Fungi are a unique collection of single-cell and multicellular organisms that have their own kingdom, separate from the plant and animal kingdoms. Mycology is the dedicated field of study for fungi, concerned with discovering new species, as well as classifying which fungi are helpful and which ones are dangerous for humans.
What makes fungi unique is their combination of plant and animal characteristics. Fungi cannot produce their own food and must obtain it from their surroundings, just like animals.1 Plants make their own food through photosynthesis.
In contrast, fungi have a cell wall similar to plants. It performs important functions, such as nutrient absorption, protection from the environment, as well as defining the actual shape of the fungi. Animals only have cell membranes.2
You can find fungi everywhere, and they come in many forms. Examples include mushrooms and truffles, which are culinary ingredients used around the world.3 Another popular type of fungi used for culinary purposes is yeast.
Why You Should Pay Attention to Yeast in Particular
Yeasts are microscopic single-celled organisms that are found in the soil and water all over the world, and even in small, harmless numbers inside you. They are lemon-shaped and are about the same size as your red blood cells.4
One example of yeast used in cooking is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It's used to make baker's yeast, allowing the production of leavened bread.5 To make 1 gram of baker's yeast, you need around 30 billion yeast cells.6
Budding is the method of reproduction of yeasts. A small yeast bud grows on the edge of a parent yeast cell and breaks off, becoming a parent yeast cell itself. On average, a yeast bud splits between 12 to 15 times before it stops spreading.7
Out of the different types of fungi, yeast usually gets the spotlight because it has different uses. But beware: Not all yeasts are actually beneficial.
Learn More About Yeast and the Infection It Causes
Having too much of a particular type of yeast can cause yeast infection, one of the most common forms of fungal infection around the world. The medical term for the disease is candidiasis, which is taken from Candida, the species of yeast responsible for the infection.
According to Fungal Infection Trust, at least 70 percent of premenopausal women develop yeast infection once at some point in their lives, while 75 million women experience repeat attacks. Oral candidiasis, on the other hand, affects 9.5 million people worldwide.8
Yeast infection typically affects the female reproductive organs, because a small number of Candida is normally found there. For men, there's a small chance they may get a yeast infection if they have sexual intercourse with an infected partner. Since yeast feeds on sugar, patients with diabetes tend to be more susceptible to the disease.
Telltale symptoms of a yeast infection in women include vaginal discharge, rashes and itching in the vaginal area and a burning sensation during urination. In men, penile discharge may occur, along with inflammation and irritation of the penis. In oral candidiasis, which affects both men and women, white spots appear, and may be accompanied by sore throat.
Conventional treatment for yeast infection usually involves the use of antifungal creams, but home remedies may be useful as well. Apple cider vinegar is known to be helpful in relieving symptoms,9 as well as tea tree oil.10
In this guide, you'll learn all about yeast infection: from its causes to its symptoms, and steps you can take to prevent repeat attacks.