Fungal Illness Often Missed

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Fungal infections such as Valley Fever are readily identifiable by physicians. However, systemic fungal infections caused by toxic mold, overuse of antibiotics, or other factors are often missed. In his article Is Hidden Fungus Making You Ill?, functional medicine pioneer Dr. Mark Hyman addresses this issue.

Yeast overgrowth is quite common, but many people don't know they have it and conventional doctors tend to ignore it. In medical school, we are taught that you either have a disease or you don't. It's black and white. However, our bodies weren't designed with an "on" or "off" switch for disease. All diseases occur in shades of gray along a continuum of imbalance along spectrum of disease.

Medical students learn about fungal and yeast problems, but only in a limited way. They know that AIDS patients have severe yeast and fungal infections and need long-term antifungal treatment. People with diabetes tend to grow yeast because yeast likes sugar. Babies get thrush and need antifungal treatment. Women get vaginal Candida yeast infections. All of these are well-accepted and treatable problems. Unfortunately more subtle problems related to yeast are usually ignored and not linked to patients' complaints. If a subject is not taught in medical school, it is assumed not to be real. Medical history proves this is a dangerous assumption.

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We know that yeast overgrowth can be triggered by a number of things. These include a high-sugar, high-fat, low-fiber diet, impaired immunity, use of drugs like antibiotics, birth control pills, estrogen, steroids like prednisone, and psychological stress.

Although symptoms of yeast overgrowth are similar to those of many other conditions, you may have a yeast problem if you have these problems:

General Symptoms

• Chronic fatigue
• Loss of energy
• General malaise
• Decreased libido

Gastrointestinal Symptoms

• Thrush
• Bloating and gas
• Intestinal cramps
• Rectal itching
• Altered bowel function such as diarrhea or constipation

Genitourinary Symptoms

• Yeast infections
• Frequent bladder infections
• Interstitial cystitis (irritable bladder)

Hormonal Complaints

• Menstrual irregularities like pain, bleeding, etc.
• Premenstrual syndrome
• Thyroid dysfunction

Nervous System Complaints
• Depression
• Irritability
• Inability to concentrate

Immune System Complaints

• Allergies
• Chemical sensitivities
• Low immune function

Past History

• Chronic yeast infections
• Chronic antibiotic use for infections or acne
• Oral birth control pill usage
• Oral steroid hormone usage

Associated Conditions

• Sensitivity to foods, chemicals, or other allergens
• Eczema
• Psoriasis
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Craving for foods rich in carbohydrates or yeast
• Toenail fungus

Many tests we use for diagnosis of yeast problems are not definitive or foolproof. It is often a diagnosis that must be made from a patient's story, symptoms, and physical findings on examination. Blood antibody levels for yeasts, stool tests, and organic acid urine tests for yeast metabolites can be helpful if they come out positive but don't rule yeast out if they're negative.

The best method for diagnosis is a good history for risk factors like antibiotic use and symptoms of chronic yeast problems. The symptoms of yeast overgrowth vary from person to person and the response to treatments will vary. Some people may need aggressive treatment, while others need only simple changes to make a significant difference in their health.

I recommend a systematic approach to yeast overgrowth. Taking the following steps can help overcome this common but under-diagnosed ailment.

Overcoming Yeast Overgrowth

1. Address predisposing factors. Don't take antibiotics, steroids, or hormones unless absolutely medically necessary.

2. Eat a diet that doesn't feed yeast in the gut (low sugar and refined carbohydrates, and low mold and yeast in food—see below).

3. Use probiotics to repopulate the gut with healthy bacteria.

4. Take antifungal herbs and medications when indicated.

5. Identify potential environmental toxic fungi and molds in your home or workplace.

6. Reduce stress.

In his article, Dr. Hyman also lists the following natural antifungals:

Oregano -- Oil of oregano has many antibacterial and antifungal properties.

Garlic -- Fresh, crushed garlic is a potent antimicrobial and immune booster.

Citrus seed extract -- The phytochemicals in citrus seeds have been found to have potent antimicrobial properties.

Berberine -- This potent yellow plant extract comes from goldenseal and barberry.

Tannins -- These are the astringent compounds found in tea and the bark of trees.

Undecylenate -- This chemical compound is a potent antifungal.

Isatis tinctoria -- This Chinese herb can be a useful adjunct to treating intestinal imbalances.

Caprylic acid -- This is another useful compound for treating yeast.