What is candida? Candida albicans is a common disorder affecting an estimated 50-80 percent of the American population at any given time. Chances are you might have candida – or a yeast overgrowth – that has yet to be addressed. In fact, many people with gut issues (celiac disease, leaky gut, IBS, etc.) suffer from some sort of yeast overgrowth in their digestive tract.
In this article, we’ll discuss candida at length, symptoms and causes, as well as how to treat yourself naturally (or supplement your medical interventions with natural healing practices).
What is Candida Albicans?
In plain English, 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 holes in the intestinal walls, enter the bloodstream, and then wreak havoc wherever it sets up shop. The holes in the intestinal wall also allow for 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?
Now that we have answered the what is candida question, let’s discuss possible causes that lead to yeast overgrowth:
- Antibiotics: The overuse of antibiotics in our country may be a contributing factor to yeast overgrowth. When you take 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 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.
- 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.
- Medications. 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.
- Toxins. 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
- 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 the first step to getting rid of yeast.
*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 do this 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. (Read: The Benefits of Probiotics for Women)
3. Promote healthy gut. You can help the beneficial bacteria grow by eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods (mainly vegetables, which feed good bacteria). Also eat plenty of alkalizing foods while avoiding highly acidic foods. This should be a long-term dietary and lifestyle change as candida has a way of coming back over and over again.
You can prevent a recurrence of candida by avoiding (or judiciously using) antibiotics only when necessary. 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!).
Remember, sugar comes in many forms and includes white and brown sugar, all natural sugars like maple syrup, honey, 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 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 one serving per day 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.
Vegetables. However, you CAN eat plenty of alkalinizing 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 acid in your body.
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, 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 because your digestive system. Allowing your compromised digestive system to rest while it soaks in all the nutrients from the broth can only lead to good things for your overworked body. (Get my bone broth recipe)
Potential Challenges with Candida
There are several challenges that you should anticipate and even expect. For starters, you might experience intense cravings for sugar and grains. This is your body telling you that the bacteria are in charge! Bacteria need sugar in order to survive so they will make you intensely crave sugar, begging you for more. You must resist.
Be prepared for these 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 trailmix with your favorite nuts, seeds and carob chips!
Also 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 (remember, look for someone who doesn’t just prescribe pills but also helps you successfully implement diet changes). Integrative medicine looks beyond the pillbox to help treat the whole body, not just the symptoms.
What is candida? Still confused? Here are other great sources of information for understanding and treating candida:
This article, “What is Candida,” is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Please see my disclosures.