It is so common to have clients come in and say “I feel just awful but all my tests have come back normal”. Whilst they could have a number of different problems, often they are suffering from yeast overgrowth, or Candida.
This has become so widespread within the community with research suggesting that 90% of the population, men and women, may suffer from it. Many individuals regularly use fungal treatments when obvious symptoms flare up. But they are not addressing the problem at its source in the digestive tract and so the symptoms persist or recur. The yeast overgrowth leads to chronic systemic problems that leave them feeling exhausted with a variety of other seemingly unconnected symptoms, ranging from itchy throat to joint pains, or brain fog.
Candida albicans is a robust form of yeast normally present in our body. It can lead to fungal infections in the digestive tract, as well as the mouth, the vagina and on our skin. The presence of other friendly bacteria, normally keep it in check and hold it to levels that do not create problems for the immune system.
But many people’s gut bacteria are not in balance. When you have sufficient numbers of “good” bacteria they keep the candida bacteria in check. But when the numbers of good bacteria are diminished it allows the candida to grow and multiply rapidly until it overtakes the good bacteria, and causes a variety of chronic health problems in both women and men.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THERE IS TOO MUCH CANDIDA?
First the candida bacteria damages the lining of your intestines causing them to weaken and allowing toxins to pass through, which are then carried throughout your body. This is known as Leaky Gut. As well as spreading the toxins right through your body it leads to intolerances to many foods that were previously well tolerated such as dairy foods, eggs or gluten.
Next you start to crave sugars and carbohydrates more and more. Candida feeds on sugars both refined and unrefined. Carbohydrates break down in your gut into sugars and so are just as appealing to the candida bacteria as are simple sugars. As the numbers increase so does their need for food and so you seek out more of these types of food.
As the candida matabolises and then dies it creates 79 different toxins. These cause symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea or gas within the digestive system. As the toxins leak out of your gut, enter your bloodstream and are carried around your body they make you feel terrible. You may feel like you have the flu or even that you are drunk. As the numbers of candida increase the quantities of released toxins also increases.
Oral and vaginal thrush, or candidiasis, plus skin affections such as nappy (diaper) rash, are commonly recognized and treated with western medicine. However dysbiosis, where the candida has become so prolific in the intestines that it causes the wide-ranging symptoms throughout the entire body, is more controversial and often rejected by many doctors.
WHAT CAUSES THE PROBLEM?
Dysbiosis is thought to be created by a few things. Taking lots of antibiotics is considered one of the main things that can lead to this situation as many of the “good” bacteria are killed. Candida however is not affected by the antibiotics, and with fewer numbers of other bacteria left to maintain the balance, it is able to flourish and reproduce wildly.
The overuse of broad-spectrum antibiotics is most often the cause of the problem, particularly when the person has been on them for long periods to treat problems such as acne or sinus. But there are other medications that can also create the problem. Birth control pills are a perfect example of these medications. Taken for very long periods, often many years without a break, they has a strong bearing on gut bacteria, allowing the proliferation of Candida albicans. Commonly prescribed oral corticosteroids like prednisone, is another.
Other factors that increase susceptibility to dysbiosis are stress, lowered immune function, high-sugar diets, diabetes, and the hormonal changes in pregnancy.
When you remember that the command centre of the immune system is found in the gut it is obviously essential that significant problems in the intestines are addressed and turned around.
COMMON SYMPTOMS OF CANDIDA
The imbalance of intestinal bacteria, or flora, is often called dysbiosis. It leads to many symptoms including:
- Nail fungal infections, discolouration of toenails
- Skin fungal infections such as tinea, athlete’s foot, ringworm
- Chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Feeling tired, fatigued, worn down or exhausted
- Digestive problems – bloating, diarrhea/constipation, gas, new food sensitivities, spastic colon
- Autoimmune diseases including Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Ulcerative Colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, Multiple Sclerosis
- Muscle and joint aches
- Poor concentration, poor memory, disorientation, brain fog, lack of focus, dizziness, headache
- ADD or ADHD
- Skin problems – eczema, psoriasis, recurrent rashes
- Sinusitis, recurrent colds, chronic nasal congestion
- Mood swings, irritability
- Recurrent vaginal yeast infections, vulvar itching (women)
- Prostate and bladder infections (men)
- Rectal itching
- Urinary tract infections
- PMS, decreased libido
- Severe seasonal allergies, itchy ears
- Strong cravings for sugar and sweets or refined carbohydrates (bread, pasta, cake, cookies etc)
- Weight gain
HOW TO KNOW IF YOU DO HAVE CANDIDA
Candida can be measured with a blood test. Many natural health practitioners are able to test in their clinic, or a doctors can order a blood test to test for Candida Anti-bodies, or a stool test to identify candida in your colon. But make sure it is a comprehensive stool test, not a standard one.
HOW TO BEAT CANDIDA
A good way is to starve the candida out, and to use probiotics to repopulate the gut with the friendly bacteria that then keeps the candida in check. The damage to your intestines causing the leaky gut also needs to be repaired so any chemicals produced by the remaining candida can no longer travel through your body.
To starve the candida requires adhering to a strict diet for at least two months, although it can take longer. Candida flourish in the presence of sugars, refined and unrefined, and anything fermented. Foods such as sweets, soft drinks, most fresh, all dried and all juiced fruit, refined grains including bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, rice, or fermented foods like soy, alcohol and vinegar, create “candida heaven” in your intestines. Removing these from your diet and supplementing with probiotics to help repopulate the gut with “good bacteria” can starve out the candida and help to create balance between all the gut bacteria.
It can be quite difficult to maintain the diet, especially as our Western diet is based on sugar-rich refined foods. Many people baulk at the diet and give it away before it has killed sufficient candida to reduce their symptoms in the long-term. Although the diet does require commitment, when you consider just how far-reaching the effects of yeast overgrowth are, and the extent of its impact on your entire system, it seems worth the effort. The long term improvement in lifestyle as well as health makes it worth persevering.
Removing any foods that are causing inflammation in your digestive tract, such as dairy foods and gluten, will help your gut to heal and aid your digestion. Healing your gut stops the candida getting out and making its way right through your body. Reducing inflammation improves your overall health, helping to prevent chronic disease later.
Once you finish with the candida diet it is time to be pro-active with your diet. Introduce foods rich in good bacteria such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha tea and kefir (fermented milk). And don’t go back to eating lots of sweet or processed foods.
You require about 25-100 billion units of probiotics daily to start to balance out the candida by restoring the good bacteria. The variety needs to be Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus bifidus and saccharomyces boulardii (SB). The Lactobacillus varieties maintain the balance of friendly bacteria and the SB variety reduces the candida population by acidifying the contents of the intestine.
Eating yogurt alone will not replace a quality supplement.
Echinacea angustifolia boosts the immune system to battle yeast infections.
Garlic (Allium sativum) enhances immunity and research has shown that it reduces Candida albicans. Adding garlic to your diet is very useful in fighting candida.
Goldenseal may be effective for candida-related diarrhea.
Silymarin supports the liver, which may have reduced detoxification ability due to being compromised by the candida-related toxins. It enhances function and offers protection.
There are a number of herbs useful for treating candida and their effectiveness varies. This has led to some saying that different herbs must be used in cycles. In order to ensure you are taking the best antifungal for your needs, you would be better to use them under the care of a Natural Health practitioner.
Caprylic acid, a fatty acid has anti-fungal actions. It works by interfering with the cell walls of the fungus. Your body makes small amounts but it is also found in plants, particularly in coconut and palm oils. Although there is no clinical data available as to its effect on candida, it has been found to reduce the ability of the candida to grow and replicate.
An approach that incorporates change on all levels is far more effective than simply taking probiotics or changing your diet. Altering your lifestyle can make a big difference to the reappearance of yeast overgrowth.
Maintain an exercise program to support and enhance your immune system.
Reduce stress. Taking up meditation, yoga, qi gong or tai chi will help you deal with stress you cannot avoid.
Avoid commercial feminine hygiene products. Also, the perfumes in them can irritate the mucous membranes.
Eat yoghurt which is not sweetened and contains live cultures of acidophilus.
Increase fibre to maintain bowel habits to effectively eliminate toxins in the gut.
Avoid exposure to chemicals in paints, cleaning products, perfumes as chemical sensitivities are very common in those with overgrowth of yeast.
While western medicine has many strengths, it is natural therapies that shine when it comes to treating chronic illnesses. Two natural therapies are particularly useful in dealing with yeast overgrowth.
Homeopathic remedies can be selected to treat candida overgrowth, quickly reducing the associated symptoms, and at the same time building the immune system. They are also useful for dealing with associated food cravings for sweets. EFT (Emotional Freedom Technoque) is also great for stopping cravings.
Traditional Chinese Medicine combines acupuncture with Chinese herbs to clear the candida and strengthen the immune system.
For my clients I combine Homeopathic remedies with other natural therapies, the candida diet and probiotics. This combination addresses the symptoms and improves their general health, which has been undermined by the overgrowth. It also seems to speed up the process, and help with the symptoms that arise as the candida dies off.
HOW TO PREVENT FURTHER YEAST OVERGROWTH
To prevent yeast overgrowth avoid the use of antibiotics unnecessarily. If you do need to take antibiotics take probioics at the same time, and for about three weeks afterwards to rebuild friendly bacteria numbers. Avoid unnecessary steroid use. Rinse your mouth or nose after using a steroid inhaler or nasal sprays if you do use them. Consider your use of birth control pills, particularly if you use them continuously for long periods. Reduce the amount of sweet, refined carbohydrates and processed fermented foods in your diet.
Be aware that as large numbers of candida die off all at once they release significant toxins into the gut. These can cause a temporary return of symptoms such as bloating, pain or diarrhea, or general ‘flu-like’ symptoms. The symptoms pass as the waste toxins are removed.
Be careful about assuming that you have dysbiosis. Although it is quite common, and is often not diagnosed, the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions and problems. There is also quite a bit of misinformation about candida around and you need to be careful about diagnosing yourself from a book or the internet.
If you think you may have an overgrowth of candida consult with a Natural Health Practitioner. While you can make the necessary changes for yourself, this can be a very complex problem that can have extensive effects on your body, and one that is far better managed holistically by a practitioner. They will construct the best protocol for you and manage any difficulties you encounter along your way to overcoming this disorder and returning to better health.
All information and opinions presented here are for information purposes only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before following any of the treatment suggested on this site, particularly if you have an ongoing health issue.