Candida albicans is a yeast-type fungus which is part of the Candida genus. Of the 200 species in this genus, Candida albicans is the best-known strain. Naturally present in the body, this strain is primarily found in the digestive and genital mucosa. It may also be present in the skin, though this is less common. It is a commensal fungus which means it is non-pathogenic. Some studies suggest it may even play a beneficial role in the body. However, it can equally ‘turn against us’ and become pathogenic. As it grows, it can lead to fungal infections – commonly referred to as the development of candidiasis.
Though it may remain innocuous, Candida albicans can also multiply in the body and threaten our health. Certain conditions are particularly conducive to the development of an infection, such as changes in the body’s pH, hydration levels and nutrient concentrations. Candidiasis may also be caused by changes in the gut microbiota – the collective name for the thousands of microorganisms with very different effects that exist in the gut. A number of studies have shown that an imbalance in our gut microbiota may be responsible for health problems and diseases.
Candida albicans is present in most people. If conditions in the body become favourable, it can grow and lead to candidiasis. While anyone can be affected, some people are at particular risk of developing a fungal infection from Candida albicans They include those with a vulnerable immune system, such as new-born babies, the elderly, those taking broad-spectrum antibiotics and immune-suppressed individuals. The latter includes patients on chemotherapy, people with AIDS and those who have undergone an organ transplant.
Whitish patches in the mouth, skin redness and itching, inflammation in the genital area … these are all symptoms that may indicate the presence of candidiasis. This fungal infection can develop on the skin or in many other parts of the body such as the mouth, oesophagus, intestines or vagina. Symptoms can vary greatly, depending on the area affected.
As you’re probably aware, candidiasis can develop in various ways. Usually, it remains very localised. It may start in the skin, in which case the infection tends to occur in sweaty areas such as the armpits, or in skin that is grazed or burned. Candidiasis may also occur in mucosa such as those of the oesophagus, stomach, colon, oral cavity or genital tract. Vulvo-vaginal candidiasis is a common form of fungal infection; indeed it is one of the most frequently-suffered gynaecological infections. Usually occurring during pregnancy or after the menopause, its symptoms are itching and a severe burning sensation in the vulva.
In most cases, superficial candidiasis presents no risk to health. Nonetheless, it can become serious if it infiltrates the circulation. This is referred to as systemic candidiasis or candidaemia. In such instances, several areas of the body become infected. The patient develops a fever and is generally unwell. These symptoms are difficult to diagnose which can delay and complicate control of the condition. A worrying increase in candidiasis cases has been observed in recent years. Two reasons have been suggested for this: a primary infection and hospital-acquired contamination.
While a healthy diet and good personal hygiene are key to preventing candidiasis, other solutions may also prove beneficial. Probiotics are microorganisms that help reduce some of the conditions conducive to the development of Candida albicans. Probiotics of the strain Saccharomyces boulardii, for example, help to prevent imbalances in gut microbiota.
Topical and oral anti-fungal treatments have been developed to fight the infections caused by Candida albicans. These treatments often use synthetic molecules, but natural and effective active principles are also available to treat candidiasis. One such product, available without a prescription, is caprylic acid which has effective anti-fungal properties. This compound is naturally present in breast milk as well as in vegetable oils such as coconut oil. Other dietary supplements can also help eliminate candidiasis such as oregano oil which offers broad-spectrum anti-infection activity.
Once you have had candidiasis, it is quite likely to recur which is why, as previously mentioned, it is advisable to prevent the growth of Candida albicans. You can also help protect your body from candidiasis by taking advantage of the immune-stimulant effects of shiitake mushroom or of lactoferrin, a glycoprotein with anti-microbial activity.
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