Candida. Candidiasis. Yeast overgrowth. Fungal infection.
Whatever you want to call it, it's NO FUN when you've got it!
It's Summer...hot, sticky weather conditions and our bodies are such perfectly moist breeding grounds for all kinds of "critters". I've had a number of friends complaining of this particular condition lately, or at least trying to figure out if they've got it!
So what does a vacationing Nutritionist do when she's drunk a number of frosty beers (aka, yeasty, gluten-bombs), and eaten buckets of tortilla chips (grains!) while sitting around in a wet bathing suit down by the lake for several weeks?
Ok, that's my way of saying, minus the nose-crinkling details, that I've had a problem with yeast overgrowth, multiple times in the past 25 years.
In fact, we've all likely had it in some form or another, and some of us may not have even realized we had it!
Of course you're probably already thinking of that thick, white discharge, reminiscent of cottage cheese, that makes your va-jay-jay itchy & cranky. But that's not necessarily always one of the symptoms when this critter is in a state of overgrowth - and it's not just exclusive to women's southern parts either!
It's much more tricky & complex than that, so let me do my best to scratch out all of the details for you.
What is Candida-Yeast Overgrowth? (Candidiasis)
First off, a small amount of Candida yeast in the mouth, digestive tract and vagina is normal. It’s just part of our body's natural flora. However, when this organism decides that it’s party time, and blooms out of control - it can wreak havoc on your whole system!
Candida yeasts normally live on the skin and mucous membranes without causing infection; however, overgrowth of these organisms can cause symptoms to develop. Symptoms of candidiasis vary depending on the area of the body that is infected."
Candidiasis that develops in the mouth or throat is called thrush or oropharyngeal candidiasis. It can also travel down the esophagus. Breastfeeding babies are prone to thrush as are mother's nipples. Ouchy!
Babies are also prone to yeast in the diaper area, but it's not the same as the typical diaper rash on their bums.
Diaper rash caused by yeast is differentiated as one that appears red, raised, and patchy with sharp borders, mostly over the genitalia but with satellite spots sprinkled around the diaper area.
I remember with both of my kids, it was an especially red nasty rash that wouldn't go away with regular diaper cream but cleared up wonderfully with good 'ol vag cream - Canestan, Monistat or generic brands. Now I just always keep a tube of it on hand :-)
Speaking of... Candidiasis in and around the lady bits is commonly referred to as a yeast infection.
Gals, this is the one that you're most familiar with due to the intense itching, redness and sometimes a lovely aromatic discharge emanating from your hoo-ha like your own personal brewery. These are the hallmarks of this type of fungal infection. If you've never experienced one, I hope you never have to!
Invasive or systemic candidiasis occurs when a Candida species enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body.
Systemic candida is often the most serious type as it is difficult to get a handle on and has many possible symptoms, including:
- inability to lose weight
- alcohol intolerance (you get buzzed very easily)
- toenail fungal infections
- athlete's foot, jock itch
- severe abdominal bloating (looking pregnant by end of day)
- painful/itchy/red skin rashes (especially in body folds like boob-flaps & armpits)
- a feeling of brain fog or lack of mental clarity (even forgetting your usual routine)
This is the type of Candida overgrowth that we'll be mainly focusing on in this post. Take a look at the lengthy list of symptoms – and this is not even a comprehensive list of possible symptoms, just the more common ones.
For an interesting discussion on commonly overlooked symptoms of various gut bugs including Candida – listen to the Women’s Wellness Radio podcast with Dr. Andrea Maxim.
What Causes An Overgrowth of Candida albicans?
It’s normal for a certain amount of Candida to be in your body at any one time, but there are a number of predisposing factors that can cause it to grow out of control, as adapted from Whole Approach:
1) Destruction of the C. albicans' natural control mechanism: Broad-spectrum antibiotics (e.g. tetracycline) destroy the healthful bacteria, which control the Candida population. For example, Lactobacillus acidophilus competes with C. albicans for space and nutrients in the intestinal tract. It also releases acid, which makes the environment less favorable for Candida growth, and even feeds off of the Candida directly. When Lactobacillus acidophilus is attacked by antibiotics, Candida proliferates and can change to its pathogenic mycelial form.
After prolonged or frequent (more than 3 times in a year) broad-spectrum antibiotic use, Candidiasis symptoms may start to appear in a matter of months or even days and often linger for life if untreated, especially if one regularly consumes poultry, eggs, meats and/or milk since these usually contain antibiotics (and steroids, see #2 below).
Chemical preservatives in food also support Candida overgrowth, which includes most processed/ packaged foods.
2) Weakening of host defense mechanisms: A number of factors can compromise the effectiveness of the immune system that is responsible for eradicating invaders such as Candida. Lowered immunity may result from steroid drugs and cancer chemotherapeutic agents, both of which are immuno-suppressants. Prolonged illness, stress (all forms), alcohol abuse, smoking, lack of exercise, lack of rest and poor nutrition (see #4 below) are also key factors which tend to weaken the immune system.
3) Female anatomy: Women are generally more susceptible to Candidiasis than men for several reasons:
- Female hormonal levels are constantly fluctuating and sustained high levels of estrogen can occur. This condition tends to impair immune system function.
- C. albicans growth is stimulated by the female hormone progesterone. Its levels are elevated during pregnancy and in the second half of each menstrual cycle. Synthetic progestins are found in oral contraceptives and also contribute to candida overgrowth.
- The female anatomy lends itself to the ready migration of C. albicans from the rectum to the genito-urinary system. Vaginal yeast infections are a common result.
4) Poor diet establishes a breeding ground for Candida: The nutrient-poor, low-bulk, highly-refined carbohydrate diets of most North Americans will, over a period of years, transform a healthy large intestine into a lifeless pipe caked with layers of encrusted fecal matter. Which, in turn becomes the site of constant putrefaction, fermentation, rancidification, and is a home for toxin-inducing pathogenic bacteria, and an excellent environment for the proliferation of the mycelial tentacles of Candida.
A highly-refined carbohydrate diet serves as a very desirable food source for C. albicans which further entrenches it within the microscopic crevices of encrusted fecal matter. The small intestine, housing a more fluid chyme, does not become so caked with old fecal matter as it does with mucus. This also encourages Candida proliferation.
It has also been suggested that if you have been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue (CFS), Fibromyalgia (FMS), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic sinusitis, and/or you have recently taken antibiotics - especially lengthy or multiple courses, then you can suspect a concurrent Candida infection and should seek treatment. Of which, you can expect a 3-6 month treatment process for systemic infections.
How Do You Test For Candidiasis And Get A Diagnosis?
Here's the tricky part... diagnosis for oral thrush and vaginal yeast infections are generally easy because the symptoms are so distinct, but for a systemic infection it can be quite difficult as the symptoms are often plentiful, seemingly unrelated and can mimic so many other conditions!
If you're experiencing 3 or more of the above-mentioned symptoms or otherwise suspect a yeast overgrowth, consult your doctor or health practitioner for examination and possible testing.
Hormone Expert Dr. Chelsea Gronick ND notes that fatigue, brain fog and sugar cravings are the top 3 symptoms she sees with patients and she uses stool and organic acids urine testing in her naturopathic clinic in Kelowna BC.
However, if you're an impatient patient like me, and you simply want to take matters into your own hands, here's what you can do to establish a probable diagnosis and begin treatment of a systemic yeast infection...
A) Complete the Candida Questionnaire
The questionnaire was developed by Dr. William Crook - amended from TheCandidaDiet.com
A score of 10 or greater indicates that your health problems may be connected to a yeast overgrowth. A score of 13 or higher suggests that they are almost certainly yeast connected.
A score of 8 or greater indicates that your health problems may be connected to a yeast overgrowth. A score of 11 or higher suggests that they are almost certainly yeast connected.
B) Spit Test
First thing in the morning, before your feet hit the floor, spit generously into a clean glass of water and let it sit for 5 minutes. Observe the behavior of your spittle. If it does anything except float at the top - like sink or drop "legs" down, you can suspect Candida overgrowth.
C) White Tongue
As listed in the questionnaire... after you've done your spit test and before you drink anything or brush your teeth, go look in the mirror at your tongue. Does it have a white coating on it? If similar to this picture, you can suspect Candida overgrowth.
D) Laboratory Testing
Conventional medicine often only recognizes this condition in the most extreme cases, but Medical Doctors are becoming more open-minded and educated about it, so if you feel your Doc is on board with the investigation, then you can ask them to order blood & fecal tests.
Although be aware that these may only show positive results in extreme cases and may give negative results when you truly do have an overgrowth and are experiencing symptoms.
Obviously if you're a woman and you suspect a vaginal yeast infection, your Doctor can test for that. Although quite frankly, I'm more than aware when I have one and begin self-treatment right away!
E) Other Options
If still suspicious but unsure if you have Candidiasis after exploring the above 4 options, consider seeking out a Naturopath or other alternative health practitioner. They may use other forms of assessment such as electrodermal testing and the Organic Acids Test (OAT).
Ok, so you've established that you've got too much candida... now what do you do about it?
How to Treat Candidiasis or Candida-Yeast Overgrowth
Clean up your daily diet. This one is listed first because it is should be top priority as it may be what got you into this sticky mess in the first place ;-)
The best Candida treatment is to overhaul your diet. Candida grows exponentially in response to starchy carbohydrates, sugar and some fermented foods. So, it’s important to eat a whole foods diet that’s low especially low in sugar and refined carbohydrates. This means increasing your daily intake of leafy green vegetables, lean protein, herbal teas and water.
You can google 'Candida Diet' and you're going to get a hundred different protocols about how you should eat, and how you need to "starve" the Candida. Coming from my own personal experience - most of them are incredibly restrictive and some can be downright dangerous.
I’ve always been a bit skeptical about the usefulness of these particular diet protocols, so I asked Naturopath Dr. Chelsea Gronick if these so-called “Candida-starving diets” are necessary and effective. She says, “YES, but only when combined with other complementary protocols,” like these I’ve listed below.
Here are the basics where daily diet and fending off Candida is concerned:
• Eat less sugar... way less sugar, in all its forms including soda, fruit juices and even naturally-occurring fructose found in fruit. I would stick to whole fruit like berries & green apples. The one saving grace here is you can still enjoy small amounts of high-quality dark chocolate! 70% or more cacao and very low-sugar.
• Eat gobs of leafy greens and sulfur-rich foods like garlic, onions & most spices, even at breakfast!
• Eat less processed and packaged foods, and limit all starchy carbs (again, sugar!), especially corn and gluten-containing grains like wheat, rye, barley, spelt & kamut. I would simply stick to small portions of brown rice, buckwheat & quinoa, of which soaking & sprouting is preferable. Here’s a great grain, nut & seed soaking guide.
• Consider eliminating gluten and dairy entirely, which can lead to inflammation in the gut, which is a predisposing factor.
• Avoid fermented & moldy foods and yeast, with the exception of apple cider vinegar (unpasteurized, with the "mother" in it) and nutritional yeast (nooch is all good, baby).
Fermented foods would be vinegar & soy sauce, and moldy foods are mushrooms & peanuts.
• Drink less alcohol... way less alcohol! Especially beer & wine due to the fermentation and generally high sugar & yeast content.
Eat more fiber - way more fibre!
Support your liver & heal your gut
You can support your liver (and gallbladder) daily with supplements like N-acetyl cysteine, a-Lipoic acid and herbal extracts of turmeric (containing curcumin), milk thistle (containing silymarin), artichoke, dandelion and sarsaparilla, which all help to increase production of glutathione – considered the “mother of all antioxidants”.
Take Probiotics. Anti-biotics = anti/take away life. Pro-biotics = pro/give life.
I feel that everyone should be taking these whether you have a yeast overgrowth or not! I personally take 50 billion CFU - which is a more therapeutic dose. Look for a product that contains the important strain saccharomyces boulardii.
Use Proteolytic Enzymes. What are these you ask? A supplemental enzyme blend including nattokinase, that has the ability to break down the tough exterior wall and protective biofilm that surrounds the Candida albicans' cell. Some formulations will also include enzymes to break down sugars & starches which feed the Candida.
Anti-fungals. You can take singular ones like garlic bulb (active component = allicin), oregano oil, black walnut husk, berberine, pau d'arco, grapefruit seed extract, neem leaf, clove bud, and caprylic acid – a component found in coconut oil.
However, because Candida can become resistant to any one anti-fungal, rotating different ones or taking a broad-spectrum blend of anti-fungal & anti-bacterial herbal supplements like those that are considered as "candida cleanses" are probably the best bang for your buck! You may need to take these for several weeks to several months, depending on the severity of your overgrowth.
If you still find that you are unable to get your condition under control, you may need to seek out prescription anti-fungals like Diflucan or Nystatin.
I left this one for last as I really do feel it's best to try the natural treatment route for many non-life-threatening health conditions. However, it's your body and your health so do what you feel is best for you!
Now if you'll excuse me, it's time to take my natural anti-fungals and NOT wash them down with another frosty, yeasty gluten-bomb beer... which is so hard to resist on a hot summer's day ;-)
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This article originally appeared on Krista Goncales website.
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A former marine biologist, Krista is now a Certified Holistic Nutritionist (CHN) and Registered Nutritional Counselor (RNC) – a qualified practitioner who provides guidance for building and maintaining nutritional well-being.
Krista likes to say that she's having a culinary love affair with food and is captivated by how it fuels, nourishes and energizes us. She believes your food should work for you, not against you.
The mantra of “what you put in, is what you'll get out” supports her belief that real food, along with some high-quality supplements, can help heal us from many health conditions, or even prevent us from having certain ones in the first place - like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
With over 20 years of diverse professional teaching experience and a deep passion for promoting balanced, healthy living, she feels her contribution to the rapidly expanding and ever-evolving field of "functional health" is not only important, but incredibly rewarding.
Krista is also a women's health writer and you'll find her blogging regularly onMakingLemonade.ca ~ Empow(her)ed Health & Nutrition!