Candida albicans is one of the most common culprits in fungal overgrowth in immuno-compromised humans. Many people believe they have an overgrowth of the opportunistic fungus that typically resides as a commensal yeast in the mouth and take to restrictive diets in the hopes to of eliminating the fungal form. Turns out that may not be the most important factor in preventing or eliminating an overgrowth.
A new study published in the journal mSphere helps shed some light on how humans are exposed to the pathogenic fungus Candida albicans and potential practices to prevent colonization in the gut. While diet may be one factor, it may not be the most effective.
The general scope of the study was to determine how we are exposed to fungi that could become problematic and whether nor not they colonized the distal gut. Turns out, our primary exposure to these fungal species may be from food or our saliva.
They appear to only be transient visitors in the gut of a healthy person. In other words, in healthy people they don’t set up shop. The combination of a compromised immune system and low bacterial diversity in the distal gut are environmental factors believed to allow fungal colonization. No surprise there.
The interesting thing came when they looked specifically at Candida albicans.
How to reduce exposure to Candida albicans
While Candida albicans is often found in stool samples, the researchers wanted to determine if the Candida albicans found in stool samples was coming from the gut or perhaps the mouth. Dental plaques house huge deposits of Candida albicans, so the researchers looked at how oral hygiene habits effect the presence of C. Albicans in stool samples.
Turns out, one of our primary exposures to Candida comes from our saliva, which we swallow around 1 liter of every day. People who brushed their teeth 3 times a day with a fluoride toothpaste* had a 10-100 fold lower level of Candida in their stool samples than people who only brushed once, independent of diet. One would have to assume that regular dental cleanings, with the intent of reducing and preventing Candida containing plaques, leads to an even lower exposure rate.
I think this shines a pretty interesting light on a completely ignored route towards keeping Candida overgrowth at bay. While there are obvious benefits to reducing sugar in the diet for Candida overgrowth, maybe these benefits are more centered around preventing chronic exposure by reducing your plaque burden. It certainly makes more sense than sugar making it all the way down to the colon and causing the problems directly. Sugar shouldn’t make it that far down the gut.
These findings provide support for good oral hygiene in the prevention of Candida overgrowth. Even in the presence of a healthy diet low in sugar, exposure to Candida albicans likely remains high if oral hygiene is poor and dental plaque burden is high.
It’s important to note that this study only looked at brushing. Brushing probably does more in the way of preventing plaque accumulation than removing existing plaque. A comprehensive oral hygiene plan should include a healthy diet, daily flossing, and regular cleanings every 6 months. The best part is this adds another, more powerful, tool than a restrictive diet alone.
*Note: I know there are people who believe that fluoride will kill you slowly, and while there are many other options for brushing your teeth, this study used fluoride because it’s known to kill C. albicans. You can go another route and use other means of brushing your teeth, I suspect having a clean mouth is extremely important in general. But I won’t be misleading by not reporting the data as it was designed.
For those of you wondering what I think about fluoride, I think at the proper dose it can be a neurotoxin, but you will encounter small amounts of it in natural water sources so we probably have a decent way of processing small amounts. I don’t think water fluoridation is an intelligent way to address poor dental health, better diet is.
I also don’t think putting it on your teeth and spitting it out every day will cause you to lose 10 IQ points. Hong Kong has fluoridated their water to the same levels as we have since the 1960s, and their kids rank among the highest in IQ with an average of 108. But to each their own.