What you should know about candida (yeast) & eczema
Although candida is known for the infections it causes in the mouth and vagina, it can also cause eczema. The harmless yeast naturally found on the mucosal surfaces in the body can turn virulent given the right conditions. In the case of eczema, candida overgrowth can be observed on the skin and in the gut. But how is eczema linked to the gut? What is the relationship between the microbes in the gut and the immune system? And how can you stop candida to heal your eczema? Read on to find out whether candida is a factor in your eczema and what you can do about it.
by Brad Chase
Candida albicans is a popular fungus known to grow naturally in the mucosal surfaces of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract. This fungus can thrive as a simple yeast (one cell) or as a filamentous life form (multiple cells).
As a yeast, C. albicans is part of the normal gut flora and can be found living harmlessly in 80% of the population. However, when its growth is not kept in check by probiotics in the gut, yeast can turn virulent. Therefore, in the right growth environment and in the absence of controls, C. albicans can drive opportunistic infections in the mouth, gut and vagina.
When it turns virulent, the unicellular yeast turns into a multicellular filamentous form that invades host cells.
The overgrowth of C. albicans leads to candidiasis. While the two most common forms of this infection are oral candidiasis (thrush) and vaginal candidiasis, C. albicans can also cause systemic infections.
To cause a systemic infection, this yeast would have destroyed normal gut flora and then damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract. Once it gains entry into the blood, it may also overwhelm the immune system.
Those with the highest risk of systemic infections from candida are people with weakened immune system.
Therefore, immunocompromised patients such as those suffering from HIV/AIDS or those receiving bone marrow transplant and cancer chemotherapy can easily succumb to systemic infections by C. albicans. This yeast is an important cause of death in such patients.
However, systemic infection with C. albicans is not only a concern in immunocompromised individuals. It can also affect healthy people.
As long as the normal gut flora is destroyed and C. albicans takes over, there is always a good chance that the yeast will enter into the bloodstream even in people with normal and functional immunity.
Such systemic infection may not lead to death but it can cause a number of diseases in different parts of the body. One such disease is eczema and it results from the interplay between the immune system and C. albicans infection.
If C. albicans can trigger eczema, the skin disease can, therefore, be treated by preventing candida overgrowth in the gut and on the skin. But what is responsible for candida overgrowth?
One of the leading causes of candida overgrowth is the indiscriminate use of antibiotics especially broad-spectrum antibiotics. These antibiotics wipe out the healthy gut or skin flora along with the pathogenic microbes in the gut. Unfortunately, the antibiotic action is never complete. Therefore, some microbes are still left.
If C. albicans predominates in the leftover flora after an antibiotic sweep of the gut, the yeast quickly replicates and then destroys the lining of the gastrointestinal tract on its way to cause systemic infection and eczema.
When the candida overgrowth affects the skin, the yeast destroys the outer skin layer and introduces toxins into the deep tissues of the skin.
Therefore, oral antibiotics are not the only antibiotics that can promote candida overgrowth. Topical antibiotics can also lead to unchecked proliferation of candida yeast on the skin.
Besides antibiotics, immunosuppressants can also leave the body open to candida infections.
The most common immunosuppressants used are corticosteroids (oral and topical). These drugs can inhibit the immune response to candida infection and allow the yeast to spread beyond the gut to the blood and the rest of the body.
Drugs are, however, not the only promoter of candida overgrowth. Certain foods can also create the right environment in the gut to promote the virulence and proliferation of this yeast.
Studies show that processed and refined foods such as white flour, white rice and processed sugars can serve as ready energy source to drive the growth of yeast. In addition, these foods create the right (slightly alkaline) environment that encourages the proliferation of C. albicans.
Studies show that there is a link between allergy diseases such as asthma and eczema. Children who have asthma usually also suffer from eczema. In addition, just as some children outgrow asthma, some also outgrow chronic eczema.
This close relationship indicates the both conditions are mediated by similar changes in the immune system.
There is a strong evidence to suggest that candida is responsible for a kind of sensitization that involves increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and immunoglobulins. This means that candida can disrupt the normal functioning of the immune system.
In addition, it encourages the progression of hypersensitivity reactions that are the root cause of eczema and even asthma.
The presentation of hypersensitivity and inflammatory reactions on the skin results in atopic dermatitis, the predominant form of eczema. Therefore, the redness, swelling, blistering, discoloration, oozing and bleeding that are observed in eczema may be the result of candida-initiated hypersensitivity reactions.
Clearly, some people are more likely to experience candida overgrowth (and develop eczema) than others. One study found that children with a certain gene defect in yeast opsonization have very high risks of eczema.
Opsonization is a kind of tagging process conducted by the immune system. It involves a process in which the immune system coats pathogens such as C. albicans with the special compound known as opsonin.
Once wrapped in opsonin, certain cells of the immune system recognize that the opsonized pathogen should be eliminated.
Therefore, candida overgrowth is likely to affect those whose immune system cannot properly opsonize pathogens. In such people, the dysfunctional immune system leaves the body open to candidiasis and eczema.
The link between candida and eczema has been established for a while. For example, this 1968 study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found a link between C. albicans and eczema lesions.
The study involved 172 infants aged 2 – 9 months. Half of them had seborrheic eczema while the rest did not.
The researchers found that 69% of the infants with seborrheic eczema had candida overgrowth in the eczematous lesions on their skins as well as oral candidiasis. In contrast, only 38% of those infants without eczema tested positive for the yeast.
The study demonstrates that C. albicans is a major cause of eczema at least among infants. Therefore, controlling C. albicans can effectively reduce the risk of infant eczema by half.
A 2006 study published in the German journal, Weiner Klinische Wochenschrift, also found that candida was linked to eczema. The researchers recruited 126 patients aged 7 – 82 years who came into the hospital with anal eczema during the study period.
Their results showed that most of the patients who suffered from anal eczema also suffered from candidiasis. Therefore, they concluded that C. albicans overgrowth was linked to the eczema through contact sensitization.
In a 1993 study published in the journal, Clinical and Experimental Allergy, a group of researchers investigated the role of exposure and sensitization to C. albicans in the appearance and progression of atopic dermatitis (eczema).
The researchers recruited 156 young adults with atopic dermatitis as well 18 patients with asthma but no eczema and 39 individuals with no allergies.
By using skin prick tests, immunoblotting and yeast cultures, the researchers were able to determine that the participants with severe atopic dermatitis had both C. albicans overgrowth in their eczema lesions as well as C. albicans sensitization in the form of specific IgE antibodies.
The study’s results showed that when there was no overgrowth of candida in the gut, there was also no candida-specific immunoglobulin, IgE antibodies, in the blood.
Besides IgE, other immunoglobulins found to be associated with eczema were IgG and IgA antibodies.
Therefore, the study showed that C. albicans infection in the gut continuously exposed eczema patients to immunoglobulins especially IgE. The hypersensitivity reactions triggered by these immunoglobulin antibodies, therefore, may be responsible for the worsening or chronic recurrence of eczema.
A 2005 study published in the journal, Experimental Dermatology, also investigated another aspect of the negative influence of C. albicans on the immune system.
Like the previous study discussed, this study also identified that the allergen in C. albicans was a group of mannan polysaccharides. These mannans stimulated increased production of IgE and mononuclear immune cells.
After extracting and isolating mononuclear cells from 8 patients with candida-induced atopic eczema and 7 controls, the researchers challenged these samples with C. albicans in vitro.
After a week of this antigen challenge, the researchers recorded that C. albicans increased the levels of T cells especially CD4 cells and the interleukin, IL-4 while reducing the levels of NK (Natural Killer) cells, CD8 cells and interferon-gamma.
In their conclusions, the researchers noted that the result demonstrated that C. albicans induced Th2-type responses that then perpetuated atopic eczema.
Th2 immune responses are associated with IgE and allergic reactions following prior sensitization. When Th2 responses are not balanced with Th1, the antimicrobial power of the immune system is greatly diminished.
Therefore, this study demonstrated that C. albicans influenced the adaptive immune system to cause the allergic reactions responsible for the symptoms of atopic eczema while leaving the body open to opportunistic infections.
This conclusion was further supported by a 2001 study published in the journal, Clinical and Experimental Allergy.
In that study, the researchers compared the effects of 3 different fungi (C. albicans, Malassezia furfur and Pityrosporum ovale) known to cause eczema and eczema-like skin diseases. They found that C. albicans and P. ovale were linked to eczema and induced the increased production of yeast-specific IgE antibodies and mononuclear cells.
A 2009 study published in the journal, Mycoses, investigated the specific C. albicans antigens responsible for the allergic reactions that cause atopic eczema and asthma.
For the restudy, the researchers recruited 95 atopic eczema patients, 85 asthma patients and 70 non-atopic healthy controls. By introducing C. albicans antigens to the participants and then conducting skin prick test and immunoblotting, the researchers were able to determine the kind and extent of hypersensitivity reactions experienced by the 3 groups of participants.
The results showed that 52.6% of eczema patients, 54.1% of asthma patients and only 4.3% of the control tested positive to the skin prick test.
In addition, specific anti-C. albicans IgE antibodies were found in 32.6% of the eczema patients and 41.2% of the asthma patients but in none of the health controls.
This study, therefore, confirms that asthma and eczema are linked and that both conditions can be triggered by C. albicans overgrowth. The study also demonstrated that the presentations of these allergy diseases are due to the immune system’s antibody reactions to C. albicans.
Therefore, getting rid of the yeast is guaranteed to provide relief for chronic and recurring atopic eczema.
In this 1998 study published in the journal, Allergy, a group of researchers aimed to determine the difference in exposure and sensitization to 5 yeasts commonly found around humans.
They measured the responses of the immunoglobulins, IgE, IgG and IgA to the following yeasts: C. albicans, C. utilis, Cryptococcus albidus, Rhodotorula rubra and Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
The study population included 20 individuals suffering from atopic conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis or atopic dermatitis.
The results of this study showed that
The most important finding of this study was that atopic patients who were previously exposed to and sensitized by C. albicans and S. cerevisiae still developed allergic symptoms when exposed to other environmental yeasts.
Because C. albicans shares the most antigens with the other yeasts, it carries a greater chance of cross-reacting IgE antibodies.
Therefore, although other yeasts are milder on the immune system, they can still trigger eczema in patients who have been previously exposed to and sensitized by candida overgrowth.
This conclusions means that candida may still cause eczema even when the real culprit is another yeast.
To treat eczema caused by candida, you need to stop C. albicans overgrowth in the gut. This is achievable by restoring the normal gut flora. The beneficial microbes in a healthy gut flora can easily prevent candida from replicating and turning virulent.
The best way to restore your gut flora is to take probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can quickly turn the balance of the microbial flora on the gut in favor of the “good microbes”.
The most common probiotics are species of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.
Probiotics are naturally found in fermented foods such as yogurt, kefir and soy products such as miso.
To improve the performance of probiotics, some manufacturers add prebiotics. Prebiotics are food sources for the beneficial bacterial in your gut. To humans, they are non-digestible. Therefore, prebiotics do not contribute calories to your diet.
A good example of prebiotics is the inulin found in certain vegetables such as Jerusalem artichoke and chicory root.
Other sources of prebiotics include raw garlic, onion and leek as well as raw dandelion greens, banana and asparagus.
However, prebiotics should be avoided because they may also serve as food source for C. albicans. Therefore, take your probiotics without prebiotics to ensure that candida overgrowth is stopped.
Some plants, especially vegetables, do have antifungal properties and are, therefore, excellent for controlling candida overgrowth. For example, the allicin found in garlic is a potent antifungal agent that can help bring down the population of C. albicans in the gut.
Other natural remedies with antifungal properties include andrographis, grapefruit seed extract and oregano oil.
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