Today is World Mental Health Day, and I thought there was never a better day than to talk about the mental health epidemic around the globe. In the US alone, it is thought that 1 in 4 adults have a diagnosable disorder every single year - and these are just the people that have gone to a Doctor or health care provider and got their condition recorded. Approximately 18% of Americans have an anxiety disorder each year, and it's thought that around 9.5% of American adults will deal with depressive disorder. It's a big, big problem, to put it lightly.
There are so many root causes of mental health struggles that get totally overlooked in today's traditional mental healthcare model, like chronic stress, nervous system dysregulation, loneliness, and suppressed emotional trauma, as well as genetics (the MTHFR gene and the (GAD) gene have both been linked to depression) and leaky gut/gut dysbiosis and more. But for me, one of the MOST overlooked root causes is candida. No one ever talks about it, and it holds so much power on the brain chemicals released daily.
Candida is a type of fungi that lives within us all. Most of the species of candida are non-pathogenic. Some are, however, and the most notorious is candida albicans, and when it overgrows and gets out of balance, it can cause yeast infections that show up in the vagina, urinary tract, mouth, gut and more.
Candida & The Gut-Brain Connection + Mycotoxins
The mental health connection to candida arises when we understand the gut-brain connection. When there is an overgrowth of yeast in the body, candida albicans get broken down into secondary metabolites known as mycotoxins, which are toxic to human beings. Candida albicans can produce above 400 mycotoxins, which can get absorbed out of the colon, into the bloodstream, and move around the body, infiltrating the whole body, including the nervous system.
These toxins can also damage our mitochondria (the powerhouses of our cells) which can also cause a ton of symptoms that candida produces - and mitochondria is almost never looked at in the context of candida.
If the liver can't keep on top of this and break them down and remove them, these mycotoxins from candida can also transverse the blood-brain barrier, where they can impact our brain activity and influence and change the chemicals that our body releases. So they can have devastating impacts, and the presence of the byproducts of candida alone can lead to imbalances that can show up as anxiety, depression, panic attacks, brain fog, mood swings, and more.
Candida & Serotonin
There is also thought to be a direct connection between candida overgrowth and the release of serotonin by the body. Serotonin is the body's happy hormone, but if there is candida overgrowth in the gut (where serotonin is also created and released in certain quantities), the fungus overgrowth can actually block the release of serotonin into the blood meaning that the body just cannot get access to the serotonin it needs for the body to be 'happy'. Without this, moods are dysregulated, and short, mid, and long-term mood disorders can develop.
The Candida and Mental Health Studies
John Hopkins researchers have been working to study the relationship between yeast and mental illness for a while now, and while they haven't directly proven it, they have been able to conclude that the two "might be strongly related". They concluded that cases of schizophrenia or bipolar often came with a history of recurrent yeast infections and that this also substantially impacted their memory and brain fog.
Other studies concluded that chronic candida is likely connected to longstanding chronic fatigue syndrome, that mice infected with candida albicans showed an increase in anxiety-like symptoms, and, similar to the John Hopkins research, a case-controlled study of men suffering from schizophrenia more often had a history of Candida infection.
Another study confirmed that female patients with vaginal candidiasis were more likely to develop some sort of mental illness because they noted that the study participants suffered from stress, anxiety, mood swings, depression, and even sexual dysfunction.
The Root Causes of Candida & Mental Health + Next Steps
If you think you have candida overgrowth and are suffering from recurrent infections, a white tongue, chronic body joint or muscle pain, brain fog or mental health symptoms, it's important to understand the root causes. Leaky gut is a big one that is starting to get better understood (because if your gut is leaking, then the contents are escaping into your bloodstream, rather than out through your colon), but there are so many more.
Despite a clearer understanding of how a leaky gut can play a part, it's fair to say that today, society thinks it is just 'too much sugar or too many carbs', but the root cause goes way deeper.
The root cause of candida that can be driving your mental health challenges might include:
- General gut dysbiosis - this can lead to a gut environment that is perfect for candida overgrowth (think: not enough good bacteria to fight the candida overgrowth);
- Hormonal imbalances (often very overlooked but now understood that if you have a hormonal imbalance within the body, you could also likely have a neurotransmitter imbalance that can also lend to candida overgrowth. This might be why candida symptoms seem to come and go throughout the month (you hear of women getting thrush right before or during their period every month) as hormone levels change and fluctuate;
- Iron overload - something that no one understands is that candida feeds on iron. It really, really makes it thrive, and so many of us don't think we have enough iron, but often we have TOO MUCH! This study is fascinating and shows the link between iron overload and increased susceptibility to infections like candida;
- Low stomach acid - this often shows up as what people think is high stomach acid through acid reflux and heartburn but is actually low levels of stomach acid that splash up the esophagus. Low levels of stomach acid mean that they can't effectively keep pathogens at bay in the stomach and as they enter into the body, which allows them to proliferate and grow further down in the gut - and the rest of the body;
- A connection to acetaldehyde production - candida can produce this from sugar and ethanol - binds B1, B6 and B9 together, making them unable to function correctly and then causing a deficiency. B vitamins are critical for the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, and so a B deficiency can cause an imbalance of neurotransmitters too;
- Constipation and a lack of proper detoxification - if your bowels aren't moving twice a day, they aren't working correctly and this is allowing there to be an environment inside the colon that helps pathogens to thrive and multiply;
- Stealth and ongoing infections, viruses, or pathogens (including lyme disease and parasites);
- Consuming too much alcohol;
- Too many starchy vegetables;
- Fermented foods in the wrong ratios;
- Exposure to other VOCs and mycotoxins;
- Mercury overload; and
- Holistic practitioners also suggest the root cause of candida overgrowth as being psycho-spiritual and related to feelings of unworthiness. Read more on that here.
The list feels very long, and the interconnection between the root causes makes for a big jigsaw to unpick.
So, while there isn't a ton of direct scientific evidence connecting candida overgrowth to mental health problems like anxiety and depression, what has been very clearly proved is the connection between an imbalanced gut and an imbalance in neurotransmitters. So, candida might not be the direct cause of these mental health challenges, but they can likely exacerbate an already out-of-whack neurotransmitter level.
With this long list of *potential* root causes, it isn't just a case of cutting sugar, cutting white carbs, and letting the candida reroute itself into the right balances. It is essential to work with a well-qualified functional medicine doctor or a holistic root-cause practitioner who can help you find your personal root cause that is driving your mental and physical health challenges.
Testing is crucial too and always where I would advise to start; otherwise any treatment plan is guesswork. I always recommend the OAT (organic acids test) from Great Plains Laboratory - a urine test that reviews metabolites of yeast, fungus, bacteria, and more - including vitamins, amino acids, and even how your mitochondria function! The results can be crazy and really help to direct your health journey, gut overhaul, and more.
I have learned so much over the past few years on my health journey and am excited to release my own supplement in this sector soon. I know it's something that people really need and that is going to truly be a game changer and help so many. Stay tuned!
Love Jena x
***THESE STATEMENTS HAVE NOT BEEN APPROVED OR REGULATED BY THE FDA. WE ARE NOT DOCTORS, THEREFORE ALWAYS CONSULT WITH YOUR DOCTOR FIRST.