Friendly bacteria in the gut not only affect gastrointestinal health, they also influence immunity, inflammation, and even mood. When the balance of bacteria is just right this can help fend off potential infections with organisms such as Candida albicans, which is the yeast responsible for thrush. When the balance of bacteria is upset however, this can cause myriad symptoms, including poor digestive health, diarrhea, inflammation and pain, and even irritability and cloudy thinking.
Candida Albicans – Causes of Yeast Overgrowth
Unbalanced bacteria amounts can cause tract problems[/caption] All of us carry some Candida albicans in our system but the probiotics in our gastrointestinal and genitourinary tracts can typically prevent yeast overgrowth and hold symptoms of infection at bay. Things that upset this balance (leading to dysbiosis) can allow Candida populations to thrive, which is why thrush is so common after taking antibiotics. In addition to antibiotics, things like stress, poor diet, and oral contraceptives can all alter gut flora and increase our risk of bacterial, fungal, and yeast infections.
Dangerous Bacterial Infections
It's not just Candida we need to watch out for though, infection with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and Clostridium difficile can also arise and cause increased inflammation and tissue damage throughout the body in addition to digestive symptoms and compromised immune function.
Choosing an Effective Probiotic
Good quality probiotic formulas contain both Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli, the predominant microorganisms in the large and small intestines respectively. These probiotics work together to protect against pathogens, to reduce production of pro-inflammatory substances and to stimulate the immune system cells to seek out and kill pathogens. Research has found that probiotic strains such as Lactobacillus acidophilus help protect against a variety of pathogens including MRSA (Sikorska & Smoragiewicz, 2013). In one review of 23 trials the probiotics L. acidophilus and L. paracasei even reduced the relative risk of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea (CDAD) by 64% to just 5% of usual rates (Wu et al., 2013). CDAD is potentially fatal, especially in many vulnerable elderly patients.
Additional Help for Digestive Health and Candida Overgrowth
Garlic can alter gastrointestinal enviroment[/caption] Probiotics are not our only line of defence against yeast infections though, as many natural health products can inhibit the growth of Candida albicans and other pathogens. Caprylic acid, garlic, aloe vera, and even herbs like thyme, oregano and rosemary have all demonstrated an ability to alter the gastrointestinal environment in order to favour healthy bacteria and eliminate bad bacteria and yeasts like Candida. Caprylic acid especially has been found to inhibit growth of Candida albicans (Takahashi et al., 2012), as has aloe vera, a plant that can also inhibit inflammation and thereby help reduce some of the symptoms of infection whilst helping to eradicate the cause of the infection (Bernardes et al., 2012).
When to Take Probiotics
Taking a probiotic supplement while taking antibiotics can help reduce the side effects of the medication. However, it is best to separate the two by at least three hours to maintain their efficacy. Immune-compromised people should talk to their physician prior to taking probiotics. Probiotics and digestive support formulas can be ideal for those who are under persistent or acute stress, or who have just finished a course of antibiotics. People with chronic diarrhoea, constipation, or other symptoms of Candida may also wish to consider an all-round formula to support digestive health. Such formulas can include not only probiotics to replace lost bacteria but also herbs and natural extracts that encourage these friendly microorganisms to push out pathogens like Candida albicans.
Bernardes, I., et al., (2012). Aloe vera extract reduces both growth and germ tube formation by Candida albicans. Mycoses, May;55(3):257-61. Sikorska, H., & Smoragiewicz, W. (2013). Role of probiotics in the prevention and treatment of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus infections. Int J Antimicrob Agents, pii: S0924-8579(13)00293-8. Takahashi, M., et al., (2012). [Inhibition of Candida mycelia growth by a medium chain fatty acids, capric acid in vitro and its therapeutic efficacy in murine oral candidiasis]. [Article in Japanese] Med Mycol J, 53(4):255-61. Wu, Z.J., et al., (2013). Role of Lactobacillus in the prevention of Clostridium difficile-associated diarrhea: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Chin Med J (Engl), Nov;126(21):4154-61.