Undiagnosed and untreated fungal infections sometimes seem to me to be one of the biggest failures of pediatrics today. How could this be?
Most children who come to me for nutrition intervention only get to me as a last resort. They’ve been to gastroenterologists, neurologists, psychiatrists, feeding therapists, occupational therapists, behavior therapists, speech therapists. The last thing their parents want to do is change up the food in the house – especially when this parade of specialists doesn’t know how to help them do that, and they tell parents it won’t do any good anyway (as most of them have told my patients). Too much work, right?
But eventually parents are at wits’ end. They have a picky child who eats poorly or grows weakly or has reflux. Or they have an enthusiastic eater (read: stuffs food in mouth to choking) for one thing: Sugar. Starchy, sugar food like bread, chips, Goldfish crackers, candy, carbs, dairy junk (yogurt tubes or sugary milk substitutes). Their kids have big behavior problems: Tantrums well past toddler years. They’re unable to go to public places, like restaurants, supermakets, or malls. They get kicked out of one school after another, for being aggressive, combative, or oppositional. All before they are five or six years old…. Uncle! Time to try that crazy nutrition stuff.
We’ve all heard a lot lately about gut biome, and how crucial it is for many aspects of health. This burgeoning area of research may not make the pharmaceutical industry very happy. Turns out that nearly any chronic condition – from Alzheimer’s, asthma, and autism to anxiety, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, and much more – may be treatable through improving the microflora (bacteria) in your gut. How do you do that? Easy. You change what you eat. You use good probiotics. You clear out nasty gut microbes that don’t help you, and there are many fabulous herbs that can do that. You do this as a lifestyle, not as a ten day course of a drug. And, your body begins to restore itself from the inside out. That is the “crazy nutrition stuff” in a nutshell.
Recent reports indicate that you can even improve conditions like these through a fecal transplant – using a healthy donor’s poo to reboot your own colon with microbes that know how to run a clean shop in there. Good gut bugs communicate intimately with the immune system, and help it “learn” – learn what is friend, what is foe, what to react to, what to ignore, what to kill and pull apart, what to leave alone.
The pharmaceutical industry only makes hay when they can sell the bleep out of a patent (like, say, hundreds of millions of dollars in a single year from just one vaccine product). But they can’t get far with … your poo. That stuff is yours. It’s definitely not patentable. Pharma also can’t get far with food. If you eat better, they lose money. Food isn’t patentable, unless it’s processed beyond recognition or engineered genetically by Monsanto (patenting everything you eat is their business model, which is why they really don’t want you to learn about how bad GMO foods are for your gut, or to even know they’re in your food – hence the labeling battles). Probiotics are naturally occurring organisms. Not patentable, because they simply already exist. But food, probiotics, and even someone else’s poo may be better for your health than just about any drug or vaccine ever could be.
I digress a little here, but to a point: These addled kids with the desperate parents tend to have really disrupted gut biomes. And, they are very often full of yeast. Fungal species. That is, any of a number of strains of Candida or Saccharomyces or other fungal strains.
We find this out with stool testing that looks beyond the basic horrible microbes your insurance company pays a gastroenterologist to check. We look for beneficial species like Lactobacillus strains, Bifido strains, and others. We also screen for annoying microbes like Klebsiella or Citrobacter species that may well be usual enough to find in a human gut, but not to excess. They shouldn’t be in charge of the conversation in there, so to speak. And if a child is underweight or in weak nutrition status, these microbes can have a pervasive negative impact.
And, we find yeast. Lots of yeast.
Fungal microbes are common members of our micro biome. But, they are normally kept in check by a healthy immune system. Mostly, they only raise an eyebrow for your doctor if your child has (a) thrush, in which white fluffy fungal stuff is literally coming out both ends – mouth and anus; or, (b) very serious immune deficiency problems, like leukemia or AIDS or neutropenia. If a child has a fungal skin rash, usual practice is to give a topical anti fungal cream. Other than that, pediatricians are generally unconcerned about yeast overgrowth in the body. It’s assumed that this isn’t a thing- without ever actually checking.
Besides checking stool cultures, I may also request a urine microbial acid test that looks for the down stream products that yeast cells make. Finding loads of these in urine means that fungal species may be present throughout the body to a level that is less than healthy. It can mean that the child’s repeat urinary tract infections are fungal, not bacterial – in which case, antibiotics will not only do no good but will actually worsen the infection.
We can look at fungal and mold illness in many other ways with other lab tests, but the bottom line is this: A lot of children seem to be walking around with a lot more fungal and mold microbes in them than is healthy. What does this do? Typical symptoms are:
– Constipation severe enough for kids to be Miralax or enema-dependent, or to have had hospitalizations to clear fecal impactions
– Bedwetting well into school age years or even later
– Aggressive, rageful, violent, or oppositional behavior severe and frequent enough to impede learning, socializing, or ordinary tasking; abates if favorite foods are given, flares when hungry
– Appetite rigid for sweets, starches, dairy foods, and wheat (pizza, bread, pasta, crackers, mac and cheese, cookies)
– Refusal of protein foods (meats, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, nut butters)
– Extreme pickiness for textures; easily upset by mixed food textures
– Dependence on reflux medicines (fungal infections can cause reflux, and reflux medicines cause fungal infections!)
– Allergies or sensitivities to many foods (which may be undiagnosed as well)
– Chronic fatigue, frequent malaise, with intermittent hyperactive bursts
The incredibly simple thing is this: Clear these fungal loads out of a child’s gut or body, and you have a different child. Behavior, appetite, everything starts to improve. The constipation ends. Gradually, given the right food and the right tools, the gut will start to heal up too.
But we haven’t even talked about the real problem here. Candida albicans, one of the most common fungal microbes found in our intestines, can shape shift from its bud form to a mycelial form (see the pictures above). In this case, it grows little threads called hyphae that penetrate endothelial tissue. It uses these to suck in nutrients for itself. Translation: It sends out little fingers that puncture your gut wall, in order to anchor itself there, eat and grow more, and hide better from your immune system. Watch the video to see what I mean:
Once in this mode, fungal infections are harder to clear. They create “leaky gut”, which creates more food allergies, more food sensitivities, and more susceptibility to other infections – including fungal infections in other locations. Many children start life susceptible to this scenario from birth. How? By receiving antibiotics directly or indirectly through mom, by getting vaccines made from fungal species like hepatitis B shots, by arriving via C-section (in which case they miss getting mom’s vaginal flora on the way out), or by getting formula instead of breast milk (which favors undesirable microbes over beneficial ones).
Given that we know all this, it puzzles me to no end that pediatric practice overlooks fungal flourishes as a cause of so many health problems in our kids today. Many drugs prescribed for children – from Ritalin to Reglan – may become unnecessary, if underlying Candida infections are cleared, better food is in the mix, and the gut biome gets to work as intended. This can be straightforward to manage with the right non-prescription tools, once you are ready to make the shift to a healthier family lifestyle.