As a Nutritional Therapist I often come across cases of Candida overgrowth in clients. It is certainly more common than many realise and can affect health in more ways than we care to imagine.
What is Candida Overgrowth?
Candida is a type of yeast which includes many different strains – the most common of which is Candida Albicans. It is normally resident in our digestive system, mucus membranes, and skin meaning that simply having Candida doesn’t signal a problem. Candida can become an issue however when it is present in large quantities and usually involves other issues such as gut dysbiosis (imbalance in gut flora). The issue with Candida overgrowth or candidiasis is that mainstream medicine doesn’t actually acknowledge its existence making it difficult to pin down a diagnosis or be taken seriously.
What Are The Symptoms of Candida Overgrowth?
Candida overgrowth can present itself in many ways making it particularly difficult to diagnose. To conventional medicine it may present as persistent thrush (vaginal or oral) or Athlete’s Foot spurring the prescribing of anti-fungal medications. Unfortunately these types of treatments do nothing to address the root cause of the issues with the end result often being repeat prescriptions and no long term relief. Nutritional therapy can help here by pulling together all the symptoms and looking at the bigger picture to determine what is really going on to then allow us to address the issue through dietary changes.
While candidiasis is not recognised by conventional medicine and therefore has no evidence to support its symptoms, clinical experience tells us that there are many links to seemingly unrelated symptoms and possible Candida overgrowth. Of those clients I have successfully supported through anti-candida protocols common symptoms do arise with prevalence of gut dysbiosis being a common underlying pathology. If Candida is found in higher quantities than is usually present in the gut, overall gut dysbiosis is almost a given. While we do not as of yet know the full health ramifications of gut dysbiosis we do know that it does contribute to inflammation which can be linked for example to inflammatory bowel disease (Duboc, 2013)1.
While one researcher did go as far as to ingest a large amount of Candida to test if he could indeed be infected with the yeast, there has still not been enough research done on this area to warrant conventional medicines interest. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t something we can work towards improving anyway.
- Persistent nail or skin fungal infections.
- Persistent tongue coating.
- Feeling tired or run down or suffering from Chronic Fatigue symptoms.
- Digestive issues such as bloating, flatulence, and alternating constipation and/or diarrhoea.
- Skin issues such as rashes, hives, or itch.
- Persistent vaginal fungal infections, vaginal itching, or UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections).
- Strong sugar cravings or cravings for carbohydrates.
- Brain fog or difficulty thinking clearly.
- Because Candida can affect so many systems and has such a range of symptoms it can be quite difficult to identify it. However when viewed collectively as a set of symptoms we start to see a trend towards Candida overgrowth.
What Causes Candida?
There are many risk factors which contribute to the development of candidiasis. One of the main factors is the current overuse of antibiotics in recent decades. Antibiotics which do have their uses in disease management were unfortunately over prescribed leading to increased gut permeability and imbalance of gut flora stemming from the ability of antibiotics to not only kill off bad bacteria but also beneficial bacteria (Blaser 2011)2. By affecting the delicate balance of gut bacteria it gives pathogenic bacteria and yeasts the opportunity to flourish leading to a greater chance of candidiasis.
A high sugar diet is another risk factor for the development of Candida overgrowth. Yeasts love sugar and as they feed on this sweet food they produce alcohols which triggers further sugar cravings leading to often severe sugar cravings.
What Foods Do I Need To Avoid?
A low sugar diet with no added fruit is very important as it deprives the Candida of its preferred food source – sugar. A 2011 study showed that Candida Albicans thrives on sugar for its survival. It found that carbohydrates were indispensable for Candida survival making it clear that eliminating sugar is key to eradicating Candida overgrowth.3
This includes all fruit, natural sugars, dairy sugars (lactose), and refined carbohydrates. Following a Paleo style diet which already eliminates many of these problematic foods is a great place to start for an anti-candida protocol with the elimination of fruit and other natural sugars being the only addition to this protocol.
It is important not to eliminate all carbohydrates however, and while some protocols completely eliminate carbohydrates of all types Jaminet (2011)4 argues that Candida can actually feed on both glucose and ketones meaning an approach which is too low in carbohydrates may actually provide a perfect feeding ground for the yeast. I usually recommend going low carb but not ketogenic and keeping things around the 100g per day by including foods like sweet potatoes which will also help to increase soluble fibre which are an important feeding source for beneficial bacteria.
Other Strategies to Reduce Candida Overgrowth
There are a number of other additions to the protocol I like to add:
- Olive Leaf Extract – Has been well documented in helping to eradicate viruses and yeasts with one study showing marked improvement in in symptoms following treatment with olive leaf extract5 (Rucklidge, 2013).
- Probiotics – Replacing beneficial bacteria can be particularly beneficial to rebalance the gut flora and help to overrun the yeast overgrowth. In the same study above, good results were seen from introducing a good probiotic supplement over a treatment period. In particular the beneficial yeast strain Saccharomyces Boulardii is getting much attention as a possible solution for Candida yeast overgrowth.
- Anti-Candida Foods– As a Nutritional Therapist I am always keen to promote the use of foods to heal the body and foods which are particularly useful for Candida overgrowth include garlic and coconut oil due to their anti-parasitic properties.
There is light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the symptoms relating to Candida overgrowth and there are helpful strategies you can engage in to ensure your gut flora returns to the balance it requires to be healthy and promote overall health. A modified Paleo approach taking out fruit and excess starchy vegetables helps the gut to kill off excess Candida and the associated symptoms of headaches, brain fog and skin issues. By promoting a healthy Paleo diet and supplementation you can regain your health and improve your digestive system for the long haul.
- Duboc, H., et al. (2013). Connecting dysbiosis, bile-acid dysmetabolism and gut inflammation in inflammatory bowel diseases. In Gut 2013;62:4 654-655. Retrieved from http://gut.bmj.com/content/62/4/531.short
- Blaser, M. (2011). Antibiotic overuse: Stop the killing of beneficial bacteria. In Nature: International Weekly Journal of Science (Issue 476, pp 393–394). Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v476/n7361/full/476393a.html
- Han, T.L., Cannon, R.D., Villas-Bôas, S.G.(2011). The metabolic basis of Candida albicans morphogenesis and quorum sensing.In Fungal Genetics and Biology (Vol. 48, Issue 8, pp 747-763). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21513811
- Kresser, C., Jaminet, P. (2011). Dr. Paul Jaminet on chronic infections, depression & more [Podcast]. In Chris Kresser. Retrieved from http://chriskresser.com/episode-15-dr-paul-jaminet-on-chronic-infections-depression-more/
- Rucklidge, J.J. (2013). Could yeast infections impair recovery from mental illness? A case study using micronutrients and olive leaf extract for the treatment of ADHD and depression. In Advances (Summer 2013, Vol. 27, No. 3). Retrieved from http://mandmhealthsolutions.com/i/6854Rucklidge-2013-yeast-infection-case-study.pdf