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Candida is a genus of yeast that naturally occurs in the intestines, on the skin, and in mucous membranes. Most people have some level of Candida throughout the body. It’s usually harmless.
However, an overgrowth of Candida can lead to an infection called candidiasis. The mouth and vagina are the two most common places for candidiasis. An overgrowth can also occur in the intestines. This can cause Candida to appear in your stool.
Symptoms of candidiasis differ depending on what part of the body is affected. Candidiasis in your mouth is called thrush. It causes white lesions that look like cottage cheese on your tongue or inner cheeks. It may also lead to soreness or burning and can spread to other parts of your mouth or throat.
Candidiasis in the vagina is commonly called a yeast infection. It causes itching, abnormal discharge, and pain during sex or while urinating.
Symptoms of Candida overgrowth in your intestines may include flatulence and cravings for sweets.
Inflammation in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract
Different forms of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, can cause inflammation in your GI tract. Inflammation changes the intestinal environment and has been shown to result in higher levels of Candida in the intestines.
Other symptoms of IBD include:
- unintended weight loss
- abdominal cramps and pain
- blood in stool
Proton pump inhibitor use
Proton pump inhibitors are a common treatment for acid reflux. They reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. This can change the environment of your intestines and give Candida the right conditions to grow.
Taking antibiotics, especially broad-spectrum antibiotics, can lead to fungal growth. This is because antibiotics can kill some of the good bacteria that help keep yeast from growing out of control by competing for space and food. When you stop taking antibiotics, your immune system will go back to normal. But while you’re taking the medication, you might see Candida in your stool.
Conditions that result in a compromised immune system
When your immune system is compromised, Candida might start to grow out of control. This is because a normally functioning immune system will keep naturally occurring fungus in check. Candida is often found in people living with HIV or stage 3 HIV (AIDS) who are experiencing diarrhea.
A normal gut environment
Candida is a normal part of a healthy gut environment. While you usually won’t notice it in your stool, you might once in a while, even if you don’t have an overgrowth.
To test for Candida in your stool, your doctor will first take a stool sample. They’ll examine it under a microscope to see if there’s Candida growth. Then they’ll take a small sample and let it incubate for a few days so that any yeast in your stool can grow. Your doctor will examine it again to figure out exactly what yeast is present.
However, many healthy people have Candida in their gut, so a stool sample isn’t always the best diagnostic test. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might also take a sample of other affected body parts or a blood sample to test for Candida. If you have a Candida infection in your mouth or genitals, your doctor can usually make a diagnosis just by the appearance of the infection.
Candida can be treated with antifungal medications. The most commonly used one, fluconazole, can be taken in pill form to treat Candida in your stool.
If an underlying condition such as IBD is causing Candida in your stool, it’ll be treated as well. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms to find the right treatment for you. Common treatments for IBD include anti-inflammatory drugs and immunosuppressant drugs.
If a medication is causing Candida in your stool, like proton pump inhibitors or antibiotics, talk to your doctor about the best way to discontinue the medication.
While an unhealthy gut can be the result of genetics or underlying disease, there are some things you can do to help keep your intestines healthy. These include:
- Only take antibiotics when necessary. In addition to killing whatever is making you sick, antibiotics can reduce the levels of good bacteria in your gut. This can allow Candida to grow. Sometimes it’s necessary to take antibiotics, but make sure you only take them in those cases.
- Eat a healthy diet. A healthy diet that includes whole grains and foods with lots of fiber, such as beans and apples, will help keep your gut healthy. Increasing the diversity of bacteria in your gut is another way to make sure your intestinal environment stays healthy. You can do this by eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
- Take probiotics. Probiotics are supplements made up of live microorganisms, usually bacteria. There’s mixed evidence for them, but some research suggests that taking probiotics can help the bacteria in your gut stay balanced. Talk to your doctor about adding a probiotic to your daily routine.
- Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods, such as sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt, are foods that have been altered by bacteria or yeasts. Therefore, they contain a lot of bacteria that can help keep your gut healthy.
- Eat prebiotic food. Prebiotic foods promote the development of good bacteria in your gut. Foods with lots of fiber or complex carbs are your best sources of prebiotics. These include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Candida in your stool is curable with antifungal medications, so talk with your doctor as soon as you notice any symptoms. In addition, the potential underlying causes of Candida in stool can be treated. Candida overgrowth doesn’t cause any lasting negative health effects.