This past week I have had a number of patients come in with the chief complaint of a flakey, itchy scalp. Most arrive thinking it is simple, persistent dandruff caused by a dry scalp but what most of them actually have is a case of yeast overgrowth on the scalp causing the itching.
Yeast can show up anywhere on your body that is prone to moisture. Some of the most common places are the feet, nails, and the scalp. The type of yeast that grows on the scalp and causes infection is called Candida. The good news is that candida is a natural bacteria created by the body. It doesn’t cause any harm or damage to your skin when it’s balanced out within your system. Concerns arise when too much of this yeast grows and builds up on your scalp.
What causes Candida overgrowth to occur?
Most of the time, the amount of yeast your body naturally produces is perfectly healthy. But, when your body’s pH balance gets thrown off, too much of that yeast can grow and combine with bacteria. That’s when candida occurs. Most factors that cause an overgrowth of yeast on your scalp have to do with your lifestyle.
Some of the most common causes include:
- A weakened immune system
- A diet high in sugar
- Consistent use of certain medications
- Excessive stress
All these causes can interact to create the perfect environment for the yeast to grow and thrive. Candida can grow in the digestive tract, mouth, vagina, or anywhere that the skin is moist. Eventually, that growth can affect the scalp and cause irritation, inflammation and itching
Common symptoms of yeast overgrowth:
- Buildup on the scalp that can fall off in large flakes or chunks
- Greasy lifeless hair, even after shampooing
- Difficulty concentrating
- Brain fog
- Craving for carbohydrates or sweets
- Skin issues like acne, rashes or irritation
- Hair loss
One of the more common types of yeast that affects the scalp is Malassezia. It is naturally found in the sebum and oil secretions of the skin and tends to cause itchy greasy patches with thick yellow or white scales (seborrheic dermatitis). Because Malassezia is isolated to the oil glands it doesn’t tend to cause any other internal symptoms.
How do we treat yeast overgrowth?
If your body is naturally producing too much yeast and it’s affecting your scalp, it’s probably affecting other areas also. One of the best ways to clear this up is by making some lifestyle changes.
- Dietary modifications to reduce yeast overgrowth:
- Avoid processed and refined sugars
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol intake
- Avoid overconsumption of fruit
- Increase dietary fat and protein
- Increase consumption of antifungal foods such as garlic, cloves, ginger root and coconut oil
- Find ways to manage your stress and increase joy in your life
- Switch to a shampoo and conditioner containing antifungal ingredients such as pyrithione zinc, salicylic acid, lavendar and/or tea tree oil
- Consult with a Naturopathic Doctor to learn whether antifungal supplements or herbs are appropriate to address your concerns
As you start to manage yeast and combat it’s overgrowth you may experience unpleasant temporary side effects caused by yeast die-off – headaches, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, acne, and/or dizziness. Luckily, if you persevere these symptoms should resolve within a week or two of treatment.