Candida or Candidiasis is a condition of fungal infection caused by the yeast fungus Candida, most commonly by the species Candida albicans.
This fungus is a part of human gut micro-flora and can even be present on the skin and mucous membranes and other body parts. It causes the infection when there is an overgrowth of the fungus in warm and moist areas.
The commonly infected body parts by this infection are mouth, nail beds, vagina, folds of skin, underarms etc. The infection may also spread into the whole body if the fungus penetrates and enters the bloodstream.
The symptoms of Candida infection depends on the area affected. The vaginal infection causes itchiness, irritation, white discharge or burning during urination. The oral candida (also called thrush) includes white lesions and red patches on tongue or inner cheeks.
The infection on skin shows red rashes that can be itchy or painful. The infection on reaching blood stream may affect the organs like stomach, intestines, kidney, bones, eyes, heart and brain.
The symptoms like headache, dizziness, fever, bloating, nausea, fatigue, skin breakouts, impaired brain function etc may be observed.
These anti-fungal medications may cause several side-effects like headache, dizziness, irregular heart-beat, muscle pain, allergic reactions, nausea, seizure etc. These may cause severe liver damage too.
An increasing drug-resistance is also a huge problems associated with the treatment of Candida infection.
In the light of the problems associated with these treatments, discovery of natural remedies that can have holistic approach towards the treatment of this infection is an inevitable course of action.
A natural remedy that perfectly fits the profile is the turmeric polyphenol, curcumin.
What is curcumin?
Curcumin (diferuloylmethane) is a natural compound obtained from the spice, turmeric. The rhizome of the plant Curcuma longa gets its yellow-orange colour due to this compound.
It is the most bioactive component of turmeric, by virtue of which it has numerous medicinal benefits. Curcumin modulates the metabolic and molecular pathways in a cell to exhibit its medicinal properties.
The extraordinary properties that curcumin possesses are those of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-modulation, antimicrobial, anti-cancer and many more.
Various researches over time have confirmed its potential therapeutic applications in a number of diseases ranging from infections, diabetes, cardiovascular problems to cancer, Alzheimer’s and so on.
4 Awesome Benefits of Curcumin in Candida
The antimicrobial action of curcumin has been seen to be effective against a diversity of microorganisms such as, bacteria, virus as well as fungus. The other biological activities of curcumin can also be useful against the other aspects of the infection like antibiotic resistance.
1. Curcumin has anti-fungal activity
Candida infection is a consequence of the overgrowth of the fungus. The infection takes place due to inability of the body’s immune system to fight against the pathogen invasion.
A number of factors mediate the different stages of the infection process. Virulence factors like adhesins (protein) mediate adhesion of the fungus to the host cell and invasins (protein) mediate the invasion process.
Other factors such as pH, metabolic adaptations and environmental stress responses in the cell also contribute to the growth of the fungus.
Curcumin is long known for its antimicrobial activity. Studies have highlighted its anti-fungal action against many common fungal pathogens, including Candida.
Its efficacy is known against various strains of Candida, particularly Candida albicans.
There are several mechanisms for the antifungal activity of curcumin against this fungus has been elucidated.
One of the mechanisms is found out to be the disruption of the plasma membrane of the fungus by curcumin, which prevents the growth.
It has also been found that curcumin down regulates the expression of the proteins such as calcineurin that are involved in the synthesis and maintenance of the cell wall of the fungus. This leads to the destruction of the cell wall and thus kills the fungal cell.
Another anti-fungal mechanism of curcumin is mediated by its ability to induce reactive oxygen species generation in the fungal cells. This leads to elevation of oxidative stress which in turn induces apoptosis (cell death) in the cells.
It also targets the gene TUP-1 (involved in DNA synthesis) which prevents the division of the cells and thus, prevents the fungal growth.
In case of vaginal candidiasis, a curcumin formulation has been found to be an effective in the treatment of the infection.
Curcumin has also been found to reduce the intensity of oropharyngeal candidiasis (candida of mouth and pharynx) in a disease model.
What does it mean?
Curcumin can be used to treat the infections caused by the fungus Candida. Its anti-fungal activity kills the fungal cells and also prevents their proliferation.
2. Curcumin destroys Candida bio-film and sensitizes it to anti-fungal drugs
Bio-film is the protective covering of pathogens formed the cellular and non-cellular materials, which is closely associated with the drug resistance. The biofilm is composed of extracellular materials like mannose and glucose.
These extracellular materials are known to interact with the antibiotics to promote the antibiotic-resistance.
Curcumin has been found to be active against the bio-films of various pathogens.
In a study, different plant polyphenols were examined for their anti-bio-film activities against Candida. Curcumin was found to be the most active among all.
It could destroy the bio-film by inhibiting the cell adhesion, bio-film growth and genetic expression of various factors involved in the development of the film.
Curcumin has also been found to sensitize the multi drug-resistant Candida albicans to the anti-ungal drug, fluconazole. It could reverse the resistance of the fungus to fulconazole significantly.
The combination of anti-fungal drugs with curcumin leads to the generation of reactive oxygen species in the Candida cells leading to their death. This synergistic activity reverses the reduced sensitivity of the fungus to the anti-fungal drugs.
What does it mean?
Curcumin can be used to combat the drug resistant Candida. The ability of curcumin to destroy the fungal bio-film and sensitize the drug-resistant fungus to the anti-fungal drugs helps in this.
3. Curcumin helps in the photodynamic therapy (PDT) against Candida
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a therapeutic process used against microorganisms and cancer lesions.
In this therapy, a photosensitizer compound (a dye that can absorb light and transfer the energy to other molecules) is activated by visible light exposure and leads to many chemical reactions that damage the target cells.
These chemical reactions include the generation of reactive oxygen species or other such reactive compounds. This therapy is employed against a number of pathogens, including Candida and found to be an effective treatment method.
The photosensitizer compounds commonly used in the PDT are the non-toxic dyes like methylene blue and toluidine blue O. Plant derived dyes like porphyrins, phthalocyanins, curcumin etc are also employed in this therapy.
Curcumin is often employed as a photosensitizer compound in the PDT. Its use in the PDT has been found to be very effective against many Candida species.
Curcumin damages the DNA of the fungus by generating reactive oxygen species (singlet oxygen) upon activation by the light.
It also has significant photodynamic activity against the bio-film of Candida. It inactivates the bio-film by decreasing the metabolic activity of the fungi involved and reducing the biomass of the film.
In a model of oral candidiasis, the efficacy of curcumin in PDT was highlighted. Curcumin proved to be highly effective against the fungus and reduced their colony counts significantly. Moreover, it had no harmful effect on the surrounding healthy tissues.
What does it mean?
The application of curcumin in the photodynamic therapy (PDT) can be very effective against Candida infections. Curcumin is highly efficacious in damaging the fungal cells and destroying their bio-films, without harming the surrounding healthy tissues.
4. Curcumin can treat Candida infection in immune-compromised patients
Candida infection is emerging as a huge concern in the immune-compromised patients, such as patients of cancer, AIDS, organ transplant etc.
The risk of invasive/ systemic infection in these patients is very high and consequences are often deadly as anti-fungal drugs due to ineffectiveness of the anti-fungal drugs. Therefore, it is very important to have alternatives for managing the infection in such cases.
Curcumin has a potential to be such an alternative.
In cancer patients with invasive Candida infection, it has been analyzed that curcumin can be used effectively to treat the complications caused by the fungal infection and reduced the mortality caused.
Curcumin has also been found to inhibit adhesion of the Candida cells from AIDS patients, on the host tissue. This indicates its potential in therapeutic use in the immune-compromised patients.
Moreover, curcumin being an immune-booster can be useful in fighting the fungal infection in the immune-compromised patients by modulating the immune responses.
What does it mean?
It means curcumin can be used to treat the Candida infections in the immune-compromised patients such as those of cancer, AIDS etc. Curcumin can also boost the immune system of the body in these patients to be equipped to fight the infection.
Dosage of Curcumin For Candida Infection
No specific dosage of curcumin is prescribed for Candida infections.
The general recommended dosage of curcumin supplements is 500-1000mg per day.
The topical use of curcumin is most common for the treatment of Candida infections. However, curcumin’s oral intake can be helpful in improving the immunity of the body to prevent and fight the invasive infection.
The frequently used curcumin supplements are standardized 95% curcumin combined with bioperine. The combination of curcumin with piperine and natural fats enhances its bioavailability. (Read How to improve bioavailability of curcumin?)
There are several other types of curcumin supplements that have better absorption in the body. (Read 8 Popular curcumin supplement types)
Curcumin intake should be started off with lower doses. The doses can be increased slowly over weeks.
Curcumin is better taken after meals and it should not be taken along with other medications. A gap of 3-4 hours is a must.
Topical use of curcumin based antifungal creams or ointments can be used upon an expert’s advice.
The dietary use of turmeric is considered to be very safe. Curcumin, even in high doses given orally or topically has been harmless in most studies.
However, some precautions are necessary to take when using curcumin. (Read Side-effects & Precautions of Curcumin)
Curcumin or turmeric (consumed or topically applied) may cause allergies in sensitive individuals. Avoid turmeric if you are sensitive to ginger.
Consumption of curcumin supplements in an empty stomach can trigger acid reflux in susceptible individuals.
A sudden introduction of a large dose of curcumin can irritate the stomach and thus, may cause gastric problems like diarrhoea, bloating, nausea etc.
It is therefore, advisable to start curcumin with small amounts and its intake should be stopped in case gastric side-effects are observed.
Curcumin can interact with some drugs like those used to treat diabetes, bleeding disorders etc. Therefore, a gap of 3-4 hours is better maintained between the two. It is best to have an expert’s opinion regarding this.
Curcumin, at large doses, may elevate the risk of bleeding owing to its blood thinning activity. Therefore, people having bleeding disorders or on blood thinning medication should stay away from curcumin. (Read Is turmeric a blood thinner?)
Curcumin due to its blood thinning action can lead to a slow down of the blood clotting process, indispensible to surgery wound healing. Therefore, curcumin intake should be terminated at least 2 weeks before a surgery.
Curcumin may cause spasmodic contractions in case of obstruction in bile duct or gallstones. (Read Is turmeric safe in gallstones?)
Curcumin supplements must be free from contamination. Curcumin supplements may have contaminants such as heavy metals, harmful chemicals, fillers or additives. These contaminants can be deleterious to the body and may cause deadly diseases like cancer.
Curcumin supplements are most advantageous when combined with bioavailability boosters.
Curcumin has a poor bioavailabilty in the body. Therefore, it is best to combine curcumin with the agents like bioperine which increase its absorption in the body.
Consult a doctor before opting for curcumin supplements. Curcumin supplements should be avoided in pregnancy and lactation.
Curcumin is a natural substance of great importance and advantage against the infections caused by the fungus, Candida.
Its antifungal activity is substantial against Candida. Curcumin not only kills the fungus but also destroys its bio-film. Moreover, its ability to destroy the bio-film helps combating the drug-resistance.
Additionally, curcumin proves to be valuable in the photodynamic therapy (PDT) used to treat the Candida infections. In the PDT, curcumin’s use makes the therapy more efficacious.
Curcumin can also be used to treat and prevent the infection in the immune-compromised patients. Its ability to boost immune system can be useful in combating the infection.
Overall, curcumin has a great potential for therapeutic application against the Candida infections.