Fungal Infections and Health

What is a fungal infection? If it shows up on the skin, does it mean I also have it in my blood and it can be in other areas of the body? P.D.

DR ADELE PELTERET REPLIES:

Fungal infections are classified according to the tissue levels first colonised, and include superficial mycoses, limited to the outermost layers of the skin and hair; infections that extend deeper into the skin; invasive infections of the hair and nails (e.g. ringworm and athlete’s foot); infections that start in the skin and spread under it to structures such as the muscles; virulent infections that start in the lungs and spread to other organ systems (e.g. histoplasmosis); and opportunistic mycoses (affecting people with immune deficiencies) such as Candida or yeast infections.

YEAST INFECTIONS

Candida is the most common cause of yeast infection in humans. It is a fungus that lives almost everywhere, including in the human body. The immune system usually keeps levels well under control, but if the immune system is compromised or you are taking antibiotics, it can multiply and cause an infection.¹

The most common invasive form is C. albicans, a creamy growth that occurs on various body surfaces.

  • White patches in the mouth (oral thrush), which can spread to the nipple area if a mother is breast-feeding and can also be responsible for inflammation associated with dentures or dental prostheses.
  • Oesophagitis, occurring mainly in immunosuppressed patients.
  • Vaginal thrush, causing a white curd-like discharge and very unpleasant irritation, itching and inflammation.
  • Skin infection, usually in warm, moist skin folds, causing a red, irritated and itchy rash.
  • Infection of the nail-fold, causing redness and inflammation with loss of nail attachment to the cuticle – common in people whose hands or feet are constantly in water.
  • In the large intestine, and can be found on stool analysis.

Candida enteritis, almost always a consequence of disruption of the normal bowel flora – usually by broadspectrum antibiotics.

MOULDS – MULTICELLULAR FUNGI

Mould requires oxygen, water and a source of food to grow. There are moulds that can grow on almost anything, including wood, paper, carpet, fabrics, leather, insulation and foods. The key to managing environmental mould is controlling moisture!

Moulds multiply by producing microscopic spores similar to the seeds produced by plants. Many spores are so small that they float easily through the air and can be carried for great distances by the lightest breeze. The number of mould spores suspended in indoor and outdoor air fluctuates from season to season, from day to day and even from hour to hour.

Spores are found both indoors and outdoors, and cannot be completely eliminated from either environment – however, even if they are present in dust that has settled, they will not grow if moisture is not present.

How do moulds affect health?

Moulds have the potential to cause many health problems. They produce allergens, irritants, and in some cases potentially toxic substances called mycotoxins. Inhaling or touching mould or mould spores may cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. Allergic responses include hay fever-type symptoms (sneezing, runny nose, red eyes), coughing and skin rash (dermatitis), and can be immediate or delayed. Moulds can also cause asthma attacks, and irritate the eyes, skin, nose, throat, and lungs of both mould-allergic and non-allergic people.

A review of the scientific literature by five allergists published in the Lung Disorders Special Report2 on mould-related diseases indicated that while mould can cause certain health problems, many common claims don’t hold up under scrutiny. The authors also emphasise that the term ‘toxic mould’ can be misleading, as only certain mould spores produce toxins, and only under certain circumstances. They maintain that even if the mould is producing toxins, a person must breathe in a sufficient dose to be affected. They believe it is highly unlikely that one could inhale enough mould in a home or office environment to receive a toxic dose.²

However, more research on the possible role of damp indoor (and certain outdoor) environments in the development of moulds, and the effects on health these moulds could have, is needed to address gaps in scientific knowledge and concerns on the part of the public.³

Treatment

Antifungal medicines and creams, as well as herbal treatments and nutraceuticals, can help eliminate an overgrowth of yeasts in most people. However, if the immune system is weak treatment may be more difficult, especially if you are infected with a non-C. albicans species. Also, bear in mind that allopathic treatments as well as some natural treatments can put strain on the GIT, liver and kidneys, if prescribed incorrectly.

Contact your doctor for an accurate diagnostic assessment in order to then treat the offending fungal infection effectively.

References

  1. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/yeastinfections.html
  2. Nine common mold myths. From: Lung Disorders Special Report. http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/reports/lung_disorders/2012-1.html
  3. Damp indoor spaces and health. An executive summary. http://books.nap.edu/catalog/11011.html
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Fungal Infections and Health

Dr Adele Pelteret
About The Author
- BComp.Med “ Naturopathy and BSc.CHSc (summa cum laude), FLT-LE, Dip.CN, H.D.E. She is a qualified Naturopath, Nutritional Therapist, Teacher, and Functional Medicine Lifestyle Consultant with BSc degrees in both Complementary Medicine and Naturopathy. She practises as a natural ‘GP’ in Pinelands, Cape Town, where she uses an individualised approach to diagnose and treat patients. She is the National Secretary for the SA Naturopathy Association, and has a special interest in physical therapies, ergonomics, epigenetics, public speaking, and corporate wellness.