Confused by yeast? You’re in good company. The yeast that causes thrush has had 177 different names. Medical researchers couldn’t agree on a classification. For centuries, yeast research was like the parable of the blind men and the elephant: Clinicians saw and described very different things. The explanation? That yeast, which we now call Candida albicans, is a shape-shifter!
Organisms capable of morphing, forming either round or stringy cells, are described as dimorphic. If that sounds adaptable, that’s only half of it. Candida can actually form four kinds of cells. Over 200 creepy shape-shifting species belong to the genus Candida. Twenty of these infect people. Candida auris is a drug-resistant killer. Candida albicans, the most widespread yeast pathogen, causes vaginal infections, thrush, and invasive candidiasis.
Yup, those are fungal infections. They are microbes, but they’re not bacteria, which are in a different scientific kingdom. They are tiny fungi, from a subkingdom that includes mushrooms. Symptoms of invasive candidiasis are the worst. This overgrowth affects the whole body, via the bloodstream. It’s very hard to treat and can ruin lives. So why “make peace with yeast” or maintain “healthy yeast balance”? Why not zero yeast?
It isn’t always bad (and not just because they make bread and beer possible). Upwards of 62% of healthy people have it in their microbiome. They live in mouths, on skin and genitals, and in our guts. Yeast can make minerals more bioavailable, act like probiotics, neutralize toxic mold, change the way we process phytate, modulate immunity, and prevent and treat intestinal diseases. And, fungi are a source of medically important chemicals. Nutritional yeast offer nutrients and protein. Even Candida can make acidic compounds that inhibit reproduction of harmful bacteria. Yes, Candida infects (invades and replicates in) people easily. But it is often commensal (neutral).
When triggered, Candida can shift into a more virulent (and pathogenic) cell form and overgrow. Antibiotic use, gut barrier damage, surgery, modern eating, chlorinated water, stress, blood sugar swings, and medication can all trigger Candida overgrowth. Symptoms like fatigue, low immunity, and problem skin can result. Keeping our immune system and metabolism strong, and our microbiome balanced is as important as avoiding triggers. Probiotic bacteria and fungi coexist and crowd out harmful microbes that are trying to take up residence. Eating it will not feed bad yeast, but wiping out your bacteria might. Support your good bacteria with a varied, low-sugar, ancestral diet and fiber-rich vegetables.
We want a balanced, healthy relationship with yeast and bacteria.
If you have an imbalance, probiotics—beneficial bacteria and yeasts—are widely recommended. Some bacteria inhibit Candida albicans from shape shifting. Probiotic yeasts can make antibiotic-type compounds. They can work interdependently. Probiotics help us recover from antibiotics, fungal infections (like athlete’s foot), and yeast infections (vaginal, systemic, or thrush). They also combat bladder and urinary tract infections. Flora has a wide-range of age- and condition-specific probiotics (US/CA) to choose from. I hope that clears up the yeast situation (is that a pun?)
Are you are ready to make peace with yeast? Let us know in the comments below.