Are Fungi and Yeasts a Threat to Our Health?

A couple of quotes from this study: “Fungal infections take more than 1.3 million lives each year worldwide, nearly as many as tuberculosis”. “..half of the world’s 350,000 asthma-related deaths each year stem from fungal infection..”

file2701293812299Yeasts and fungi are probably the most successful organisms on the planet. They do not necessarily require sunlight or oxygen and they use starches, glucose and other sugars for growth. This means they can grow pretty much anywhere as long as there as there is food and moisture – from the sludge at the bottom of the sea to mould on damp walls to us. Having more than one way to reproduce adds to their success too. They are often invisible – miles of mycelium (the underground “roots” of fungi) can be present in just a handful of soil, for example. Yeasts too are invisible to the naked eye unless they are part of a colony as in baker’s yeast or the bloom on the skin of some fruits. Just think what an advantage these attributes give to the life of these ubiquitous organisms! There are of course, many that are beneficial to us – some edible mushrooms have a wonderful array of nutrients and antioxidants.

Both yeasts and fungi can attack humans and they are one of our major killers worldwide. Even if they do not kill, they can cause suffering and misery.  “..half of the world’s 350,000 asthma-related deaths each year stem from fungal infection”  for example and Candida albicans can cause vaginal and oral thrush, skin problems and gut disturbances. In severely immune compromised people, Candida albicans can kill. There are other fungal/yeast infections that can affect humans such as aspergillus, ringworm and tinea (eg. athlete’s foot).

Severe infections with these organisms occur mostly in people who are immune compromised for some reason – A.I.D.S., treatment to prevent the rejection of a transplanted organ, cancer treatment and even pregnancy as this is a normal immune-suppressed state. (The baby shouldn’t be rejected!) However, if we eat incorrectly or if our immune systems have taken a knock for some reason, we are all at risk of mild or severe infection.

Including some fermented foods in our diet boosts our beneficial bacteria and this DSCF0577 keeps Candida in its place. It lives in our gut naturally but if we are healthy, it causes no problems. The main two ways that will change this balanced condition is if we feed it or if our gut microbes have been compromised for some reason. Candida can multiply rapidly and instead of being a few harmless yeast cells, it becomes an invasive colony. Yeasts need sugars for their growth and reproduction so if our diets are high in carbohydrate foods (which are broken down to sugars) – such as the doughnut, they get the chance to flourish. Many drugs but especially antibiotics, will disrupt the gut flora giving Candida a chance to gain a foothold. As a colony, it is able to put out microscopic rootlets which penetrate the delicate one-cell thick lining of the gut. This creates the condition known as leaky-gut syndrome giving rise to a host of problems in the gut and systemically.

In nature, one sees fungi not only thriving in decaying wood and leaves but also invading dying or weak plants. If we are less than healthy with a poor immune system, we too become a target. Don’t let it be you.

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“How Did I Get Irritable Bowel Syndrome?” (IBS Part 1)

IBS is at the top of medical reasons for absence from work, sharing the slot with the common cold. The impact on the workplace is not insignificant, but it can have a truly devastating effect on the individual.

Toilet road signIrritable bowel syndrome is a miserable condition as any sufferer knows. It can vary in how it presents itself, how uncomfortable it is, how long it lasts and how it affects individuals. Perhaps the most disruptive aspect – is that a flare-up can happen without warning. Plans for the day go out of the window as  a day in bed, near to the bathroom is all that is practical.

When I started nursing in the 70s, there was no such thing as irritable bowel syndrome. Even ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease were rarities. I do remember that there were a few cases of “spastic colon”, which I guess was the forerunner to IBS but again it was rare. What has happened since then to make gut problems commonplace now?

I have interviewed hundreds of patients during my career as a nurse and I have often been asked “how did I get irritable bowel syndrome?” Over this time I have been able to put two and two together and after considerable researching, reflecting and witnessing, have at last made four! For so long, the sums just made no sense. Why do some drugs cause diarrhoea? Why is it many people do not recover completely after a nasty bout of holiday tummy? Why is an upset stomach common after chemotherapy? Or more to the point, the question I eventually asked was – why is it some people are OK after these things?

Most of us have had antibiotics at some time, but for women in particular, a course of antibiotics means another problem – thrush – why? Or for anyone, antibiotics can cause diarrhoea – again, why?

There is a common denominator in all the above situations and it is candida. The ubiquitous yeast, candida.

The symptoms of candida infection (overgrowth), exactly match those of IBS. Bloating, stomach cramps, headaches, gas, constipation and diarrhoea and more. Can this be coincidence? I don’t think so and over the next few weeks, I want to answer some of the questions I have posed here.

 

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