There’s a fungus among us. Or more like within us.
While that might make you cringe at first glance, the truth is, these microscopic fungi might just be the key to better understanding the root cause of a number of conditions. In particular, the fungi that inhabit our gut might just be the secret to unlocking the cure to a pervasive and problematic condition known as Crohn’s disease.
Today we’re going to dive into exactly what Crohn’s disease is, how fungal overgrowth can contribute to this condition, and most importantly, what you can do about it. Let’s dive in.
Inflammatory Bowel Condition Definition
Crohn’s disease is what’s known as an inflammatory bowel condition. You see, your digestive tract has a rather tricky job. It must absorb nutrients from the external world, while simultaneously defending you against harmful invaders that may sneak in alongside those nutrients.
To balance these two contrasting needs, the thin layer of tissue that lines the innermost part of your digestive tract contains specialized cells. In fact, it is chock-full of immune cells and lymphoid tissue to defend against any intruding microbes or toxins. But sometimes, the immune cells and tissue lining your gut become activated unnecessarily – producing inflammation without infection.
And this inflammatory response without infection leads to inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease.
What Is Crohn’s Disease?
Crohn’s disease is inflammation that can develop in any part of your digestive tract – from your lips to your rectum and everything in between. In some cases, the inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease can even extend into areas outside of your gastrointestinal system. In these severe cases, lesions can pop up in your liver and bile ducts, or even on your joints, skin, or eyes.1
Crohn’s disease lesions typically present as patchy ulcerations or lesions with areas of healthy tissue found between ulcerated areas. This alternating pattern of healthy tissue and ulcers sometimes creates a “cobblestone” appearance. These lesions can penetrate deep into the tissues of your digestive tract and can even create fistulas that can tunnel their way through the entire wall of your gut.
So what kind of symptoms does this patchy inflammation cause?
Symptoms of Crohn’s Disease
Symptoms of Crohn’s disease include:2,3
- Diarrhea and/or constipation
- Bloating and flatulence
- Pain, discomfort, and/or cramping in the abdomen
- Anemia (low levels of red blood cells)
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Canker sores in the mouth
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes
So what exactly causes Crohn’s disease?
Crohn's Disease Causes, Including Fungal Overgrowth
While more time and research are needed to fully understand this complex condition, we do know that there’s a genetic component to Crohn's disease. This means some people may be more susceptible to developing it. It’s believed that certain genetic codes can predispose some people to Crohn’s disease in the following ways:4,5
- Certain genes can alter the permeability of your gut lining, inadvertently increasing exposure of your mucosa to the normal microorganisms that reside in your gut.
- These genes can also impair your ability to defend certain microorganisms – particularly certain fungal infections – therefore hindering your gut’s ability to keep these microbial populations in check.
- As the balance of microbes in your gut becomes imbalanced and your gut mucosa is exposed to these microorganisms, harmful bacteria and fungi can begin overpopulating. This causes your immune system to become activated and begin ramping up.
- This overzealous immune response triggers an influx of inflammatory cells – specifically two types of white blood cells known as T-cells and macrophages.
- As these immune cells migrate to your gut lining, so does a cascade of pro-inflammatory cytokines, degrading enzymes, and harmful free radicals.
This combination of factors is thought to be the root cause of the deeply penetrating and widespread inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease. Now let’s take a little deeper look at the role your microbiome and fungal overgrowth have on the development of Crohn’s disease.
So, Is Crohn's Disease Fungal?
The answer to this question is – it's complicated. You see, while Crohn's disease certainly can’t be attributed to a singular underlying factor, your gut microbiome inarguably plays one of the most pivotal factors in the development and severity of symptoms. Gut dysbiosis – or an imbalance in the microflora that resides in your gut – can create a domino effect that makes you more susceptible to Crohn's disease and amplifies the severity of your symptoms.
Studies have found that individuals with Crohn’s disease almost always have an overgrowth of certain types of fungi – particularly two species known as Candida and Malassezia.6,7 While these fungal species are perfectly normal and naturally found in our guts, the problem arises when there’s an imbalance. When this happens your gut shifts into a state of fungal dysbiosis. This fungal overgrowth interferes with normal gut function and disrupts your gut's ability to properly heal and replenish itself – creating a vicious cycle of damaging inflammation to your gut lining.
But this disruption in your gut’s ability to heal itself isn’t the only way these tiny fungi contribute to Crohn’s disease.
Crohn’s Disease Fungi and Biofilms
The fungal overgrowth seen in Crohn’s disease can also damage your gut and contribute to inflammation by creating what’s known as biofilms. Biofilms are an assembly of cells that adhere to your intestinal wall and seal themselves within a thick sticky layer. This creates a colony of harmful microbes that are insulated and shielded from your immune system.
The fungal species Candida and Malassezia can essentially team up with certain strains of harmful bacteria to create particularly monstrous biofilms. These biofilms are much more sinister than those composed of just a singular microbial strain.8 These conglomerations of fungi and bacteria are difficult for your immune system, or even antibiotics and antifungals, to penetrate and eradicate.
There’s no denying that fungal overgrowth can have a significant impact on Crohn’s disease progression and severity. In fact, some of the primary diagnostic tests used to identify and diagnose Crohn’s disease, includes testing for the presence of anti-fungal antibodies.
So, How Is Crohn’s Disease Diagnosed?
While an official diagnosis of Crohn’s disease typically requires multiple tests, some of the key prognostic indicators in the diagnosis of Crohn’s disease are anti-fungal antibodies. I have found in nearly all of my patients, treating the fungal issues leads to a better outcome in Crohn’s disease.
The Crohn’s disease prognostic profile is a blood test based on detection of circulating antibodies directly against glycans. This panel includes:9
- ACCA – antichitobioside carbohydrate antibodies
- ALCA – antilaminaribioside carbohydrate antibodies
- AMCA – antimannobioside carbohydrate antibodies
- gASCA – anti-Saccarhomyces Cervisiae antibodies
GASCA is directed against the cell wall of yeast, S. cerevisiae. And ALCA, ACCA and gASCA are directed against glycans found in the cell wall of pathogenic fungus Candida albicans. Crohn’s patients are considered to be at greater risk for disease complications if they test positive for 2 or more markers.
So, knowing this is a key underlying factor in the identification and diagnosis of this condition, why aren’t more doctors thinking about this connection? And how exactly can we best address the fungal dysbiosis seen in Crohn’s disease?
Fungal Dysbiosis Treatment
Treating and managing Crohn’s disease requires a big-picture approach that not only corrects fungal dysbiosis, but that also supports an overall balanced microbiome while enhancing your gut’s integrity and reversing inflammation. Treatment options can sometimes include medications but always require some lifestyle modifications. Let’s take a little deeper look at these.
In certain cases, medications can be helpful when it comes to managing and reversing some of the inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease – particularly upon initial diagnosis or during acute flare-ups. Some of the standard medications most often used in the treatment of Crohn’s include:10
- TNF alpha-blockers
Significant fungal infections or overgrowth may also be treated with an antifungal medication like fluconazole. While medications certainly have a place in treating gut dysbiosis and Crohn’s disease, one of the most important components of treatment is your diet.
Following an anti-inflammatory diet can have a monumental impact on healing inflammation and balancing your microbiome. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet means eliminating foods that encourage inflammation like:
- Processed dairy (this may require a process of elimination as some individuals might tolerate raw high-quality dairy products)
- Processed foods
- Refined oils (like vegetable and canola oils)
- Refined sugar
- Soy and corn can also trigger inflammation in certain individuals
Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet also includes incorporating copious amounts of foods that combat and reverse inflammation like:
- Fresh veggies and fruits
- High-quality protein (preferably sourced from organic grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild-caught meat)
- Healthy fats (like those found in olive oil and avocados)
- Lots of purified high-quality water
While embracing a well-rounded anti-inflammatory diet is certainly the best place to start, once in a while, a more specialized and strict diet may be temporarily necessary to help soothe inflammation and recalibrate your microbiome.
Specialized Diets to Manage Crohn’s Disease
In particular, there are two specific dietary protocols that help in treating more extreme cases of Crohn’s disease and gut dysbiosis. They are:
- The Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD): This diet specifically eliminates “complex” carbohydrates that contain two or more linked sugar molecules. This is because complex carbs promote overgrowth of harmful bacteria in your gut.
- The Elemental Diet: This diet consists of pre-formulated easily digested liquids that allow you to get all of your necessary nutrients without requiring your digestive tract to break anything down – thus allowing your gut to reset and heal.
While your diet creates a nutritional foundation, sometimes we can all use a little extra help. And that’s where supplements can be incredibly useful.
Some of the most potent supplements that pack the most powerful punch when it comes to treating Crohn’s disease include:
- Collagen to beef up and support the integrity of your gut lining.
- Probiotics to help reinoculate your tummy with a concentrated dose of “good” bacteria.
- Glutathione and Vitamin C to supply your body with inflammation-fighting antioxidants.
- Gut Immune to supply your gut and immune system with crucial inflammation-soothing immunoglobulins.
- Candida Destroyer helps restore the normal balance and eradicate the overgrowth of fungal organisms.
You can find these supplements and much more at my online store. And you can even snag 10% off your first order by clicking right here.
Your gut and microbiome are intricately linked to every cell in your body. So there are a few other lifestyle modifications that can have a remarkable influence on your inflammation and microbiome such as:
- Stress management: Stress is like Miracle-Gro for inflammation. So incorporating stress-busting practices like meditation, hitting the gym, or simply spending time with a loved one are crucial for keeping your gut happy and balanced.
- Catch plenty of Z’s: Not logging adequate sleep is a surefire way to throw your microbiome out of whack and ramp up inflammation. So getting lots of high-quality rest is crucial. Learn how you can get a better night's sleep by clicking right here.
- Reduce your toxic burden: Environmental toxins can accumulate in your body, disrupt your gut flora, and amplify inflammation. Minimizing your toxic burden is a critical component of treating any inflammatory bowel condition.
These easy-to-implement lifestyle changes paired with the right diet are a powerfully effective way to treat fungal dysbiosis and reverse the inflammation seen in Crohn’s disease.
Are You Concerned Fungal Dysbiosis Might Be Contributing to Your Crohn’s Symptoms?
Are you or a loved one struggling with Crohn’s disease or unexplained digestive problems? While struggling with Crohn’s disease, gut dysbiosis, or any other inflammatory bowel condition can be challenging and sometimes just downright unpleasant, the good news is, you’re not at the mercy of a diagnosis. As we learn more and more about our gut microbiome and the role these microscopic fungi and bacteria play in our health, the more power we have to influence our own health and well-being.
So if you’re ready to step into the driver’s seat and fight back against your symptoms, I strongly encourage you to start by following the steps outlined in this article and seek out the guidance of a Functional Medicine Practitioner. A Functional Medicine Doctor will take the overwhelm out of identifying and addressing the root cause of your symptoms and get you on track with a personalized healing plan.
And if you’re looking for more information and resources to help you make informed choices about your health, head over and check out my blog. There you’ll find hundreds of easy-to-read articles that make optimizing your health simple. And to take it even deeper, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter by entering your name and email address in the form below.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Were you surprised to learn that Crohn’s disease might be at least partially attributed to fungal overgrowth? What steps are you taking to keep your gut balanced and healthy? Leave your questions and thoughts in the comments below!
- The Difference Between Crohn’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis, and Celiac Disease — Colorectal Clinic of Tampa Bay (tampacolorectal.com)
- WebMD – Better information. Better health.
- Inflammatory bowel disease and celiac disease: Overlaps and differences (nih.gov)
- [PDF] Immunity, Inflammation, and Allergy in the Gut | Semantic Scholar
- Research Closeup: Fungus and Crohn's disease | Cedars-Sinai
- Gut Fungus Suspected in Crohn's Disease – Scientific American
- Research Links Crohn's Disease to Skin Fungus | Cedars-Sinai
- Broadening the Microbiome: Fungi in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases (IBD) (asm.org)
- L6845 (labcorp.com)
- [PDF] Immunity, Inflammation, and Allergy in the Gut | Semantic Scholar
* These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product mentioned in this article are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. The information in this article is not intended to replace any recommendations or relationship with your physician. Please review references sited at end of article for scientific support of any claims made.