The Relationship between Candida and Adrenal Fatigue
One of my biggest struggles is getting those who are new to the world of natural medicine to understand these two very important medical concepts – candida and adrenal fatigue. Sadly, while adrenal fatigue is more widely recognized than it once was, it's still pretty difficult to find mainstream practitioners who are willing to acknowledge either of these health issues as a real condition or disorder. This is cause for alarm because not only do they both exist, but they definitely have a distinct relationship. Today I'd like to share some of the ways the conditions relate to each other, the impact they can have on your life, and what you can actually do about them.
The Role of the Adrenal Glands and the Development of Adrenal Fatigue
Your adrenal glands, located on each of your kidneys, play a huge role in your everyday health, producing four critical hormones you need for survival. These include catecholamines, aldosterone, cortisol, and androgens. Adrenaline and noradrenaline are considered catecholamines, which help you to fight stress. Cortisol is also a stress-fighting hormone. Androgens, like testosterone and estrogen, are important for gender differentiation. Aldosterone helps to regulate the sale and water levels in your body, which have a direct impact on your blood pressure.
Disorders can occur when the adrenal glands produce too much or too little or certain hormones. While several different adrenal gland disorders do exist, you won't often find adrenal fatigue listed amongst them.
Adrenal fatigue develops when the glands are functioning below their usual levels. The suppression of hormone production can occur for a wide variety of reasons. If you are constantly under stress, for example, your adrenal glands will continue to produce adrenalin. When the body is forced to produce adrenaline over and over and over again, the glands become tired and cease proper function. Your body is then left without a defense mechanism against stress, whether it be physical or emotional.
The abuse of stimulants can contribute to the development of adrenal fatigue as well. That cup of caffeinated coffee you enjoy each morning only gives you energy because the caffeine stimulates your adrenal glands, causing them to create more adrenalin. The more you drink coffee, the more you feel you need as time passes. Eventually, you're downing caffeine all day long and you're not getting the same energy or buzz. This is because your adrenal glands can't keep up any longer. You've literally driven them to the point of fatigue.
The signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue aren't too difficult to identify, but a lot of doctors tend to treat the symptoms individually rather than make an actual diagnosis. The most common symptoms is, of course, the feeling of overwhelming fatigue in your everyday life. It's tough to get up in the morning, you drink tons of caffeine or reach for other stimulants regularly, you have strong carbohydrate cravings, and you feel run down. You may also feel like you're more alert in the evening hours.
The Connection between Adrenal Fatigue and Candida Yeast Infections
To be clear, the fact that you have a Candida infection does not necessarily mean you have adrenal fatigue; and the fact you have adrenal fatigue does not necessarily mean you have a Candida infection. They can each exist alone. What I did notice in my own practice, however, is that a lot of people who come to me for yeast infection treatments do also suffer from adrenal fatigue. Those who had stronger adrenal glands with more normal hormone production simply didn't seem to have as many issues with yeast. The problem is two-fold. The decreased immune function associated with adrenal fatigue can promote the creation of an environment where Candida thrives. On the other hand, those already suffering from Candida, especially those with long-term chronic infections, often tend to suffer from anxiety and depression – both of which are stress factors that will contribute to decreased adrenal gland function. We find ourselves in a curious catch-22 situation.
Let's start by looking at the relationship between cortisol and yeast infections. According to Dr. James Wilson, an authority figure in the world of adrenal fatigue, every cell in your body has a specific use for cortisol. The most important use, I feel, is that of the white blood cells, which need it for immune support. When your body begins to experience stress, the adrenal glands produce more cortisol. If that stress continues on a long-term basis, even at a low level of severity, your adrenal glands will eventually become tired and your body becomes less able to deal with stress. Over time, as your body becomes completely exhausted, your body may simply stop producing the cortisol you need.
When this happens, you'll find yourself experiencing higher levels of infection and difficulty recovering. Immune problems will become more common in your life and you may be particularly prone to yeast infections (any variety), leaky gut syndrome, and what appear to be digestive problems and food allergies. This point right here is where we have to raise a red flag. If you appear to have bacterial infection impacting your digestive tract, your doctor may end up prescribing antibiotics. Antibiotics will further decrease your immune system, albeit temporarily, allowing Candida to thrive within your body. If you already have a Candida infection of some sort, it will only become worse, possibly exacerbating your symptoms instead of making them go away.
Complications Caused by Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue can cause quite a bit of havoc within your life if left untreated. As your adrenal glands slowly decrease the production of hormones over time, you begin to have more and more difficulty functioning. It starts with a little bit of fatigue, but if left untreated you'll eventually find yourself wondering if you'll be able to stay out of bed fore more than a couple of hours each day. Not only are you exhausted, but you'll ultimately start to notice changes in the way your body metabolizes fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Your adrenals won't control the water/salt balance in your body, so your electrolytes will go off balance. As your electrolyte levels falter, you'll may start to notice blood pressure and other cardiovascular issues.
As your condition progresses, you'll likely start drinking more coffee or tea. You may take caffeine pills. Some adults drink alcohol to “destress” in the evenings. You may end up taking sleeping pills, thinking you're just not sleeping well enough. Some people take pain reliever frequently because of the tension headaches their stress levels cause. You'll crave salty foods because your adrenals aren't producing aldosterone properly, and you'll ultimately end up feeling weak or dizzy. A lot of people claim they feel how low their blood pressure is and they often complain they feel as though they're going to pass out.
In terms of Candida yeast infections, the complications are even deeper rooted. We've already discovered that your immune system will begin to suffer as your adrenal glands cease proper function. This means that individuals who have both Candida and adrenal fatigue are fighting immune complications from two separate fronts. Even worse, as you begin to treat your Candida infection, you may have a more difficult time dealing with the side effects than the average person.
As the excess Candida in your body begins to die, there is a condition known as die-off, formally known as the Herxheimer reaction. This occurs when the toxins from the dying Candida organisms are released into the body. In a normal Candida patient, this die-off is uncomfortable but it is beatable, especially with some additional immune-supporting supplements. In Candida patients who also suffer from adrenal fatigue, the immune system is so compromised the die-off effect becomes unbearable. As a matter of fact, in my early days of practice, I noticed that those who had adrenal fatigue as well as Candida were the ones least likely to return for continued treatment. They obviously thought their treatment was making them far worse. The longer the adrenal fatigue has had to wreak havoc in the body, the more likely a Candida patient is to become aggravated during treatment.
Curing Adrenal Fatigue and Candida
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to curing both adrenal fatigue and Candida at the same time. The reality of the situation is that most people who are being treated for Candida will very likely need some form of AF treatment as well, because they'll ultimately end up developing some form of adrenal burnout throughout the course of their treatment. Both treatments will ultimately become necessary, but they don't need to start at the same time to be effective.
According to Dr. James Wilson, the practitioner who originally coined the term adrenal fatigue, the best way to approach the treatment for the condition is through diet, lifestyle modifications, nutritional supplements, and plenty of rest. Your ultimate goal is to strengthen your immune system and your ultimate ability to handle and process stress so that your adrenal glands are not constantly attempting to produce stress-reducing hormones. He also recommends a specific series of supplements that can help you to rebuild your immune system and handle stress.
The Candida diet, no matter what plan you follow, closely parallels the type of plan you'd use to treat adrenal fatigue. It involves a major overhaul to your diet, probiotics, antifungals, and lifestyle changes to eliminate stress as well. The Candida diet plan is rather strict from the get-go because of the urgent need to stop fueling the ability for Candida to continue growing and thriving. You'll have to cut out all sugars, carbohydrates, and processed foods, to begin with. You'll also need to cut out the extra caffeine so that your body doesn't waste time attempting to produce hormones it's already too tired to create thanks to your adrenal fatigue. Once you're past the initial stages of the Candida diet plan, you can start to add more variety to your diet while at the same time beginning your treatment for adrenal fatigue.
In most cases I've treated, it has been beneficial to start the strict Candida treatment while adding the adrenal fatigue treatment in once a patient's health is starting to improve. Those who receive both treatments tend to recover much faster, in general, than patients who only treat one condition or the other.
At the end of the day, it's not a question of whether or not Candida and adrenal fatigue are related. Those with adrenal fatigue run a high risk of developing a Candida infection and those who already have Candida, especially long-term, run a very high risk of developing adrenal fatigue. If you're lucky enough to not end up with both conditions you are just that – very lucky.
Make sure you talk to your doctor or naturopath about your overall health, not your acute symptoms. If you fear you have either Candida or adrenal fatigue, make sure to ask about being tested for both conditions. The more on-target your overall treatment plan, the sooner you'll be on the road to a brighter, healthier, and more energetic future.
References and Additional Reading:
Holisticcarehawaii.com. The Hidden Causes Behind Hormonal Imbalances. Sherrill Sellman,ND.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Adrenal Gland Disorders: Overview.
Wholeapproach.com. Adrenal Fatigue forum thread.
Wilson, James L., N.D., D.C. Ph.D.. Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Stress Syndrome. Petaluma, CA. Smart Publications. 2001.
Yeastinfection.org. Commonly Asked Yeast Infection Questions. Dr. Eric Bakker
Youandyourhormones.info. Adrenal glands. Society for Endocrinology.