Candida: Our Unruly Guest - Part I

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Increasing numbers of people suffer from an illness called Candida. Its technical name is polysystemic chronic candidiasis, and it's named for a yeast, Candida albicans.

Yeasts are single-celled fungi that live in colonies. They're a lot like human cells, particularly in the way they make and release enzymes. In fact, the word "enzyme" comes from a Greek word that means "in yeast," because that's where the first enzymes were found. One scientist who studies yeast even went so far as to say, "It may be hard to accept, but these are our relatives." Unfortunately, these particular relatives can turn against us, in which case we suffer the illness called Candida.

To handle the illness, however, we must remember this important point: the yeast doesn't cause it. The cause of Candida illness is whatever allows the yeast to start growing out of control.

That "growing out of control" is what makes the illness "polysystemic," or "spread through many systems." We all have yeast in our bodies, just as we all have bacteria in our bodies. If the Candida yeast gets just a little out of control, we experience uncomfortable-but-temproary problems like diaper rash or dish-pan hands. These sorts of conditions normally go away, just as a cold or a case of the mumps normally goes away. But when our control systems break down, the yeast infection becomes both "chronic" and "polysystemic" -- more or less enduring, and spread throughout many areas of the body. It can be extremely debilitating, very hard to get rid of, and sometimes fatal.

Again, the problem isn't the Candida yeast, but the conditions that let it get out of control.

The Curious Role of Medicine

Medicine, curiously, can create such conditions. For example, researchers once gave the antibiotic amoxicillin to 57 infants with ear infections. After ten days of antibiotic therapy, their candida count had doubled, and this increase in candida was associated with an increase in diaper rash. (Honig, P. J. etal. "Amoxicillin and Diaper Dermatitis." Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology 275, August 1988.)

I called one of the researchers involved. "How does the antibiotic promote candida?" I asked him. "It kills the friendly bacteria," he said, "and that lets the Candida yeast move in." (The researcher was J. J. Leyden, M.D., of the University of Pennsylvania. I have paraphrased his comment.) (This, by the way, is why Candida has been called an "opportunistic infection", it takes quick advantage of such opportunities.)

This experience with amoxcillin is not an isolated instance. According to the researcher, almost all antibiotics do the same things. So does the estrogen in birth control pills, o in the estrogen replacement therapy that many women use after menopause or hysterectomies. (Galask, R.P., "Vaginal Colonization by Bacteria and Yeast." American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology 158, April 1988, p. 993-995)

And so does radiation therapy. When doctors checked for Candida in patients receiving radiation for cancer, the presence of Candida increased in an amount directly related to the radiation dose. (Rossie, K. M. et al. "Influence of Radiation Therapy on Oral Candida albicans Colonization: A Quantitative Assessment." Oral Surgery, oral Medicine, oral Pathology 64, December 1987, p. 698-701.) In other words, the higher the radiation dose, the more Candida the patients experienced. Candida, in turn, further weakens the immune system, which is what caused the cancer in the first place. (Rivas, V. et al. "Studies on the Cellular Nature of Candida albicans induced Suppression." Journal of Immunology 130, January 1983, p. 376.) As you can see there seems to be a hitch in the logic here.

A Flaw in Medicine's Logic

The problem is, medicine blames infections on the infecting agent. Yet the infecting agent isn't the problem, as I've tried to point out. The problem is the conditions that let the infecting agent get out of control. As long as medicine simply attacks the infecting agent, it risks becoming itself one of the contributing conditions.

For example, if you look into medical research on Candida, here's the sort of thing you find. Medical researchers tested two anti-yeast agents: nystatin and ketoconazole. The divided Candida patients into two groups, gave one group daily doses of nystatin, the other daily doses of ketoconazole. Then they counted the patients Candida every day, hoping to discover that one or the other of the drugs did a better job of getting rid of the yeast.

As it turned out, both drugs killed the yeast about the same, but patients tolerated ketoconazole better, so that's what the researchers recommended. But they also discovered that getting rid of Candida with ketoconazole allowed another microorganism to move in to take its place. And in a study with AIDS patients, other researchers found that ketoconazole provokes resistance in Candida, just as antibiotics provoke resistance in bacteria. so even though the ketoconazole did a reasonable job of getting rid of the Candida in the short run, it can hardly be a long-term solution.

The long term solution, from the medical point of view, is to find an anti-yeast drug that works better than nystatin or ketoconazole, that doesn't allow any other opportunistic microorganisms to move in, and that doesn't provoke resistance in the Candida yeast. Patients could take such a wonderful drug forever and remain, therefore, forever free from Candida yeast. Finding such an ideal drug is the sort of problem that stimulates research and brings large research grants to medical research centers.

The problem is, such research misses the point. In fact, the entire medical principle misses the point. The cause of Candida illness, to repeat, isn't the yeast, but the conditions that let it grow out of control. The real issue isn't just to get rid of the Candida, but to get the body back in a healthful condition.

The Holistic Health Network.

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By Dean Black

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