This article was originally published on Forbes
By Afif Ghannoum
Dr Ghannoum has been making some serious noise in the world of digestive health, by explaining that gut health isn’t just about bacteria, but fungi as well. That’s right, you have both bacteria, and fungi in your digestive tract, and if you ignore fungi, you’re missing a critical part of the gut health equation.
If anyone should know how important fungi is to our health, it’s Dr. Ghannoum. He’s literally the scientist that named the mycobiome, the fungal community in our body. With tens of millions in NIH funding over the last twenty five years, he's published over 400 scientific papers, and his research has been cited over 18,000 times by other scientists.
While he’s had a busy career over the last forty years, this past year has been particularly exciting for Dr. Ghannoum. It all started last summer when he discovered that bacteria and fungi work together to create destructive digestive plaque in our guts. His research went viral, with millions of people discovering the hidden role of fungi in digestive health.
That lead Dr. Ghannoum to create the first microbiome company called BIOHM. That’s where I come in. I’m a biotechnology attorney and inventor, and Dr. Ghannoum’s business partner. Oh yeah, he’s also my Dad!
We launched BIOHM with the singular goal of creating elegant products and services that address the total microbiome of bacteria and fungi. So far, it seems to be working.
The first product we created was BIOHM Probiotics, a probiotic that addresses both bacteria and fungi in the gut. We followed that up with a number of other products, including the BIOHM Gut Report, an at home testing kit that let’s you see the specific types and levels of bacteria and fungi in your gut.
It was after we launched the BIOHM Gut Report, that people began asking if we had a way to give them deeper analysis of the Candida in their gut. Why? Because while they highly suspected they had Candida overgrowth, that's all it was...a suspicion. The problem with Candida overgrowth is that many of the related symptoms can actually be caused by a number of health conditions. So while they had a hunch that Candida was the culprit, they had not actually confirmed it.
Now while fungi is my dad’s research focus, Candida is truly his passion. He literally wrote his PhD on it over forty years ago, and has been studying it ever since.
So when people asked us to allow them to learn more about their Candida, we went to work and created the BIOHM Candida Report, an at-home test that gives you an in-depth analysis of the Candida in your gut.
When I told my dad I was going to write about how he created the BIOHM Candida Report, he wanted to be able to not just talk about the kit, but Candida more generally, as people have a lot of questions about it that he wanted to answer.
So with that, I sat down to learn all about Candida with Dr. Ghannoum, the scientist who named the mycobiome:
What should people know about Candida infection?
Before I talk about Candida infection, I’d like to take a step back. When people hear the term Candida, they automatically think of it negatively, and that’s really something I’d like to take a moment to address. It’s actually quite normal to have Candida in the gut, and it’s very commonly found in about 70% of the population. So even when you have a normal healthy gut, it’s more than likely that you’ll have Candida in your gut.
In fact, having a diverse population of a wide variety of bacterial and fungal species, including Candida, is very highly associated with being healthy. So having Candida in your gut is not in and of itself a cause for concern. It actually appears that Candida species, when kept in check, are productive members of your gut’s microbiome.
Dr. Mahmoud Ghannoum Candida Tropicalis in the gut surrounded by small bacteria
Problems usually only start to arise when that diverse ecosystem in your gut is disturbed. That’s when we start to see a whole host of health issues related to microbiome imbalance, ranging from pretty common digestive issues like bloating, diarrhea, abdominal pain, heartburn, and acid reflux, to more serious issues like difficulty swallowing, vomiting, and altered taste.
While microbiome diversity can be disturbed in a number of ways, two of the main ways it can occur are after someone has been put on antibiotics, or if their immune system has been run down.
We are still learning exactly why the diversity in your microbiome is so important, but it seems to indicate that when you wipe out a whole range of bacteria you allow certain, what we call “opportunistic pathogens,” like Candida, to take advantage of the lack of diversity, and spiral out of control. That Candida overgrowth can then lead to Candida infection (which is technically called Candidiasis). One additional point is that Candidiasis is the most common form of fungal infection.
How does Candida impact your health?
Once Candida overgrowth and infection start to take place, there are a variety of different ways it can impact your health that fall into two different categories.
The first are issues that you internally experience, such as digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and other symptoms described above. The second are physical manifestations, with oral Candida infection (known as thrush) and inflammation of the esophagus (known as esophagitis) being the most common.
On the extreme end, you can end up with widespread Candida infection where fungus can cross the gut/intestinal wall and disseminate through the bloodstream and into a variety of organs, particularly the kidney. However, that level of infection is highly unusual in otherwise healthy people.
As you can see, Candida overgrowth, if left unchecked, can have a tremendous impact on your health and wellness in a wide variety of ways.
What are some of the signs of Candida overgrowth?
Some of the things you might notice are: chronic fatigue, ongoing digestive issues such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain, and just an overall feeling that you’re “off.”
One signal to look out for is that these internal symptoms often hit after you’ve experienced an infectious-like illness, which suggests Candida may be the underlying cause.
You may also see physical signs, like white spots in your oral cavity, and experience soreness and pain in your mouth and even your esophagus (similar to the pain experienced from acid reflux).
Why is a product like The BIOHM Candida Report important to your health?
The reason it’s important is because the signs of Candida overgrowth and infection are often quite similar to symptoms that are caused by other health issues. Many people often suspect they have Candida overgrowth, or are showing signs that appear to be related to Candida overgrowth, but it’s very hard, if not impossible, to positively know that Candida overgrowth is indeed the culprit, unless you actually confirm not only the types of Candida species that are present in your gut, but much more critically, the actual levels that are being found of each species.
How does the BIOHM Candida Report work?
It’s pretty simple. Once you order the BIOHM Candida Report, we send you a kit with everything you need. The kit includes a self-contained swab, that you use to take a pea size fecal sample off of toilet paper. You then place the self-contained swab in the sample envelope we include, that is self-addressed with postage already paid, and you drop it in the mail.
From there, your sample goes directly to our labs, where we analyze the sample. Once analysis is completed, we generate a report that will show you two things: First, the various pathogenic Candida species that are present in your gut. Second, you will see the specific levels of each of those Candida species. Along with the report, you will also receive a guide that explains the significance of each Candida species found in your gut.
Why did you create the testing kit?
I created the BIOHM Candida Report because that’s what our consumers were telling me they wanted. While we were already offering comprehensive microbiome sequencing through the BIOHM Gut Report, we had a substantial amount of people reaching out and asking for a test that would delve more deeply into analyzing the levels of Candida in their digestive tract. So we created it, and the response has been tremendous.
Who should be using this test?
I think anyone who suspects they may be dealing with Candida overgrowth would find the BIOHM Candida Report highly insightful. As I previously mentioned, it’s not often black and white as to whether you’re dealing with Candida overgrowth or infection, since many of the symptoms you can experience from Candida overgrowth, can be related to a variety of other health issues. By using The BIOHM Candida Report, you replace suspicions of an issue, with actual data, giving you actionable insights regarding the Candida (or lack thereof) in your gut.
What are the treatments and remedies for Candida overgrowth?
It depends on the extent of overgrowth you’re talking about. If you’re dealing with slight overgrowth, it may be as simple as working to optimize the diversity of your gut’s microbiome through lifestyle choices that are known to impact the gut’s microbiome balance, such as improving your diet, lowering your stress, supplementing your diet with probiotics and prebiotics and lowering your intake of alcohol (or at least switching to red wine, which has been associated with improving the growth of good gut organisms).
However, if you’re dealing with substantial Candida overgrowth, or actual Candidiasis, your physician would likely prescribe an antifungal medication, often nystatin or fluconazole, depending on the person.
Why is gut health so important?
It’s almost easier to ask, why is gut health not important? The science continues to demonstrate that the health of our gut is tied to our overall health in so many ways. I truly believe that the genesis of our health and wellness begins and ends with the health of our gut. You can see that by just talking about Candida, and how overgrowth in the gut can end up impacting your health in so many different ways. It’s a perfect example to illustrate how connected gut health is to everything else in our body.
Is there anything else you’d like to add about The BIOHM Candida Report?
I always like to point out that all of BIOHM's testing is performed at the exact same labs I use to perform microbiome research ranging from my National Institutes of Health funded studies, to work I’ve done for the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world over the last twenty years. In that time, and in these very labs, we’ve been able to make critical contributions to microbiome science, such as my team’s discovery of the fungal community of the mouth, where we identified 101 different species of fungi (leading me to coin the term, the “mycobiome”), and our discovery that disease-causing bacteria and fungi actually work together in the gut to protect each other, with potentially devastating ramifications for people suffering from Crohn’s disease. So I take pride in the fact that when people use the BIOHM Candida Report, they are getting access to an incredibly sophisticated lab and team doing some of the most important microbiome research in the world.
Lastly, I can truly say that while I’ve built my career around studying all types of medically important fungi, my research passion has been, and always will be around Candida. In fact, forty years ago my PhD thesis was actually on Candida. I hope to be studying it for another forty years!
Last question, can I have $20?
I don’t have any cash, and I need to pay for parking downstairs. Get out of here! I love you but I’m not giving you any money! Love you dad! I love you too, but I’m not giving you $20!
BIOHM is the first company to engineer products and services around the critical role of fungi in digestive health.