Beauty and the yeast
This particular topic is very important to me, because I have personally suffered from Candida for my entire life. My battle dates back all the way to my conception and my mother also struggling with Candida. Unfortunately, back then, there were very few doctors who recognized Candida as anything more than an occasional vaginal yeast infection, so there was very little help for my mom. As a result, she was very ill when she gave birth to me, and this paved the way for an imbalance in my immune system and my microbiome. My gut was not happy from day one, and breastmilk led to over 6 months of being colicky. From then on I started getting thrush (oral Candida) in my mouth once or twice a year until my mid 20s. Throughout my childhood, I never had the same level of energy as my friends, I was plagued with frequent urinary tract and vaginal yeast infections, I was sensitive to chemicals and pharmaceuticals, I was always bloated, I craved carbohydrates like a heroin addict, and my weight was always steadily increasing.
I share this story with you, because I want you to know that I feel your pain. I started my first Candida cleanse at age 17, and there isn’t an antifungal out there that I haven’t tried. I have starved myself of every food that I love for years, and tried everything that holistic and conventional medicine has to offer. I have experienced more ups and downs than I can count, and I truly know what it feels like to experience hopelessness. To this day, I am still battling Candida, and I have had to come to terms with the possibility that I might struggle with it for the rest of my life. My case is fairly unique however, because there seems to be some sort of genetic component involved that science has not yet discovered. No matter how long I stick with a Candida diet, it never completely goes away. The moment I let loose for a holiday party, I feel like I am right back to square one. It is frustrating to say the least, but without this experience, I would have never been drawn to becoming a naturopathic doctor. Just another reminder that everything happens for some sort of reason even if we can’t understand what that reason is in the moment. That being said, regardless of my own experience, I have been able to help many other people overcome their Candida. For the vast majority, some basic lifestyle changes combined with some natural therapies is typically enough to leave you feeling much better in no time at all.
So what is candida?
Candidiasis is a yeast infection that commonly affects the skin, mouth, esophagus, gastrointestinal tract, vagina, and vascular system of humans. The most common species responsible for these infections is Candida albicans. However, there are over 20 different species of Candida, all of which can lead to a yeast infection. Additional species you may have heard of are C. glabrata, C. parapsilosis, C. tropicalis, C, krusei, and C. auris. Candida species belong to the normal microbes of the human microbiome, but in small numbers. When the environment shifts, the yeast can overgrow and change resulting in an infection. This typically occurs in individuals whose immune system has been compromised in one way or another. Candida of the mouth is referred to as thrush, Candida of the intestines is often called dysbiosis, and Candida of the bloodstream is commonly called invasive candidiasis.
Common Candida Symptoms
- Chronic fatigue
- Vaginal yeast infections
- Urinary tract infections
- Mood disorders (anxiety, depression, irritability, OCD)
- Brain fog
- Sinus infections
- Toenail fungus
- Digestive problems (bloating, gas, burping, diarrhea, constipation)
- Sugar cravings
- Poor sleep
- Low libido
- White coating on tongue
- Joint pain
- Bad breath and body odor
What causes Candida?
As I previously mentioned, in order for Candida to overgrow, the environment has to be suitable for it to flourish. What most people don’t realize is that Candida only causes harm when it has transformed from its yeast form into a hyphal or fungal form. The presence of both yeast and hyphal cells is what allows for the development of biofilms. What causes this transformation is a little more confusing, and a hot topic for debate these days. For most of my life I was taught that Candida was the result of the pH of my body shifting towards acidity. Today if you search the internet you will find new information saying that Candida actually prefers an alkaline environment. The study most commonly being referenced right now can be found here, in case you want to read up on it yourself.
Here is my take on the situation. In comparison to bacteria, yeast are capable of surviving in a wide range of pH conditions. This includes ranges below 2.0 (very acidic) and above 10.0 (very alkaline). Bacteria on the other hand tend to prefer a neutral or slightly alkaline environment. Even though there are exceptions to this rule on both sides, when it comes to microbiology, fungi (yeast) are generally considered more acid loving compared to bacteria. When you look at a pH food chart, you will notice that most of the food over consumed by the average American today is on the acidic side. This means that we are creating an environment in our body that is more optimal for yeast than it is for bacteria. When you combine a more acidic environment with the overuse of antibiotics, the result is a decrease in good bacterial levels. This is a bad thing, because the abundance and diversity of bacteria is what keeps the yeast in check.
In the article mentioned above, they show that C. albicans has a remarkable ability to alter extracellular pH, creating a neutral environment from either acidic or alkaline starting conditions. They also demonstrate that a shift from an acidic environment back towards neutral or alkaline triggers the yeast cells to transform into hyphal cells. Because of this statement, some groups have concluded that this means people should consume more acidic foods in order to kill Candida or revert the hyphal cells back to yeast cells. Others are trying to say that fungus thriving in an acidic environment is simply a myth. In my opinion, both arguments are oversimplifying a very complex phenomenon that we still don’t fully understand. I will say that growing yeast in test trays is very different from examining yeast in the human body. You can’t ignore the effect that our immune system and microbiome likely have on overall yeast behavior.
It is true that our bloodstream tends to be slightly alkaline at a pH of 7.4, and that portions of our digestive system, like the stomach, need to be much more acidic. It is true that the average diet and lifestyle has also led to there being an underproduction of acid in the stomach, which is raising the pH and leading to poor digestion. It is also true that some of the bacteria found in our digestive system are responsible for creating acidic by products, and when they are killed off due to poor diet and antibiotics, then less of these acidic by products are being made. In addition, there are many acidic compounds that are used to treat Candida due to their antifungal properties. These concepts could easily lead someone to the conclusion that acid is good, and we should therefore make our bodies more acidic in order to avoid a fungal overgrowth. It’s just not quite as simple as that.
The real solution is to heal the gut by repopulating the digestive tract with good microbes, repairing the lining of the gut so that proper digestive processes resume, and restoring acidity in the stomach and alkalinity in the bloodstream. Eating lots of alkaline foods will help to accomplish this because most alkaline foods are also very nutrient rich. The nutrition in these foods feed your good bacteria and provide the cells in your body with everything they need for repair themselves and function optimally. They also help maintain a strong immune system, which is very important for fighting infections. If everyone lived a life that focused more on plant based eating and stress reduction, then many of the health problems we are plagued with today would disappear. That being said, I can confidently say that the following is a list of contributors to the development of candidiasis.
1. Antibiotics – As I mentioned previously, antibiotics contribute to killing off the good bacteria in your digestive tract. You need this good bacteria to keep the yeast in your body in check so that it can’t over grow.
2. Oral Corticosteroids – The action of steroids is to suppress your immune system. However, when you shut down your immune system, you are also taking away your body’s natural defense against the yeast. Yeast is considered an opportunistic infection, which means it is the problem child in your body that loves to get in trouble when parents are no longer around to regulate.
3. Chemotherapy & Radiation – Similarly to steroids, chemotherapy and radiation greatly weaken the immune system. Once again this provides an opportunity for the yeast to flourish.
4. Stress – Stress is very damaging to the body in many ways. It throws hormones out of balance, suppresses the immune system, and increases inflammation. All of this leads to the body being unable to adequately fight off infections.
5. Poor Diet – Yeast loves sugar, so a diet full of simple carbohydrates means lots of fuel for the fungus. This means that you should try to avoid alcohol, sweets, refined grains, fruit juices, and starchy foods like potatoes and corn.
6. Diabetes – With diabetes, there is more sugar floating around in the body. With excess sugar not being used properly, there is more opportunity for the yeast to get fed.
7. Weak Immune Function – Any situation that leads to a compromised immune system results in a greater risk of Candida overgrowth. This can include autoimmune disorders, HIV/AIDS, cancer, babies, elderly, burn victims, and other chronically ill or severely injured individuals.
8. Excess estrogen – Using oral contraceptive pills can increase the risk of Candida, because estrogen has been shown to initiate the shift from yeast cells to hyphal cells as well. This also means that other conditions that result in excess estrogen can also encourage the growth of Candida.
Biofilms and antifungal resistance
I mentioned earlier that yeast are generally harmless until they transform into hyphal cells and then form biofilms. So what are biofilms? They are a highly organized assembly of microorganisms that create a structure surrounded by an extracellular matrix which is then adhered to a surface. When I think about biofilms, I image a wasp hive. All of the wasps are protected from the outside environment while inside their hive, and those wasps are not going anyway unless you figure out how to break open the hive. The same goes for Candida biofilms. The ability to develop biofilms is the number one reason why it can be so challenging to eliminate a Candida infection, and why we are seeing a greater resistance to antifungal treatments. Biofilms basically act like a protective barrier for the Candida to flourish. This means that every anti-Candida protocol should include methods for breaking open the biofilms for it to be successful. Biofilms are also one of the reasons why it can be challenging to definitively test for Candida. Unless the sample contains some of the contents of the biofilms, the results might indicate that there is no abnormal yeast growth even though there is.
How to test for Candida
There are a few tests that can help detect Candida, but they should never be relied on as the final say. As I mentioned above, biofilms can make testing for Candida very challenging. This is why naturopathic medicine relies on a full history of the patient, symptoms, lifestyle, and tests to create a diagnosis. For the most part, the following tests need to be ordered by a doctor. This is more beneficial to you as well, because they will help you analyze the results, and provide you with an appropriately tailored treatment protocol.
1. Blood – A laboratory can test a sample of blood to see if it grows Candida in a culture. The test would be positive for invasive Candida in the bloodstream if growth occurs.
A blood sample can also be tested for the DNA of the top 5 most common species of Candida. This is called a PCR test. If the DNA of these Candida species is detected, then it is considered a positive test for invasive Candida.
Blood can also be sent to a laboratory to have it tested for Candida albican antibodies IgM, IgG, and IgA. This test is used to detect Candida antibodies the body may have developed in response to a Candida infection. Generally a positive IgM result would indicate a current infection, a positive IgG result would indicate a past infection, and a positive IgA result could indicate a mucosal surface infection such as the mouth, vagina, or intestines. Once again, this test is for Candida albican antibodies only, meaning that any other yeast species you may be infected by will not show up as a positive. If the immune system is also very compromised and overall antibody levels are low, the results of this test might not be accurate.
2. Stool – There are many labs that can perform a stool analysis. This is where they take a sample of your stool and see if it grows in a culture. If it comes back positive, it only indicates overgrowth in the intestines.
3. Urine – There is a test called organic acids, which examines your urine for waste products left behind by yeast. It is not specific to the exact yeast species creating the waste products, only whether or not there is an overgrowth of yeast in general.
How to eliminate candida
The candida diet
We know for a fact that yeast loves sugar. This is why sugar is always an ingredient in bread, because the yeast won’t rise to create fluffy bread unless it is fed sugar. Watch this short science experiment to see just how much yeast loves sugar. The expansion that is occurring with the balloons is the same thing going on inside your intestines. This is why you feel so bloated and miserable every time you eat carbohydrates.
Foods that promote candida overgrowth
After being a victim of self torture, where I have forced myself to endure many different radical diets in my life, I have come to appreciate the meaning of balance. It is only when we find ourselves in a lifestyle of imbalance, that we end of having health problems. I say all of this, because I no longer believe that you have to have a super strict diet in order to overcome Candida. This doesn’t mean that you can continue to eat sweets and processed foods every day and discover health, but it does mean that you won’t have to starve yourself. The following list of foods are known to promote the growth of Candida, but some of them much more so than others. The only items I feel are important to completely eliminate while you are healing are alcohol, sugar and sweets, fruit juices, and wheat and other refined grains. The other items in the list can be consumed in moderation (a cup a day) because they also contain fiber and other nutrients that are very healthy for the body. Some studies have shown that putting the body in a state of ketosis can also cause Candida to flourish. This is why it is important to have balance with the foods that you eat. Consuming small amounts of whole complex carbohydrates like sweet potatoes (with the skin), starchy vegetables, wild rice, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, and oats will ensure that your body stays nourished while you are trying to heal.
1. Sugar of any kind – After watching the above video, I think you can understand the importance of avoiding all sugar. Even though fake sugars like Splenda, Equal, and Sweet N Low don’t actually contain sugar, they need to be avoided as well. They are basically toxins for the body. Stevia and monk fruit are the only sweetners that I allow on my protocol. Both of these are naturally derived from plants. Some people are sensitive to stevia though, so only you can be the judge on what works for you.
2. Alcohol – Alcohol is not helpful while you are suffering from Candida for numerous reasons. No matter how much we may enjoy alcohol as a coping mechanism for the various stresses of life, alcohol is basically poison to the body. Processing the alcohol places a stress on both the liver and the immune system. In order to effectively fight Candida, you need your immune system to be strong, and your liver to be working optimally. Alcohol also interferes with the quality of your sleep. It is a depressant, which initially helps you fall asleep, but then in the middle of the night when the effects wear off, your body has a rebound effect of too much adrenaline. This throws your circadian rhythm off, and without quality sleep your immune system can’t repair itself. Most alcoholic beverages also contain a lot of sugar, which will feed the yeast in your body. It can also throw your blood sugar levels out of balance resulting in hypoglycemia. During these times cravings get stronger, and you will likely eat something that you shouldn’t be while trying to eliminate Candida.
3. Bread and refined grains – Any raised bread such as sandwich loafs, french bread, pizza crusts, bagels, etc. have yeast and sugar in them. These should be avoided during your healing process. Grains are also a complex carbohydrate that get broken down to sugar in the body, and can also lead to food for the yeast. Our modern grains today are also highly processed lacking most of the beneficial fiber. They have also been genetically modified and hybridized resulting in changes to their structure. The new structure leads to an increase in inflammation in the body. More inflammation means a weakened immune system and less ability to defend your body against the yeast. Whole grains like wild rice, millet, buckwheat, and oats can be consumed in moderation.
4. Dairy – Most dairy you find in the store is pasteurized and homogenized. This means that it has been heated, and the structure has been changed. The final product is lacking all of the healthy enzymes and vitamins. Milk should definitely be avoided during your recovery, because it contains a lot of lactose, which is a sugar that can feed the yeast. This is the reason why dairy milk is the easiest to grow cultures in. Modern dairy, similarly to modern grains also contributes to inflammation in the body. For individuals who are really sensitive and weakened, avoiding all dairy is necessary. The only dairy I personally promote is organic pasture raised RAW dairy, and even then, it won’t work for everyone.
5. Dried fruit and fruit juices – Dried fruit and fruit juices are loaded with sugar. You can’t expect to have a winning chance against Candida if you are feeding it through the whole process.
6. Starchy vegetables – Starchy vegetables also contain a lot of sugar, but good fiber as well. These include corn, potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, and most squash. It’s not that these foods aren’t good for you, because they are. They just need to be minimized during the time that you are trying to fight back the Candida overgrowth. Focus more on eating leafy greens, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, zucchini, brussel sprouts, and asparagus.
7. Beans – Legumes aka beans are excellent for feeding the good bacteria in your body, but they also contain a lot of sugar in them. Temporarily limiting them is important until yeast levels have been lowered. Then adding these items back in will help you improve your microbiome.
8. Fermented foods – No matter what I say here, there will be people who disagree with me. It is true that fermented foods are really good for you, because they contain a lot of enzymes and probiotics. However, I believe that fermented foods can aggravate the symptoms of a person dealing with Candida. I have experienced this multiple times in my own situation. I am particularly sensitive to Kombucha. After a few sips, I am just as bloated as I would be if I ate a donut. Once again, the avoidance of these foods is only temporary. Once the yeast has been pushed back, you should add fermented food back into your diet, because it will help to repopulate your gut with good microbes.
Foods to enjoy on a Candida Diet
1. Coconut oil – Coconut oil possesses natural antifungal properties. It also has a higher smoke point that many other oils, making it an excellent choice for cooking with.
2. Fresh herbs – Many different herbs contain antimicrobial components to them. It is literally the medicine that mother nature provides us with. Try buying fresh organic thyme, basil, oregano, chives, and parsley and add them into your daily meals.
3. Garlic – Garlic is a very potent antifungal food. There is not a single dish that I eat most days that doesn’t include garlic. It is strongest in its raw form, so I eat a lot of Majestic Garlic with vegetables and seed crackers.
4. Green vegetables – Eating lots of vegetables is a great way of getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients that your body needs. If your body is properly nourished, then every system in your body will function optimally. This is especially important when it comes to the immune system and liver. They are both crucial in the battle against Candida.
5. Apple cider vinegar – Apple cider vinegar is the only vinegar that should be consumed on a Candida diet. This is because it is the only vinegar that possessed antifungal properties. All other vinegars are high in sugar content. The one that I really like and use is Bragg’s.
Supplements that fight off Candida
I am listing many of the supplements I have used to treat my own Candida. Just because there are many options, doesn’t mean you should try taking all of them at the same time. It is also important to be gentle with the body, so you should never try and over do it. Faster is not always better. Every Candida protocol should also include immune support, anti-inflammatory therapies, liver support, and binders for detoxification. I will also emphasize, that it is important to work with a holistic physician (naturopathic doctor, functional doctor, integrative doctor) in the treatment of Candida. Even though supplements are far less harmful when compared to pharmaceutical medications, they can still have consequences when not used properly.
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Candida die off aka Herxheimer reaction
Herxheimer reaction was the name given for an observation of symptoms that many patients displayed after being given heavy doses of medications. It is believed that this reaction occurs when the body is overloaded by the toxins being emitted from the killing of various pathogenic microbes (bacteria, yeast, viruses, parasites). When there are too many toxins for the body to eliminate them, then you start to experience symptoms associated with toxic overload. These symptoms include:
- Muscle Aches
- Brain Fog
- Skin Rashes
- GI Upset (diarrhea, constipation, bloating, cramping, nausea, vomiting)
Most people report a feeling of having the flu or some other bug that the body is trying to fight off. In general, you just end up feeling overall lethargic and ill. I used to think that experiencing die off was a good thing, because it meant I was killing my Candida. It is true that I was killing the Candida, but I was also hurting my body at the same time. If you weaken your body’s defenses while you are trying to heal, then your healing will take longer, and you will feel awful throughout the process. This is why I mentioned earlier that faster is not necessarily better. If you provide your body with all of the necessary building blocks that it needs to be healthy, it will naturally restore balance and heal on its own. This is why my current protocol against Candida involves building the immune system, restoring balance, and gently detoxing.
Affiliate Disclosure: In the spirit of full disclosure, there are affiliate links in this article, which means that I may get a commission if you decide to purchase any such product. I only recommend products and services that I use and love myself.