Ringworm is not a worm. I'm always surprised that many people don't know this. When I caught it from (I think) a yoga mat and told people, they'd get all squirmy until I explained that it's actually a fungus with an unfortunate name. Regardless, I wasn't all that chuffed about having a fungus either. It was so itchy. And not very attractive. And when topical meds didn't work, I had to take really strong drugs.
You can pick up ringworm, as well as common infections like athlete's foot, jock itch (ugh), nail and scalp infections and forms of candidiasis (yeast or thrush), at the gym and other places where people sweat and touch stuff.
The meds for these infections can be nasty, scary and hard on the liver.
While some fungal infections of the brain, heart, lungs and other organs can be serious and even life-threatening, the more common ones are rarely dangerous. But they can be painful and debilitating, not to mention gross.
Naturopaths talk a lot about candida overgrowth syndromes.
One person I know was told she has yeast in her entire body. (Sometimes I think one day my skeptical eyebrows will just shoot into my hairline and permanently disappear.)
Allopaths say there is no evidence of any such thing and that diet is not a contributing factor in these infections, while the other camp insists particular foods can create a hospitable environment for the 'shroomy beasties.
By the way, it turns out the plural of fungus, fungi, is pronounced "fun-jai" and not "fun-guy," as I always thought, which totally ruins that joke about the mushroom walking into a bar and ordering a beer and the bartender says, "Sorry, Mac, we don't serve your kind in here," and the mushroom says "Why not? I'm a fun-guy." Ba-dum-pum!
What the experts say
"If you're not in optimal health or your diet is high in processed sugars and foods, you're providing the opportunity for these pathogens to thrive. Clinically, we see many people with athlete's foot or jock itch, which can get quite bad if they eat those foods. As soon as we eliminate these and prescribe a simple diet with lots of garlic, ginger and oregano, these infections tend to clear up. They are easy to pick up at the gym, but the chances they'll spread in the body are increased [with a bad diet.] Probiotics like simple acidophilus are important. In a healthy gut, pathogenic parasites and fungus can't thrive. External use of tea tree or lavender oil is helpful."
SUSHMA SHAH, naturopath, Toronto
"Some fungi pass from person to person, others from animals to people, others from sources in the environment, fomites (solid, non-living objects), to people. Fungi go through a life cycle. In the environment they exist as spores. If a spore lands where the environment is favourable, it grows. If a spore of a fungus that can grow on the skin (a dermatophyte) lands on the skin, it will germinate. These can be on the body, the scalp, the groin, the feet. Each one is a different species. Yeast is also a fungus that we see most commonly in the mouth and vagina, where we call it thrush. There is a lot of controversy in naturopathic circles about candida overgrowth syndromes, but no evidence for these syndromes exists. Yes, yeast eats sugar, but it can't grow in high sugar. Garlic can be antibacterial in high concentrations, but it is not anti-yeast or anti-fungal."
SCOTT WALSH, dermatologist, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, Toronto
"I don't think there is a correlation between diet and these infections. Treatment options include Terbinafine, which contains allylamine; the azoles like Miconazole and Itraconazole; others, like Ciclopirox. No, I do not think acidophilus will help."
MAHMOUD GHANNOUM, director, Center for Medical Mycology, Cleveland, Ohio
"A recurrent infection requires aggressive treatment. That's where lifestyle becomes critical. I deal with sugar and yeast overgrowth and believe diet is a factor. Nail fungus is hard to get rid of no matter what you use. In certain situations, I might use drugs. As a natural treatment I use essential oils like oregano externally or keratolytics like salicylic acid. It depends on the individual as well as the type of infection."
ALAN DATTNER, holistic dermatologist, New York
"My research shows light-sensitivity in pretty much all fungi. There may be an application in terms of treatment for fungi that grow on the skin. Probably it will involve photosensitizing - putting a chemical on the skin that the fungus absorbs and then shining a light on it that will kill it immediately."
ALEXANDER IDNURM, assistant professor, school of biological sciences, University of Missouri, Kansas City