Candida is a species of microscopic yeast that usually lives in our intestines at low levels. In women, Candida is also a common microorganism in the vagina. However, different types of Candida, most commonly Candida albicans (C. albicans for short), can also cause infections if too much is present in the gut or vaginal tract. (1) When this overgrowth occurs in the mouth, intestines, or vaginal tract, we often refer to it as “yeast overgrowth” or “Candida overgrowth.”
People with Lyme disease are at risk for yeast overgrowth due to antibiotic use and changes in the immune system caused by infection. Read on to learn about the Lyme disease and Candida connection and how diet, herbs, and probiotics can help manage Candida and restore balance to your body.
In This Article:
- What Is Candida Overgrowth and Why Does It Happen?
- What’s the Connection Between Candida and Lyme Disease?
- Testing for Candida Overgrowth
- Candida Overgrowth Effects and The Impact on Lyme Disease
- How to Address Candida Overgrowth When You Have Lyme Disease
- Bottom Line: Addressing Candida is Crucial for Lyme Disease Recovery
What Is Candida Overgrowth and Why Does It Happen?
C. albicans is a microscopic yeast and commensal organism in the gastrointestinal and vaginal tracts. A commensal microorganism lives in a relationship with another organism – in this case, the “other organism” is you! Candida is referred to as an “opportunistic” pathogen because, when given the opportunity (for reasons I’ll describe below), Candida can overgrow in the body and begin to cause problems.
Importantly, C. albicans is just one member of the Candida yeast family. It is one of the more common members of this family that drives Candida overgrowth symptoms; however, sometimes, other Candida microorganisms, such as Candida glabrata and Candida parapsilosis overgrow as well. (2)
Typically, our beneficial gastrointestinal and vaginal bacteria keep Candida in check, preventing it from overgrowing. However, a few factors can cause Candida proliferation, creating an imbalance in the body, including:
- Antibiotic use reduces levels of beneficial gut bacteria that usually keep Candida in check. (3) Many chronic Lyme patients take extended courses of antibiotics to address Lyme infection, which may render their bodies more hospitable to Candida.
- Immune system suppression from immunosuppressant and corticosteroid medication usage. For example, taking an inhaled corticosteroid (such as in an inhaler) can increase your risk of developing oral Candida overgrowth, referred to as oral thrush. (4)
- High blood sugar – and I don’t just mean diabetes! (5) Many people without frank type 2 diabetes have higher than ideal blood sugar and don’t know it yet. Eating to support healthy blood sugar is crucial for Lyme patients. Check out my article Blood Sugar, Lyme Disease, and Diabetes – What is the Connection for more information.
- A diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugars because these foods directly feed Candida (6)
- Oral contraceptive (birth control pill) use: The synthetic hormones in birth control pills can disrupt the healthy gut microbiome, creating the opportunity for Candida overgrowth. (7)
Please note: In rare cases when the immune system is severely compromised, Candida overgrowth in the body can become systemic and life-threatening; this situation is referred to as “invasive Candidiasis.” (8) In this post, I won’t be discussing invasive Candidiasis; instead, I’ll discuss the more subtle and common (but significant!) imbalance referred to as Candida overgrowth.
Below, I’ll talk a bunch about the harmful effects of Candida. However, there’s one potential positive effect of Candida in the gut that is worth mentioning!
Interestingly, one potential pro of having normal levels of Candida inside the body is that the presence of Candida albicans in the gut can activate a part of the immune system called the Th17 branch that is involved in intestinal barrier protection (basically, helping to prevent leaky gut) – this is a very positive effect! However, balance is critical here because an excessive amount of Th17 cells is decidedly not a good thing and can play a role in chronic inflammatory diseases such as autoimmune diseases. (9)
What’s the Connection Between Candida and Lyme Disease?
What is the connection between Candida and Lyme disease? Candida overgrowth can be particularly problematic for people with Lyme disease because Candida can induce chronic inflammation and immune dysfunction by damaging the gut. Lyme disease already causes chronic inflammation and immune dysfunction, so an overgrowth of Candida can add insult to injury. Furthermore, Candida overgrowth may also exacerbate existing Lyme symptoms, such as fatigue and brain fog.
In addition, people with Lyme disease may be more susceptible to Candida overgrowth for a couple of reasons.
- It is possible that immune system suppression from chronic infections, like Lyme disease, could promote Candida overgrowth by dampening the body’s immune defenses. (10, 11)
- When we take broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat Lyme disease, those antibiotics can wipe out the beneficial bacteria that normally control Candida populations, allowing Candida to proliferate. Lyme disease can thus create an environment in the body that is very conducive to yeast overgrowth.
In my practice, I frequently see Candida overgrowth in individuals who have been on antibiotics for Lyme disease long-term. Sometimes, this Candida overgrowth shows up in stool testing; other times, it is evident to both the client and me because it creates a white coating on their tongue (which is just another part of the gastrointestinal tract). Candida growth on the tongue and inside the oral cavity is called “oral thrush.”
Testing for Candida Overgrowth
There are several ways to test for Candida overgrowth; you’ll need to partner with a functional healthcare provider to do these tests. In my practice, I most often run stool testing and OAT testing to assess for Candida in clients:
- Stool testing: Functional medicine stool testing, such as the GI MAP, assesses for the presence of Candida and can let us know whether Candida is overgrowing in your gut.
- Testing for IgA, IgG, and IgM antibodies to Candida: These antibodies are proteins made by your immune system in response to Candida. Elevated antibodies suggest that your immune system has recognized and launched an “attack” against Candida.
- Candida immune complex testing: Candida immune complexes are substances composed of components of Candida albicans, IgG antibodies to Candida, and a substance called complement that is part of your immune system. The detection of Candida immune complexes indicates Candida albicans overgrowth in the gut.
- Organic acids testing (OAT): OAT testing is typically performed on urine and assesses for the presence of different metabolites made by Candida. When combined with one or more of the other tests mentioned above, OAT testing can help us elucidate whether Candida is an issue. OAT testing is also helpful for assessing your response to Candida treatment over time.
Candida Overgrowth Effects and The Impact on Lyme Disease
Candida overgrowth in the gut can have far-reaching effects on the body; as I’ll discuss, Candida’s effects on the body can worsen several common Lyme symptoms. Here’s an overview of some of the most common consequences of Candida overgrowth, mechanisms, and a list of all the common symptoms.
Perhaps the most common and well-known side effects of Candida overgrowth are symptoms in the gut, including bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. Candida can directly trigger gut inflammation and is implicated in several inflammatory gut conditions, including Crohn’s disease. (12) There may also be a connection between small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) symptoms and Candida in that stubborn cases of what’s assumed to be SIBO may actually originate from small intestinal fungal overgrowth (SIFO) precipitated by an overgrowth of fungal organisms like Candida. (13)
I’ve previously written about how Lyme disease can trigger a slew of gastrointestinal symptoms; to improve overall gut health, it is crucial to address other inflammatory factors in the gut, such as yeast overgrowth.
Leaky Gut and Candida Cause a Multitude of Symptoms
Candida actively promotes a leaky gut, forming spaces between the cells that line the intestines. (14) These spaces between intestinal cells allow substances to “leak” from inside the intestine into your bloodstream, eliciting an inflammatory response. Leaky gut, in turn, is linked to chronic inflammation, autoimmunity, fatigue, joint pain, and mental health disorders, among other issues. (15, 16, 17, 18) Leaky gut may also drive brain fog, an aptly-named situation (but not a technical diagnosis) in which it is difficult to think clearly and perform cognitive tasks such as word recall and simple calculations. (19)
A leaky gut drives chronic inflammation, adding to the burden of chronic inflammation in most chronic Lyme disease patients. Resolving causes of leaky gut, such as Candida overgrowth, is thus crucial for helping you recover from Lyme disease.
Interestingly, Candida overgrowth could also potentially lead to bacterial co-infections (bacterial infections co-occurring with the yeast infection) by opening the “doors” of the gut, so to speak, into the bloodstream. (20)
Candida overgrowth is linked to the activation of a part of the immune system called the Th2 branch; “Th2” stands for “T-helper 2,” a subset of immune cells. (21) The Th2 branch of the immune system is involved in allergies. Candida overgrowth may thus precipitate allergies, including food allergies. In animal studies, excessive Candida growth in the intestine has been found to promote the development of food allergies by interfering with the gut’s protective lining. (22)
At this point, it is unclear whether resolving Candida overgrowth can alleviate food allergies. However, I have seen Candida overgrowth treatment reduce food sensitivities, a food reaction distinct from food allergies involving other parts of the immune system.
Through its effects on leaky gut and inflammation, Candida overgrowth may stimulate skin conditions. For example, psoriasis, a skin disorder typically considered autoimmune, is linked to Candida overgrowth. (23) Of course, Candida can also grow directly on the skin, causing itchy rashes.
Candida overgrowth can manifest as vulvovaginal Candidiasis, an overgrowth of Candida in the vulvar and vaginal areas.
Urinary Tract Infections
Candida overgrowth can also negatively impact the urinary tract and may be involved in recurrent urinary tract infections (UTIs). (24)
In conclusion, based on these mechanisms, Candida overgrowth may cause symptoms such as:
- Maldigestion of food
- Sugar and/or starch cravings and difficulty regulating the intake of these foods
- Food allergies and (possibly) food sensitivities
- Joint pain
- Mood changes
- Skin rashes
- Brain fog
- Oral thrush
- Recurring yeast infections
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
How to Address Candida Overgrowth When You Have Lyme Disease
To address Candida overgrowth, we want to first “weed” the body of Candida with strategic diet changes, herbs, and probiotics. Secondly, we want to “seed” the body with prebiotic foods that will promote the growth of beneficial bacteria that keep Candida in check.
Implement an Anti-Candida Diet
The foods you choose to eat and those you choose to avoid significantly affect your risk of Candida overgrowth.
You can’t just take anti-Candida herbs and probiotics and call it a day; you must improve your diet to keep Candida in check over the long term. Refined carbohydrates, including flour-based foods like pasta and bread, are the ideal fuel for Candida and should be avoided. Added sugars, including “healthy” added sugars like maple syrup and dates, and frankly unhealthy sugars like high-fructose corn syrup should also be avoided.
Once you’ve limited refined carbohydrates and added sugars, focus instead on eating nutrient-dense whole foods such as high-quality animal proteins (grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, eggs, wild-caught seafood), non-starchy vegetables, moderate amounts of starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and winter squash, low-sugar fruits like berries, nuts, and seeds. In my clinical experience, many people with Candida overgrowth fare best when they avoid or strictly limit their intake of grains and legumes since these foods are dense sources of carbohydrates that may feed Candida.
For an added anti-Candida boost, you can incorporate foods with antifungal properties, such as coconut oil, cinnamon (I recommend Ceylon cinnamon), extra virgin olive oil, and garlic cloves. (25, 26, 27)
This diet will starve Candida of its favorite sugary foods, helping you get your gut microbiome back into balance. The good news is that this diet is also anti-inflammatory and nutrient-dense and will help support recovery from Lyme disease too!
“Weed” Your Body with Candida-Killing Herbs and Probiotics
Candida-killing herbs include oil of oil of oregano, berberine, Pau d ’Arco, and garlic can help you “weed” excessive Candida in your gut. (28, 29, 30) These herbs can sometimes help with oral thrush and Candida overgrowth in the vaginal tract. In my functional nutrition practice, I typically recommend a formula that combines several of these anti-Candida herbs.
Probiotics can also help “weed” Candida from the gut. A growing body of research indicates that most probiotics exert transient beneficial effects as they move through the gut (31), so probiotics are unlikely to “seed” the gut with beneficial bacteria. However, certain foods can help us “seed” our guts with beneficial bacteria by promoting the growth of these bacteria; more on this in a moment!
“Seed” Your Body Against Candida with Probiotics and Prebiotics
Finally, we want to “seed” the gut with probiotics (keeping in mind that most probiotics exert effects transiently, so we need to take them in an ongoing fashion) and with prebiotic foods that feed our beneficial gut bacteria.
What is the best probiotic for Candida? According to scientific research, there are a few contenders. Research shows that Lactobacillus probiotics, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus plantarum, help to reduce oral, intestinal, and vaginal colonization by Candida, alleviating yeast overgrowth symptoms such as itching and vaginal discharge. (32) Saccharomyces boulardii, a probiotic yeast, is also efficacious against Candida. (33)
Research shows that bacterial byproducts called short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs for short, help defend the gut microbiome against excessive Candida growth. (34) Eating certain foods can feed our beneficial SCFA-producing gut bacteria, leading to a higher production of these protective compounds and, ultimately, a gut less hospitable to yeast overgrowth. Examples of foods that promote bacterial SCFA production include garlic, onion, asparagus, Jerusalem artichoke, and dandelion roots and leaves.
Bottom Line: Addressing Candida is Crucial for Lyme Disease Recovery
Lyme disease and Candida overgrowth are a problematic combination! Candida overgrowth harms the body in many ways and may exacerbate symptoms of chronic Lyme disease, including fatigue, brain fog, gut issues, and immune system dysfunction. Resolving Candida overgrowth with dietary, herbal, probiotic, and prebiotic interventions is thus crucial for Lyme patients.
Are you dealing with Candida overgrowth and Lyme disease, or already have Lyme and suspect that Candida may be a problem? Then, consider working with me one-on-one in my functional nutrition practice! I specialize in helping clients with Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses, including mold, rebalance their bodies and reclaim their health through powerful nutrition and lifestyle changes, including anti-Candida gut protocols.
You can learn more about how we can work together by filling out an inquiry form for my practice; one of my team members will respond to your inquiry shortly!