How Do I Know If I Have Candida or SIBO?
Have you experienced digestive problems such as bloating, diarrhea or constipation? Maybe you’re feeling tired and worn down. If you are experiencing any or all of those symptoms, you could be dealing with Candida overgrowth or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Symptoms for both conditions are very similar so it could be hard to tell.
Conventional medicine only recognizes the systemic and often fatal form of Candida overgrowth known as Candidemia, which is when Candida invades the blood. Candida overgrowth, while not fatal, is extremely disruptive to your health and is not really recognized by conventional medicine. Diagnosing SIBO can be challenging because its symptoms vary so widely. SIBO can be so tricky that it’s often misdiagnosed as IBS, and research suggests that 50% of those diagnosed with IBS actually have SIBO.
I will dive deeper into the differences between Candida overgrowth and SIBO, how to determine whether your symptoms could be Candida overgrowth or SIBO, and how to get rid of it. Let’s begin by discussing Candida overgrowth and what causes it.
What is Candida Overgrowth?
You might be wondering, “What on earth is Candida?” Candida is a fungus, a form of yeast that lives in your mouth and intestines in small amounts. Its job is to aid with digestion and nutrient absorption. It is a part of your body’s normal microflora — the microorganisms present in a delicate balance in your mouth, throat, gut, vagina in women, and on your skin.
Ideally, your good bacteria, bad bacteria, and Candida (among other forms of yeast, viruses, and even mites) that make up your gut microbiome exist in a balanced state. Think of your gut microbiome as a rainforest, with many different species living together in a balanced harmony. When one species gets out of balance in your rainforest, everything gets out of control. When this balance is tipped between Candida and other microorganisms, Candida overgrowth occurs. Candida overgrowth is very common and causes symptoms such as bloating, constipation, rashes, fungal infections, fatigue, brain fog, and mood swings.
Candida overgrowth can cause problems simply by overwhelming the good bacteria in your body. However, Candida cells are also able to penetrate the single-cell layer of the intestinal lining of your gut quite easily, because they can change shapes. Under specific conditions, the normally rounded cell switches to a hyphal, or elongated, sticklike structure. The Candida cell in this shape can pierce holes in your gut wall and cause a leaky gut. This allows food particles and toxins to pass through into your bloodstream leading to nutritional deficiencies, fatigue, brain fog, skin problems such as acne, rashes, or eczema, joint pain, or widespread inflammation.
Causes of Candida
The healthy or ‘good’ bacteria in your gut typically keeps your Candida levels balanced. However, the yeast population can get out of control if a round of antibiotics kills too many of the friendly bacteria, or you have a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar — which feed the Candida and leads to overgrowth.
High alcohol intake, oral contraceptives such as birth control pills, and a number of lifestyle factors including chronic stress and little to no physical activity also causes yeast overgrowth. Even a diet rich in fermented foods like Kombucha, sauerkraut, and pickles, feeds Candida and can cause overgrowth.
Candida overgrowth has a destructive domino effect on your body, so it’s vital for your health to address this condition through your diet and reduce stress. I recommend a diet right in leafy greens, free-range chicken, organic fruits and vegetables, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught seafood.
I’ll get more into how to get rid of Candida overgrowth and SIBO later, however it’s important to not confuse Candida with SIBO. I often get asked how Candida overgrowth differs from SIBO, and how you might be able to tell one from the other.
What is SIBO?
So, what is SIBO? SIBO occurs when the bacteria in your small intestine becomes unbalanced and overgrows.
The bacteria in your GI tract, which make up your gut microbiome, play a vital role in your immune system, thyroid function, bone health, and overall health. In fact, scientists discovered that the gut microbiome contains tens of trillions of microorganisms, including up to 1,000 different species of bacteria with over 3 million genes.
Most of your gut bacteria are meant to be located in your large intestine and colon, where they help break down food, synthesize vitamins, and eliminate waste. When bacteria normally found in the large intestine and colon begin to colonize the small intestine, bacterial overgrowth occurs. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can also occur when there is an overgrowth of otherwise normal bacteria in the small intestine itself.
As the bacteria feed off of undigested food in your small intestine, the carbohydrates ferment and produce hydrogen. Hydrogen can feed single-celled organisms in your small bowel called archaea, which then produce methane. With Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth, an excess amount of hydrogen, methane, or both can occur in your digestive system.
Causes of SIBO
After enzymes break down our food, our gut moves the food through our digestive tract from the stomach to the small intestine and to the colon. In a healthy gut, bacteria gets passed through the digestive tract along with food to its final destination in the colon. Unfortunately, risk factors interfere with this process, including:
• Damaged nerves or muscles in the gut resulting in leftover bacteria in the small intestine. For example, diabetes mellitus and scleroderma can both affect the muscles in the gut, leaving room for SIBO to develop.
• Physical obstructions in the gut, such as scarring from surgeries or Crohn’s disease and diverticula (tiny pouches that can form in the wall of the small intestine) can collect bacteria instead of passing it on to the colon, where it belongs.
• Medications that influence or disrupt the normal gut flora including antibiotics3, acid-blocking drugs, and steroids.
• A diet high in sugar, refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and other high-carb foods you eat or drink
SIBO vs. Candida Overgrowth
Now that you understand both conditions and their symptoms, let’s talk more about Candida overgrowth and how to know you have Candida overgrowth or SIBO. As I mentioned, SIBO and Candida are very similar, yet very different.
The main difference between Candida overgrowth and SIBO is that Candida overgrowth is a yeast overgrowth and SIBO is a bacterial overgrowth. With SIBO, the bacteria that typically resides in your large intestine and colon colonizes in your small intestine.
Candida overgrowth can occur in your intestines, however it can also affect your skin and mouth. Once Candida gets the bloodstream, it can invade other tissues. This means that Candida overgrowth can quickly transition from a gut problem to a full-body problem.
Another way to tell if your symptoms are tied to SIBO or Candida is where they are experienced. SIBO symptoms are typically tied to digestive issues and abdominal pain, while Candida symptoms will include oral thrush, recurring urinary tract infections, skin and nail infections, as well as digestive problems. Let’s look at the differences between symptoms
• Gas, bloating, and diarrhea
• Abdominal pain or cramping
• Constipation (much less common than diarrhea)
• Diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)
• Food intolerances such as gluten, casein, lactose, fructose, and particularly histamine intolerance
• Chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, diabetes, neuromuscular disorders, and autoimmune diseases
• Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, including vitamins A, B12, D, and E
• Fat malabsorption (signified by pale, bulky, and malodorous stools)
• Leaky gut
Candida Overgrowth Symptoms
• Skin and nail fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and toenail fungus
• Feeling tired and worn down or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
• Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
• Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, lupus, psoriasis, scleroderma, or multiple sclerosis
• Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD, and/or brain fog
• Skin issues including eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
• Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
• Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching, or vaginal itching
• Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
• Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
Testing for Candida and SIBO
If you still aren’t sure whether your symptoms are due to SIBO or Candida, there are a number of tests that you can ask your functional medicine practitioner to perform.
Testing For Candida Overgrowth
Blood tests are the most common way to check for Candida overgrowth. High levels of IgG, IgA, and IgM Candida antibodies in your blood indicate that Candida overgrowth is present somewhere in the body. Optimal levels of IgG should be 700-1,500 mg/dl, IgA should be 60-400 mg/dl, and IgM should be 60-300 mg/DL. Low levels of total IgG, IgA, or IgM could cause a false negative response to the antibodies.
A routine complete blood count (CBC) test can also help determine if you have Candida. A low white blood cell count (WBC) has been associated with Candida overgrowth. Optimal levels of white blood cells is 4,000 to 11,000 per microliter of blood.
Testing For SIBO
For SIBO, the gold standard is the breath test. It is the most accurate and determines if the SIBO is hydrogen or methane dominant. When you have an overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine, the carbs you eat can ferment before they are broken down. This fermentation process releases hydrogen gas, so people who experience SIBO symptoms such as elevated levels of hydrogen in their GI tract. I recommend the Lactulose Breath Test from Aerodiagnostics.
A comprehensive stool test can be used to look for Candida overgrowth and SIBO. With the stool test, your stool is directly analyzed for levels of Candida and the lab can determine the species of yeast as well as which treatment will be effective. It can also look at the flora of the large intestines to determine a bacterial overgrowth. This functional medicine test can test for multiple gut infections at one time.
How to get rid of Candida Overgrowth and SIBO?
Treating Candida overgrowth and SIBO doesn’t just involve stopping the growth. It also means restoring the friendly bacteria that usually keep them in check.
I’ve developed a 3-step approach to overcoming Candida overgrowth and/or SIBO. This protocol is what I used with patients in my clinic. Since then, this approach has helped thousands of people from around the world beat Candida overgrowth for good. And they didn’t even have to spend thousands of dollars to travel to see me or wait for an appointment! You can do this at home with just three simple steps:
Step 1: Starve the Overgrowth
The first step is to remove the foods that feed the yeast or bacteria in your small intestine including sugar, alcohol, and carbohydrates. Then, there are the usual suspects behind gut-related issues, including gluten and cocktails, as well as complex carbohydrates such as grains and legumes. Ultimately, your gut breaks these foods down into sugar, which feed the bacteria. Instead, eat plenty of non-starchy vegetables, leafy greens, lean proteins, and healthy fats, with minimal fruit.
Step 2: Kill the Overgrowth
Once you’ve starved the overgrowth, you’ll want to kill it with supplements.
I formulated FLORAPHAGE® to create an inhospitable environment for Candida yeast overgrowth in the gut. The enzymes in FLORAPHAGE® support a healthy balance of microflora throughout the digestive tract. Caprylic Acid is another powerful tool to support yeast balance. This physician-formulated supplement penetrates the intestinal mucosal cells to promote a favorable environment for beneficial intestinal flora.
Microbiome Mojo® is my go to weapon to support microbe balance in the GI tract and kick SIBO to the curb. This physician-formulated supplement offers a powerful blend of botanical extracts, minerals, and fatty acids to support a balance of gut bacteria to create a favorable environment for beneficial probiotics in the gut.
Step 3: Restore the Good
Restoring the delicate balance of your rainforest — the microbiome of organisms living in your gut — is essential to both your overall health and to the health of your immune system. Repopulate your gut with good bacteria by taking a high-potency probiotic that keeps Candida under control. While battling Candida, I recommend a probiotic supplement containing 100 billion colony-forming units (CFUs) to restore your gut’s healthy microbial balance.
If you can believe it, there are certain situations where standard lactic acid based probiotics can actually cause more complications than they solve. SIBO is one of those situations where a soil-based probiotic can really shine. They don’t populate in the small intestine and lend themselves to bacterial overgrowth there, instead heading to the large intestine and colon where they can support vibrant health.
The Gut Reset Protocol® Kit is a combination of these three powerful supplements to support yeast balance in the digestive tract and discourage opportunistic yeast overgrowth. I designed the Gut Reset Protocol® Kit to help promote and maintain a healthy and normal population of probiotic bacteria in your digestive tract. These kits make it easy to rid your body of these harmful issues fast!
Learning the simple, natural steps you can take to banish your symptoms through the 3-step approach and dietary changes can stop your overgrowth for good, whether it’s a Candida overgrowth or SIBO. I’ve seen thousands of my patients regain energy and vitality, and you can too!
Dr. Grace - Founder of The Gut Institute