Is Candida the Culprit?
You may have heard the term “candida overgrowth” pop up in recent years as the source of health problems ranging from chronic yeast infections to irritable bowel syndrome. It’s easy to tell candida overgrowth isn’t something you want brewing in your body, but what exactly is candida, and what does an overgrowth feel like?
Candida albicans are actually a class of opportunistic fungi that feed on sugar and other yeast-containing foods. Candida can rear its ugly head in several ways in your body – gum disease, bad breath, yeast infections, skin discoloration, digestive issues – all of which are horribly uncomfortable. Although everybody enters the world with some candida living in the intestinal tract, it is when these yeasts become overgrown that they pose a problem.
Creating a Happy Internal Environment
Candida also have the potential to morph into fungi in the body, which often manifest as long, root-like structures that can lead to leaky gut and allow toxins to seep out into the bloodstream.
While healthy bacteria flourish in slightly alkaline environments, bad bacteria thrive when our insides become too acidic, often as a result of poor nutrition. The good news is, Candida overgrowth is a bacterial imbalance that can be corrected and treated naturally with the right diet and supplements.
What Causes Candida Overgrowth?
Taking probiotics regularly and avoiding refined sugars and carbohydrates can usually keep bad bacteria in check, but several factors can contribute to candida overgrowth, including:
- Excessive use of antibiotics or steroids
- Eating refined sugars and carbohydrates
- Drinking alcohol in excess
- Taking birth control pills
- Poor immune function
If you’ve been put on antibiotic therapy multiple times in your life, you are especially at risk for developing Candida overgrowth. Though conventional antibiotics do a good job of killing off bad bacteria, they also destroy good bacteria, causing what can be lasting damage to your gut.
What are the Symptoms?
- Fungal infections on skin and nails
- Digestive tract discomfort
- Chronic fatigue & mood swings
- Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections
- Cravings for sugary foods or carbohydrates
In addition to this long list of unpleasant symptoms, Candida overgrowth is also thought to actually trigger autoimmune disease in some cases, including gastrointestinal disorders like Irritable Bowl Syndrome (IBS) and Ulcerative Colitis. Meanwhile, obesity and diabetes can increase a person’s risk of developing a Candida overgrowth.
Nutritional Approaches to Curing Candida Overgrowth
While some people respond well to conventional antifungals like Diflucan, all candida suffers can benefit greatly from eliminating all sugar and refined carbohydrates for at least a few months and replenishing the body with candida-fighting nutrients. Women who suffer from chronic vaginal yeast infections in particular often experience high rates of recurrence, even after taking several rounds of conventional antifungals.
In recent years there have been several studies detailing the ability of several nutrients to kill candida and restore balance to the intestinal environment:
- Apple Cider Vinegar (Liquid or Pill): Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is the most raw, organic, unfiltered form of vinegar on the market (distilled vinegars will not reap the same benefits). ACV adds live protein enzymes to the digestive tract, which alkalizes the body, thereby creating the perfect environment for healthy bacteria to flourish (our marketing manager swears by this stuff!).
- Probiotics: Probiotics help tip the balance in favor of healthy bacteria in the gut and suppress the growth of excessive yeast. Dr. Rodier recommends taking between 1 and 10 probiotics on an empty stomach spread throughout the day in order to repair the gut flora. Studies have shown that probiotics are especially good at fighting chronic yeast infections in women. A recent study also found probiotics to be an effective strategy for reducing candida colonization in children on antibiotic therapy.
- Fish Oil: A 2010 study from the University of Kansas found omega-3 fatty acids to be effective at inhibiting oral fungal and bacterial infections, including those caused by Candida albicans. Omega-3 fatty acids are thought to stimulate candida death while preventing the fungus from destroying cells.
- Pau D’Arco: This South American herb contains several antifungal agents, the most potent being lapachol. A 2007 study on this particular antifungal compound found that lapachol fights candida by interacting with the cellular membrane and suppressing cellular respiration in bad bacterial cells.
- Olive Leaf Extract: Olive leaf extract contains oleuropein, a powerful healer of microbial infections with strong antioxidant ability. It is thought to stimulate the immune system, stabilize blood sugar, and fight unwanted invaders like candida.
- B Vitamins: Candida sufferers are often deficient in vitamin B-12, which is produced in the intestines by healthy bacteria. B vitamins are essential for all immune functions and enzymatic reactions.
Eliminating Candida with Proper Diet
We know cutting our sugar, refined carbs, and alcohol is no easy task this time of year, but it may be just what you need to reclaim your health. And as Dr. Rodier says, “If you’re not willing to make a change, you’re not suffering enough yet.”
By cutting out refined carbohydrates, sugars, alcohol, and all fermented foods that contain sugar or dairy, you essentially cut off the food supply to the yeast. Yogurt, kefir, and other dairy-based fermented foods (as well as kombucha) are unfortunately not good for candida overgrowth because they contain sugars, which the candida bacteria feed on. In severe cases, some people even need to restrict fruit consumption to starve the candida completely. Other fermented foods like kim chi and sauerkraut are fine to consume when dealing with candida.
As the sugar-demanding microbes die off, junk food cravings will diminish. Once the overgrowth clears up, reintroduce foods one a time while testing for reactivity.