Your body is a host to many types of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. Some good, some not so good. One of the most common types of fungi in the body is candida albicans.
Perhaps you’ve heard of candida before, maybe in passing conversation or reading a health magazine, and dismissed it as another health buzzword. However, it may be time to pay attention because this opportunistic fungus could be quietly taking over your body! Candida, specifically candida albicans, is a yeast fungus that naturally resides in your body, usually without causing any harm.
Don’t let its benign presence fool you, though. When left unchecked—or when the conditions are right, this crafty organism can quickly overgrow, leading to a condition known as candidiasis, or candida overgrowth. This can wreak havoc on your health, causing symptoms ranging from digestive issues to depression. It’s not fun, and can be serious at times—especially those with a compromised or weakened immune system.
Candida has a unique ability to adapt and thrive in various areas of your body, including your mouth, digestive tract, skin or nails, vagina, and even your bloodstream. Its versatility and opportunistic ability to grow in dark moist places is what allows it to cause such a wide array of health problems.
Our immune system and healthy gut bacteria generally keep candida in check. However, candida is a very opportunistic type of yeast, so when conditions are optimal, it can turn into an uncomfortable overgrowth almost overnight. Conditions that encourage candida growth include:
- High carb, high sugar diet
- Broad spectrum antibiotics
- Food sensitivities/food allergies
- Alcohol—especially wine and beer
- Environmental allergies
- Weakened immune system
- Fighting off another illness
- Vegan diet
- Anemia and other nutritional deficiencies
- Oral contraceptives/the ‘Pill’
- Immunosuppressive drugs
- Being in warm, humid weather
- Mold infestation in home
- Artificial nails
Like a stealthy invader, Candida often slips under the radar because its symptoms are wide ranging and frequently mistaken for other health issues. In fact, many people live with candida overgrowth without even realizing it. How can you tell if this unpleasant guest has taken over your body?
Candida naturally ‘lives’ in the vagina and the digestive system. When one—or more of the conditions listed above are present, candida can quickly start multiplying—often in the gut and the vagina (for women).
Candida overgrowth affects energy levels, brain function, skin, digestion, and moods. Sufferers often report severe brain fog, fatigue, dizziness, joint pain, sinus infections, rashes and weakened immunity. None of this is surprising really, when you consider how closely your gut health is linked to every part of your body.
What Happens if I Have Candida Overgrowth?
1. Yeast Infections–For women, recurring vaginal yeast infections are a sign of candida overgrowth that often starts in the gut and spreads to the vaginal area. Symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection typically include redness, intense itching, pain during intercourse, thick white discharge, and ‘yeasty’ odor. Yeast infections in the vagina can be transmitted to your partner (men or women) as well. Yeast overgrowth can also occur in the mouth, causing thrush. Thrush causes painful red, raw patches in sensitive mouth tissues, as well as white patches of fungus, making it painful to eat or drink certain foods.
2. Extreme Fatigue–Candida can interfere with the way your body absorbs nutrients. Healthy bacteria in the gut help break down and metabolize food. Candida overgrowth slows this process down, and causes additional gut inflammation, leading to nutrient deficiencies. Candida overgrowth has been linked to low magnesium, iron, vitamin A, and vitamin B6. Low levels of these nutrients often lead to poor energy. People who have chronic fatigue syndrome may be suffering with a candida overgrowth.
3. Brain fog–Candida produces a toxin called acetaldehyde. This is the same toxin that comes from drinking alcohol (ethanol). Acetaldehyde is a known neurotoxin and carcinogenic as well. The toxic chemical that contributes to bad hangovers is the very same toxin released by the candida living in the gut. With a candida infection, you may feel like you have a bad hangover: foggy head, headache, can’t concentrate, extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating. Acetaldehyde also overloads the liver, making it work overtime. Candida infections can also cause moodiness, depression, and irritability.
4. Food sensitivities and digestive disorder–Yeast infections in the gut can cause leaky gut. Once candida is able to root down into your gut lining, it can create a “leaky gut” situation. Partially digested food particles then leak into the bloodstream, causing inflammation and a weakened immune system. This leaky gut condition then creates increased reactions to many foods, nutrient deficiencies, bloating, gas, indigestion, constipation, or diarrhea.
5. Cravings for starchy sugary foods–Candida living in the gut can influence the body to send signals to the brain and cause you to crave the very foods that candida yeasts feed on—sugary, starchy foods. The best thing to do is to avoid all foods with any added sugar, all grains and grain products, fruit, wine, and beer until the overgrowth clears.
6. Skin Problem–Many people suffering from candida overgrowth have skin problems—itchy, peeling skin, dry patches, acne, or rashes. Candida can grow in the folds of your skin as well, such as under the breast area, the buttocks, or in the groin. This dark moist environment is the perfect place for candida to flourish and is difficult to eradicate.
7. Sinusitis– Chronic sinus problems are often the result of fungal infections like candida or mold. These little organisms like to hang out in dark, moist areas inside the nose. Your sinuses are the perfect place for them to multiply, causing you to have a stuffy nose, red, raw patches inside the nose, and sinus headaches.
8. Hormonal imbalances– can be a symptom of candida as well. It is important to recognize that a candida infection can cause worsened menopause/perimenopause symptoms, PMS, low sex drive, migraines, endometriosis, water retention, mood swings, and an inability to lose unwanted pounds. Candida overgrowth causes your body to become inflamed, as the yeast spreads beyond the digestive tract. One of the byproducts of candida can mimic estrogen, leading to a serious hormonal imbalance.
Getting and Keeping Candida Under Control
While it can be nearly impossible to fully eradicate this sneaky fungus, you can take steps to get it—and keep it—under control. Candida generally always lives in your gut—and in small amounts, as it is beneficial. The important thing is to keep it under control.
There are medications that can help kill off candida, but these antifungals often have harsh side effects such as liver toxicity, and candida ‘die-off’. What is candida die-off? Candida die-off may cause symptoms of your yeast infection to temporarily worsen, or it may even cause new symptoms, such as a fever or stomach pain. It is often called the “Herxheimer reaction.” Scientists do not fully understand what causes candida die-off, but it is thought that as the candida cells break open and die, they release harmful substances that temporarily make the symptoms worse.
While medication may temporarily kill of candida, without the necessary lifestyle and dietary changes to keep candida in check, it will just return.
Making dietary, nutritional, and lifestyle changes to keep candida levels low and in balance with the other friendly gut bacteria is the best way to reduce the overgrowth and get candida in check. Preventing candida overgrowth means supporting a healthy immune system in the gut, religiously avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates, and taking specific probiotics and nutritional supplements.
Here are some simple rules to follow on a Candida Cleanse diet:
- Avoid all added sugars—sucrose, fructose, cane sugar, beet sugar, glucose syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, agave, etc.
- Avoid processed foods—they are almost always high in carbohydrates, inflammatory seed oils, processed starches and grains, and sugar.
- Eat non-starchy vegetables—avoid carrots, beets, potatoes, parsnips, squash, corn, etc.
- Eat low-sugar fruits—strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, cherries, and blueberries okay in very small amounts. Avoid bananas, mangoes, pineapple, watermelon, apples, peaches, plums.
- Enjoy healthy proteins—grass fed meat, organic free-range poultry, wild caught fish, pastured eggs.
- Use healthy fats and oils—Avoid all omega 6 processed vegetable oils.
- Avoid all grains.
- Fermented foods are ok to eat: plain yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchee, cheeses.
- Avoid alcohol—especially wine and beer or sugary mixed drinks.
It is most important to avoid all types of sugar. Candida albicans uses the sugar in your diet for fuel and to multiply. It also uses sugar to create biofilms that disguise it from your immune system.
Where possible, you should also avoid inflammatory foods like processed foods, alcohol, and caffeine as much as possible while on your anti-candida diet. By doing this, you can lower inflammation, boost gut health, and speed up your recovery.
You can also help your immune function by getting regular sleep of 7-8 hours nightly, getting outside, and getting 30-60 minutes of exercise daily.
Supplements that Help Fight Candida
Any supplements that help boost the immune system are also helpful in regaining control of candida. Over the last decade, common fungi like candida albicans are beginning to develop resistance against prescription antifungal medications. Many people are resorting to natural antifungals instead. These tend to be well-tolerated, have fewer side effects, and are highly effective.
Caprylic acid–Coconut oil is made up of three fatty acids: caprylic acid, capric acid and lauric acid. Of these, caprylic acid is the most important. Taking caprylic acid during your treatment can get your gut health back in balance and help to prevent candida overgrowth again. Studies have shown caprylic acid’s potency to be similar to prescription antifungals.
Caprylic acid damages the cell walls of Candida yeast cells. The short chain fatty acids penetrate the cell wall, where it enters the cell membrane and ruptures it, destroying the entire yeast cell. Multiple studies have found caprylic acid to be effective at killing Candida albicans yeast cells, as well as reducing symptoms in those with chronic Candida infections.
Oregano Oil– Oregano oil capsules may improve gut health in several ways due to its anti-inflammatory, antifungal, antiparasitic, and antibacterial properties. Research shows that the compounds in oregano oil, carvacrol and thymol, can help to treat small intestine bacterial overgrowth, as well as candida overgrowth. Oregano oil is especially effective in killing off candida albicans in the gut. Yeasts and fungi do not develop a tolerance to oregano oil.
Probiotics—Adding healthy bacteria to your gut can help crowd out the unwelcome guests, and protect your digestive system from further invasions. A high-quality probiotic helps restore the healthy diversity of good bacteria in your intestine. There are also several fermented foods that are also very beneficial, if they do not contain any added sugars. Those foods include plain unsweetened yogurt, kimchee, sauerkraut, and some cheeses.
While probiotic supplements can be an individual fit, the best probiotics to battle candida include:
- Lactobacillus rhamnosus
- L. acidophilus
- L. casei
- L. fermentum
- L. paracasei
- B. lactis
Berberine—This popular blood sugar-lowering natural supplement is also powerful as an antifungal agent. Berberine is the active ingredient found in barberry, Oregon grape and goldenseal.
A 2016 study found that berberine has antifungal activity against several types of yeast, including antifungal-resistant Candida. Berberine killed off the yeast cells by breaking down the yeast’s membranes. Berberine can also be used alongside antifungal medications to enhance its overall antifungal activity.
Berberine can also be used as an immune stimulant. Its ability to activate macrophages (white blood cells) has been shown to enhance the body’s overall defense system, allowing it to fight not only Candida infection but other invading pathogens.
After your symptoms have subsided, you should continue eating a diet that is high in protein and low starch vegetables, while limiting or avoid grains, fruits, sugar, and high-starch vegetables like white potatoes. Continue to consume fermented foods to help keep your gut in balance and prevent any more candida invasions. Prevention is the key to good gut health.
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