One of the most common “irritating complaints” I see on a regular basis, are people struggling with the symptoms of Candida overgrowth. Unfortunately, the medical profession doesn’t really give much guidance when it comes to this problem. Patients of mine have actually been told “Well, that’s what you get for not eating enough yoghurt”. Others have been told; “it is not related to diet AT ALL”, and some people “are just susceptible to it!”. As a naturopath, these statements horrify me! Let me explain to you my naturopathic understanding of Candida, and what you can do to treat yourself starting now!
What Is Candida?
Candida albicans is a strain of yeast that occurs naturally in our body. Don’t worry, you haven’t caught Candida, it’s always there, existing as part of our microscopic ecology. Even if you never suffer from a flair up, such as a thrush infection, you will still have this yeast in your body at some level. When it grows out of control is when we see flair up symptoms. Candida is opportunistic, meaning if given the right environment it can grow out of balance and out of control. This yeast is very insidious; it can be difficult to bring back under control if it has had the chance to become imbedded in certain body tissues. Which is why we often see recurrent flair ups, or hard to treat infections. It can affect numerous parts of the body including the mouth, ears, nose, nails, gastrointestinal tract and vagina.
Because of this wide involvement, symptoms of a Candida infection can be varied. Some of these symptoms include constipation, headaches, memory loss, nasal and sinus congestion, fatigue, kidney and bladder infections, low mood, food allergies, hypothyroidism, adrenal problems and thrush. This is not to say that Candida is the only or primary cause of these complaints, but it has been shown to have an association. It has also been linked to cancer, a huge reason to get it under control as soon as possible!
Why Does it Overgrow?
Candida feeds on sugar. If there is an imbalance in our body’s friendly bacteria, sugars in our diet are not metabolized properly and Candida can flourish. This is where it can get difficult (and not very fun!). EVERYTHING we eat is broken down in our digestive tracts into glucose…. Yes that’s SUGAR! So does that mean we can’t eat anything? NO!!!!!!!!! What it does mean is that if we want to reduce the population of Candida in our bodies, we have to be very careful about the amount and availability of sugars in the foods we are eating. We need to cut out the simple sugars from our diet and reduce our carbohydrate intake to help starve the yeasts. If they don’t have easy access to food, they die!
The traditional “anti-Candida diet” has been around for years! And the reason it has survived for so long is that it really does work! It is an invaluable tool in helping to control Candida outbreaks, and although it may be a “boring” way of eating, the pros will often outweigh the cons for may chronic Candida sufferers. An anti-Candida diet can be used for weeks, or months. Each person will have his or her own needs, based on their history, lifestyle and current health.
Sometimes it is best not to put a time limit on this way of eating, but rather use how you feel as your guide. Initially, strict adherence to this way of eating is needed to reduce high Candida numbers, but over time you may be able to relax the rules and bring in some of the initial foods you need to avoid. When we aim to starve Candida, we need to cut back its food source as discussed above. This means cutting out 100% of:
• Simple sugars- cane sugar, evaporated cane juice, rapadura, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, coconut nectar, agave syrup, fructose, rice syrup, malt syrup, beet syrup and carob syrup.
• Fruit- this includes all fresh fruit, all dry fruit and fruit juices.
• Some vegetables- corn, peas, pumpkin, potatoes, sweet potatoes, all vegetable juices.
• Simple carbohydrates- wheat products, processed white rice products, white rice, gluten-containing products, all refined products including pasta, bread, biscuits, cakes, slices, wraps, crackers etc.
• Alcohol- all alcohols.
• Dairy products- all animal milks, cheeses, butters, creams and yoghurts.
• Some condiments- vinegar (excluding apple cider), soy sauce, anything with gluten, sugar or dairy.
So What Can I Eat?
Basically, you diet should consist of lots of vegetables, protein and complex carbohydrates like quinoa, brown rice, millet, buckwheat etc. Meals can take a little getting used to but they will fill you up and help starve the Candida. Don’t forget to take a supply of nuts and seeds with you everywhere in case you feel peckish. When eating out, you can usually order a salad and meat with a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. You will have to get used to asking what is in your meal- EVERYTHING HAS SUGAR! You will be horrified by all the sugar hidden in your diet! Watch out for sauces, marinades, and dressings- sugar hides here! Most places are very accommodating so don’t be afraid to ask for a simple meal that suits your dietary needs. It’s not hard for most restaurants to grill some fish or meat with pepper and salt and lemon juice and provide you with steamed veggies or an undressed salad. Remember food allergies and intolerances are becoming more common in our society, so if you feel uncomfortable, just say you have food allergies!
There are many ways we can help eradicate Candida through food as medicine. When Candida dies, they release many toxins, which may cause us to feel worse initially. Common symptoms include bloating, headaches, tiredness, irritability, low immunity and nausea. These are good signs because we know the Candida is dying, but we do need to try and reduce these symptoms in the first week or two. Initial Candida die-off is a bit of a double-edged sword. But don’t worry; this won’t be a problem after about 2 weeks. Making sure the liver and bowels are functioning optimally is the best way to avoid the die off symptoms. The ways to kill and remove Candida are listed below.
Garlic is nature’s antimicrobial/antibiotic. It is one of the few things Candida does not get resistant to, and therefore can be taken for long periods. It is also high in glutathione, an antioxidant very active in slowing down aging in our body. Garlic should be eaten fresh or slightly cooked. Add crushed garlic into a dish after it comes off the stove, or chop it into pill like cubes and swallow it. 2-4 cloves a day is best. Take it at night to help avoid garlic breath.
Coconut Oil contains caprylic acid, which has been shown to liquefy Candida from the inside out! You can use it in cooking or add it to meals. 1-2 dessert spoons are needed per day.
Green Tea inhibits the adherence of the yeast cells onto the wall of the gut and can therefore be antifungal. 2 or 3 cups per day is enough. Do not drink this before bed, as the caffeine can be stimulating.
2. Protect and Repair
Fish oil can help repair the damage caused by yeasts and help prevent a further infestation. Making sure the diet is high is oily fish, sardines, nuts and seeds, olive oil, and flaxseed oil can increase the essential fatty acid levels in your body. You may need a good quality fish oil supplement to initially boost your EPA/DHA levels.
Glutamine can help heal the damage caused by Candida, and help heal up the gut to help prevent leaky gut which may cause Candida outbreaks.
Fibre, both soluble and insoluble can prevent future outbreaks through maintaining good bowel health. Preventing constipation is important because Candida can thrive in any matter staying in the bowel for long periods of time. Insoluble fibre like psyllium husks, chia seeds and vegetable fire acts as a broom and sweeps out wastes, while soluble fibre like slippery elm, and vegetable pectin’s provide nutrients for the good bowel flora to feed on.
Water, in 1-2 litres per day will help flush out toxins. Drinking Dandelion tea, Pau D’arco tea and other herbal detox teas can also be helpful. Make sure they are all caffeine free.
3. Killing Herbs
Phellodendron, this herb has replaced Pau D’arco in many naturopathic products aimed at Candida. Although Pau D’arco is still effective as an antifungal, it has been classed as endangered and therefore not used in preparations for sustainability reasons.
Thyme, usually used in oil form in naturopathic capsules, this immune boosting herb also kills fungus and bacteria due to its essential oil content.
Oregano, another oil used in the treatment of yeast infections. This very strong tasting oil can be very unpleasant on its own, and is best taken in capsule form under the care of your naturopath.
Horopito, this herb from New Zealand can help restore the balance of good and bad bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract while reducing Candida numbers. Discuss the use of this herb with your naturopath.
4. Getting the Good Guys!
Probiotics, you may need to take a multi-strain course of probiotics, after your initial killing phase to help top up your good bacteria levels and help prevent further outbreaks.
Saccharomyces boulardii is a non-colonising yeast that can help reduce the Candida colonies in the gastrointestinal tract. It may not be suitable in severely immune compromised patients, so please discuss this option with your naturopath.
Fermented Foods can be a great way to feed the good guys and keep their colonies high. Use sauerkraut, kim chi, and kefir after you have improved.
Candida is a complex problem, especially when it becomes chronic. There are many aspects of this condition that have not been touched on, such as the emotional, parasitic and hormonal involvement in this complaint. Working hand in hand with your naturopath will give you the best chance to get Candida under control and keep it there! You may wish to get a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis test to discover the health of your good bacteria, and the level of Candida you have in your digestive tract. Candida IS treatable, it is not something you just have to put up with. You can take the first steps towards conquering Candida now!