomach. This is also a problem though, as your practitioner will be better able to help you tackle your candida overgrowth if they know where it is.
When it comes to treating candida, every practitioner is different. Most will use a variety of antimicrobial herbs or other herbal medicines, along with a gut-healing protocol to stop the overgrowth coming back.
Some practitioners, like Amy Myers, have developed their own range of supplements to combat candida overgrowth. There are even short courses you can take to learn how to make your own anti-candida protocols, but we don’t recommend them unless you go to a reputable organisation with BANT accreditation, like the College of Naturopathic Medicine (CNM) or the Institute of Nutrition (IoN).
Don’t mistake a candida saliva test done in a lab with the one you can do at home by spitting in a glass of water (which isn’t reliable at all).
If your doctor suspects you have a candida infection in your mouth (known as oral candidiasis or oral thrush), they may collect your spit and send it to a lab to be analysed. Doctors usually diagnose oral thrush just by sight, though.
This saliva test for candida is completely different to the candida DIY spit test and is backed up by science.15
Alexandra Falconer MA (Dist) DipCNM mBANT is a Registered Nutritional Therapist specialising in IBS and related conditions. A graduate of Brighton’s College of Naturopathic Medicine, she is committed to fighting the root causes of chronic illness and bringing functional medicine to everyone who needs it.
Before her natural health career, Alex was a journalist and copywriter. She continues to write for magazines and media agencies, and now combines her two great passions—writing and health—by creating content that empowers people to claim their right to a healthy body and mind.
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