2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Dandruff, Fungi, and Cancer of the Pancreas

It’s an eye-catching title, I’ll admit. But the links are quite real and further research may guide medicine in new directions of cancer prevention and treatment.

It all starts in your gut microbiome, the totality of microorganisms–bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi–present in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, mouth to anus. Until recently, researchers and clinical physicians alike paid virtually no attention to the microbiome and the ways in which it contributes to health or disease.

Infectious disease specialists were interested in diseases of the microbiome (the various forms of diarrhea, for example), but no one ever talked about what it meant to have a healthy balance of bacteria in your gut. Probiotics, like supplements in general, were considered a scam.

Fungus among us
Ironically, the general public became aware of microbiome issues years before medical doctors. This came about partly due to a book written by a small-town general practitioner, William Crook, MD, called The Yeast Connection. He had noted a range of symptoms in people who had taken antibiotics for long periods and he attributed them to an overgrowth of a fungus, or yeast (not the yeast of bread, by the way), called Candida albicans.

It’s hard to describe the hostility of conventional physicians toward the book and Dr. Crook’s ideas. I’ve written several articles, including this one, about this pseudo-controversy. In some states, medical boards actually tried to encourage local legislatures to rescind the medical license of any physician who diagnosed candida overgrowth.

Even to this day, 33 years after the book was published, patients still encounter doctors who think Candida is a fad diagnosis connected somehow to chiropractors (probably because they were the first to take it seriously).

However, solid medical research has proven these Candida naysayers quite wrong. Mayo Clinic first reported Candida (and other fungi) as a cause of chronic sinusitis in 1999. Several studies during the past few years have linked Crohn’s disease (an inflammation of the intestine) with candida. In both situations, taking an antifungal and balancing the gut microbiome improved, and often healed, the conditions.

So how does cancer fit in to this?
A statistical analysis published in 2017 found that people with recurring Candida infections had a significantly higher incidence of all types of cancer than the general population. Why this should be so was not completely understood, but generally Candida infections occur in people with weaker-than-normal immune systems. It’s also pretty well accepted that a healthy microbiome generally reduces your cancer risks, especially for esophageal and colon cancers.

Dandruff, also called seborrheic dermatitis, affects a full 50% of all adults and is caused by a yeast-like fungus called Malassezia. While Malassezia is usually found spread over our entire bodies, it’s also one of the millions of species of microorganisms in our gut microbiome.

In a report published in last week’s Nature, researchers discovered Malassezia growing in the pancreatic cancers of lab mice and also in samples of human pancreatic cancers. Moreover, when given antifungal medication, the mouse cancers started shrinking, starting to grow again when the Malassezia was reintroduced into the pancreas.

This means intestinal Malassezia now joins Candida as a cancer risk. This research seems to have unearthed what might be responsible for pancreatic cancer, one of the most deadly cancers in humans. In the future, antifungals may actually be an important treatment.

An interesting sidelight: the best treatment for dandruff, or any of the skin fungal infections, is shampoo containing the element selenium (an ingredient in Selsun Blue). It works as an antifungal and, used regularly, will keep your dandruff at bay. In addition, selenium taken by mouth is a popular supplement, promoted as both an antioxidant and immune booster. Selenium is always listed among the top supplements to take if you have cancer, though there’s not much solid research on this.

Maybe, just maybe, oral selenium prevents/helps treat cancer not because it’s an antioxidant, but because it’s an antifungal.

Case history
This very important paper linking the dandruff fungus to pancreatic cancer reminded me of a patient I had years ago. He was a very healthy, middle-aged man who developed inflammation of his gallbladder while on vacation. What should have been a simple operation to remove his gallbladder went very badly and he spent a month in the hospital on high doses of intravenous antibiotics, with external drains from his liver and pancreas. That he survived at all was something of a miracle.

About three years later, he was diagnosed with cancer of the pancreas. This time, luck and surgical skill were on his side. The cancer was completely removed and he’s still very much alive today. He and I always felt that somehow the bungled gallbladder surgery set the stage for the pancreatic cancer, but none of the cancer specialists would acknowledge a link. We didn’t buy “just a coincidence.”

Now, years later, it all comes together. The antibiotics totally disrupted the balance of his microbiome, allowing overgrowth of both Candida and Malassezia. The multiple drains disrupted the natural anatomic barriers that protected his pancreas and it’s likely that copious amounts of Malassezia poured in, proliferated, and triggered the cancer growth.

Sorry for the length of this Health Tip, but if the New York Times can run a front-page story about the fungus-cancer link, so can I!

In the meantime, you’ll want to work mightily to maintain a healthy microbiome. If you need some help, review this Health Tip carefully. Then stop by our apothecary and we’ll get you started.

Be well,
David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. Patty says:

    Always insightful. Thanks for sharing the knowledge.

  2. Carol Steiner says:

    Is sour smelling armpits part of this fungus thing?

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Telemedicine – Now Available at WholeHealth Chicago

In order to maintain your continuity of care, WholeHealth Chicago now offers telemedicine appointments with most of our practitioners. During a telemedicine visit, you and your healthcare provider can review medical history, discuss symptoms, arrange for prescriptions, and more. When necessary, labs and diagnostic imaging can be ordered from a facility near your home, and our Natural Apothecary can ship supplements quickly to your door.

Please contact Patient Services for details and scheduling a telemedicine appointment, or to change a regular appointment to telemedicine by calling 773-296-6700.

We’re looking forward to meeting with you in our virtual consultation room soon.

DIAGNOSE-IT-YOURSELF: COVID-19

Far and away, the commonest phone call/e mail I receive asks about COVID-19 diagnosis.
Just print this out, tape it on your refrigerator door, and stay calm.

ALLERGIES

• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Red, swollen eyes
• Itchy eyes and nose
• Tickly throat
• No fever

COLD
• Runny nose
• Sneezing
• Sore throat
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild dry cough
• Rarely a low fever

STREP THROAT
• Painful sore throat
• Hurts to swallow
• Swollen glands in neck
• Fever

FLU (Standard seasonal flu)
• Fever
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Sudden onset over few hours
• Headache
• Sore throat
• Fatigue, sometimes quite severe
• Muscle aches, sometimes quite severe
• Rarely, diarrhea

CORONAVIRUS-COVID 19
• Shortness of breath
• Fever (usually above 100 degrees)
• Dry cough (no mucus)
• Slow onset (2-14 days)
• Mild muscle aches
• Mild fatigue
• Mild sneezing

Recent Health Tips

  • Michelle Obama: Thanks for Reminding Us We’re Not Alone

    You probably read last week that Michelle Obama acknowledged she’d been experiencing what she described as low-grade depression. You may have wondered aloud, as I did, how anyone who sees what’s going on in the world could avoid it. Many of us are feeling hopeless or anxious, ruminating about where this is all going, eating or sleeping poorly, and maybe drinking too much. Among other Read More

  • Covid-19 Worries

    You may have noticed fewer Health Tips about Covid-19 recently, which might have struck you as odd given our dreadful numbers here in the US. Well, there was a reason for this. WholeHealth Chicago was one of hundreds of health-oriented websites that were sent cease-and-desist warning letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) alleging widespread promotion and selling what they called “unproven therapies.” In other Read More

  • You Probably Don’t Need A Colonoscopy

    Quite often the patient sitting before me helpfully finishes my sentence. “Yeah, yeah, I know, I need a colonoscopy.” This happens in person or during a Telemed visit when I remark how they’re approaching (or recently turned) 50, 60, or beyond. Or they’re a few years beyond 50 or 60, and I genially ask, “Your colonoscopy current?” I do not willfully induce the stricken look Read More

Join our Discount Program

Member benefits include 10% off all your purchases. Low, one-time membership fee of $25 ($35 for family).

MORE INFORMATION

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!