In this article, I discuss candida and how it may play in role in people with celiac disease or gluten intolerances. Please see my disclosures.
Candida albicans is a common gut-related disorder affecting an estimated 50-80 percent of the American population at any given time. People suffering from candida, which is a fungal or yeast overgrowth in the gut, experience a variety of chronic and annoying digestive ailments.
If you have celiac disease, IBS or gluten sensitivity or related gut disorder, there is a chance you might have candida – or a yeast overgrowth – that has yet to be addressed.
In this article, I’ll discuss the symptoms and causes of candida, as well as how to treat yourself naturally (or supplement your medical interventions with natural healing practices).
What is Candida Albicans?
Candida albicans is a fungal or yeast-like fungus overgrowth. Yeast exists naturally inside the human body is not the problem in itself. The immune system is able to regulate the candida in a healthy person. In fact, a healthy person has as many as 500 varieties of viral, bacterial and fungal microorganisms inside his or her body, all which keep fungal infections and yeast overgrowth in check.
The problem arises when the yeast is allowed to grow out of control and proliferate. When this happens, a person experiences all sorts unpleasant symptoms and health maladies.
For example, candida often will penetrate the intestinal walls, create tears in the intestinal walls (known as leaky gut), enter the bloodstream, and then wreak havoc wherever it sets up shop.
The tears in the intestinal wall allow food particles to “leak” into the bloodstream, leading to potential food sensitivities, food allergies and a wide range of other health issues. In fact, any number of symptoms can be tied to a yeast overgrowth, such as joint and muscle pain, digestive issues and nervous system symptoms.
What Causes Candida?
There are several possible causes that can lead to yeast overgrowth as aggressive as candida:
The overuse of antibiotics may be a contributing factor to yeast overgrowth. When you ingest an antibiotic, you are essentially killing the bad and good bacteria. Beneficial bacteria are needed to keep the yeast in check.
While antibiotics are necessary in treating many diseases, they should be prescribed and taken judiciously.
Also note that antibiotics are often consumed in the meat we eat as 80 percent of the antibiotics used in America are given to animals prophylactically. When we eat conventionally raised meat, we are consuming these antibiotics as well.
(2) Poor Diet
A diet that is nutritionally devoid of leafy green vegetables and nutrient-dense foods and instead is high in packaged foods, processed foods, sugar and white refined grains is a large contributor to the yeast imbalance in our guts. The gut’s PH balance must be alkaline, not acidic.
Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet (SAD), is filled with refined oils, highly-processed foods, and excess sugar. If you want to overcome candida, or prevent it from taking hold in the first place, you’ll want to eat a diet rich in nutrient-dense foods. Read my article, 10 Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Every Celiac Should Be Eating
Birth control pills and synthetic estrogen can contribute to candida overgrowth, as can the use of antacids, ulcer medications, cortisone and steroids. The overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen, also have been linked to candida overgrowth.
I highly recommend the book, Beyond the Pill by Dr. Jolene Brighton, if you’re contemplating quitting the pill.
Environmental toxins, as well as heavy metal exposure (like mercury fillings leaching into your bloodstream), have been known to contribute to bacteria imbalance in the gut.
Do You Have Candida?
There are many possible symptoms that might indicate candida albicans. Here are just a few of the most common symptoms:
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea (these can result from unmanaged celiac disease)
- Energy loss, fatigue, low energy
- Weight gain or inability to lose weight
- Muscular and nervous problems such as joint and/or muscle pain
- Headaches, migraines, brain fog and/or memory problems
- Anxiety, depression, aggressive and/or mood swings
- Itchy skin and/or other skin problems
You can access a questionnaire from The Yeast Connection, by William G. Crook, MD, to determine if you might have candida. Please discuss the results of your questionnaire with your doctor or healthcare professional
How to Treat Candida
It’s not easy to treat candida and it takes time and long-term lifestyle and dietary changes. Treating candida involves the following three steps:
(1) Kill the yeast
You must first kill the yeast. You can do this by starving it out of your system. Yeast feeds off sugar, so eliminating sugar and all grains is a natural, but prolonged, way you can “treat” candida.
Some doctors will prescribe antifungal medications such as Nizoral and fluconazole to get the yeast out of the body. While the medication can provide immediate relief, it must be supported with long-term dietary and lifestyle changes because post-medication recurrence of candida is common.
(2) Repopulate the gut with beneficial bacteria
You can repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria by adding a high quality, therapeutic dosage of probiotics (50-90 billion CFUs) to your supplement schedule. Take the therapeutic dosage for the first 30-90 days, then, once you feel better, switch to a maintenance dosage of 30-50 billion CFUs. Be sure to discuss supplements with your doctor first.
(3) Promote a healthy gut
You can help the beneficial bacteria grow by eating plenty of nutrient-dense, alkalizing foods (mainly vegetables, which are prebiotics that feed good bacteria) while avoiding highly acidic foods (meats, sugar, carbonated sodas, etc.). This should be a long-term dietary and lifestyle change as candida often finds it way back into your gut if not fully resolved and managed.
You can prevent a recurrence of candida by avoiding antibiotics or using them judiciously when necessary.
Also avoid yeast or moldy foods, limit caffeine and dairy consumption and eliminate all sugars and refined carbohydrates from your diet (remember, yeast feeds off sugar and allows it to grow!) for at least four weeks.
Remember, sugar comes in many forms and includes white and brown sugar, all natural sugars like maple syrup, honey, molasses, and agave. It also includes sugars found in fruit (fructose), high fructose corn syrup, coconut sugar, alcohol and all grains.
Grains can be difficult to eliminate from your diet, but is a necessary change to starve out the yeast. Remember, all grains, even whole grains, convert to sugar in your body and feed the stubborn yeast. The difference is that white refined grains convert to sugar faster, which spikes your blood sugar, while whole grains convert more slowly, deterring blood sugar spikes. Once you feel better, you can add a moderate amount of whole grains back into your diet.
What Can You Eat When Treating Candida?
It may feel like there is so much you can’t eat, and that is true. You must avoid sugar, grains, alcohol and caffeine until you starve out the yeast. However, there are plenty of foods you can eat that will help you recover from candida, including:
Vegetables. You can eat plenty of alkalizing vegetables, which will help to restore your body’s natural PH balance and keep you healthy. Vegetables, especially the leafy green variety, will boost your immune system, feed beneficial bacteria in your gut, keep you feeling full, and give you the fiber you need to more quickly eliminate the toxins from your body.
Water. You must drink plenty of water (lemon water is especially good for restoring PH balance) to flush toxins out of your body, too. Avoid all carbonated waters (and beverages) as carbonation is acidic and throws off your body’s delicate PH balance.
Proteins and Fats: Enjoy eating organic meats, eggs, and fish. You can also snack on seeds and nuts, as well as beans and legumes (in moderation). Some experts require you to eliminate beans and legumes when “treating” candida, so listen to your body and decide the right course for you.
Broth. Bone broths can be especially helpful in treating candida because they contain gelatin that can help to heal the mucosal lining of the gut (“heal and seal”) and they flood your body with essential vitamins and minerals. Bone broths are particularly helpful in soothing and resting your digestive system.
Potential Challenges with Candida
There are several challenges that you should anticipate and even expect when naturally treating candida. For starters, you might experience intense cravings for sugar and grains. Bacteria need sugar in order to survive so those annoying gut bacteria will make you intensely crave sugar, begging you to eat it. You must resist. (Read 10 Tips to Breaking Your Sugar Addiction)
You can be prepared for these intense cravings by having plenty of non-sugary snacks available at your fingertips at all times. When you feel the urge for something sweet, you can instead reach for beef jerky or enjoy guacamole with jicama slices. Other great snacks include hummus and celery sticks, roasted artichokes, sardines, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, cucumber slices and salsa or unsweetened carob chips. Try making your own trail mix with your favorite nuts, seeds and carob chips!
Furthermore, you should drink plenty of water and bone broth to curb craving pangs. Oftentimes we confuse thirst for hunger, so stay hydrated.
Don’t Go At It Alone
Please discuss any dietary changes and health concerns with your doctor or team of healthcare professionals. Remember, many doctors are not trained in nutrition, so seek out a doctor, nutritionist, dietician or nutrition coach who has training in nutrition and who can help you implement an integrative approach to treating your candida.
Don’t just look for someone who doesn’t just prescribe pills but also helps you successfully implement diet changes, either. Integrative and functional medicine doctors look beyond the pillbox to help treat your whole body, not just the symptoms.
Still confused? Here are other great sources of information for understanding and treating candida: