Candida albicans is a yeast that is is part of the normal flora of the vagina, lower bowel and skin and is termed a "commensal". In healthy individuals with strong, functioning immune systems, Candida albicans is harmless and kept in check by "good" bacteria. As a superficial mycosis, Candida albicans typically infects the mouth or vagina causing thrush (a whitish fungus in the mouth or vagina). However, during times of ill health or impaired immunity the balance can alter and the organism multiplies to cause disease. The candida becomes pathogenic, transforming from a simple yeast into an vegetal (mycelial) fungus which penetrate the tissues on which the yeast is growing and so proliferate and disseminate throughout the body.
Candidiasis can affect areas of the body far removed from candida colonizations in the gastrointestinal tract and vagina. Its symptoms cover a broad spectrum and the condition can cause a number of diseases ranging from allergies and chronic vaginitis to an invasion of the genital-urinary tract, eyes, liver, heart, or central nervous system. At its most destructive, candidiasis is involved in autoimmune diseases such as Addison's disease and AIDS. Other symptoms of candidiasis include digestive problems such as bloating, cramping, gas and diarrhea, respiratory problems, coughing, wheezing, earaches, central nervous system imbalances, generalized fatigue, and loss of libido.
Many in alternative medicine believe that candidiasis is widespread and generally overlooked by the medical establishment because its symptoms so closely mimic those of other conditions.
When the immune system is completely suppressed (as in AIDS), yeast proliferates freely and colonizes the body and bloodstream, leading to septicemia (blood poisoning). In less drastic but more prevalent cases, the immune system is temporarily suppressed and T-helper cells (lymphocytes which pass into the bloodstream to help fight infection) are destroyed. Such immune suppression can be due to any number of factors, such as poor diet (including ingestion of pesticides and preservatives), alcohol use, chemotherapy, radiation, exposure to environmental toxins, antibiotics which injure or destroy the T-cells and stress. Consequently, conditions are created for opportunistic infections, and yeast, to grow.
When invasive candida penetrates the inner wall of the intestines, it breaks down the barrier which exists between the closed world of the bowel and the body. Toxic debris, yeast waste products, and partially digested proteins are allowed into the bloodstream, resulting in allergic and toxic reactions. Some believe the fatigue, food allergies and other symptoms seen in chronic candida overgrowth are caused by disordered intestinal permeability, which allows intact antigens to pass through the gastrointestinal mucosa.
Those most seriously affected are severely immunocompromised patients, e.g. those receiving chemotherapy or with AIDS. Also, since yeast infections enter the body easily through the vagina, and yeast festers in the presence of oestrogen, women of child-bearing age are more vulnerable to candidiasis. 35 percent of women using birth control pills have associated cases of acute vaginal candidiasis.
Candidiasis is a common complication of alcoholism due to the combination of high sugar content in alcohol and the inability of alcoholics to assimilate nutrients. Additionally, female alcoholics with candidiasis are significantly sicker than nonalcoholic women with candidiasis.