One of the most under diagnosed health conditions I see in clinic is an overgrowth of the yeast Candida Albicans.
The signs and symptoms relating to 'candida' are wide and varied and can make it hard to identify. Often people think of "thrush' when candida is mentioned. This is correct, and vaginal thrush is certainly a very obvious sign of a candida overgrowth. However, it can become much more than just a vaginal flora imbalance and overgrowth. (Plus, there are other microbes that can cause vaginal issues, which is a whole other post.) See the full list of symptoms further down
Candida albicans is a natural yeast that is often present in the human body. When the body’s internal eco system is in balance (or homeostasis) this yeast resides in the body in harmony with other microorganisms. The symptoms associated with candida overgrowth occur when the ratio of bacteria in the body gets out of balance allowing the yeast to grow at an alarming rate and essentially take over the healthy microbiomes within the area.
Candida Albicans typically lives within the mouth, throat, intestines and genitals. However, when it starts to become systemic it can irritate the lining in the intestines and get into the blood stream of the body causing a range of health complaints. Candida releases numerous bio-toxins which can contribute to the liver, and other organs to become overwhelmed (and thus unable to complete their functions properly) as well as the development of brain fog, fatigue, altered immune function and generalised inflammation in the body. (This full-on systemic infection would be with the immune compromised person.)
What causes candida overgrowth?
A high intake of sugar
The contraceptive pill
Weakened immune system
Breakdowns or cuts in the skin or mucous membranes
A diverse range of symptoms
There are a wide range of symptoms that people experience with candida: it will depend upon the level of infection and what other health issues or imbalances are present.
Symptoms may include: abdominal bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, digestive issues including reflux, nausea, sensitivity to alcohol, anxiety, mood swings, concentration issues, brain fog, hyperactivity, chronic pain, muscle weakness, increased sensitivity to smells such as fumes and sprays, fatigue, headaches, sinus problems, itchy skin, eczema, vaginal or oral thrush, fungal infections on the skin, groin, toes and nails.
How do I get rid of candida?
We always start with the GUT. This is where it starts.
The GUT (gastrointestinal system) starts at the mouth and ends at the anus.
An analogy - your internal garden (very simplified!)
If you spread out the small intestine it may take up to 30 square metres of floor space. Think of the gut/intestines as a garden - it has the flowers and vegetables (the good bacteria) growing nicely, and there are some weeds, but they are under control. However, you start overeating sugary foods, go on the contraceptive pill, take a course of antibiotics, have ongoing stress (or other factors as above) and the good guys are wiped out - so the weeds take over.
Just taking one course of probiotics won't reestablish the whole eco system. We need to pull out the weeds, ensure the good plants have the right nutrients, adequate water, sunshine .... you see what I mean?
There are many approaches to eradicating candida.
I personally prefer the gentle approach (if it isn't a systemic infection, which may require the big guns!).
I'm cautious of taking strong antimicrobials long term as they may also kill off all the good bacteria (think of the flowers and vegetables) and you'll end up with a wasteland.
The gut is a beautiful eco-system and needs to be rebuilt carefully.
In general then:
1. Firstly you will need to go on an anti- candida diet, which involves taking all forms of sugar and most forms of yeast out of your diet.
2. Take specific probiotics (or other anti-microbial supplements) which will kill off the candida. (I tend to use Saccharomyces boulliardii as I have had great results with many clients, however there are other probiotic strains that also do this.) Specific anti-microbial supplements may need to be pulsed over some months if candida has been present for some time.
3. Support your good flora with prebiotic fibre and other nutrients. Check out my Gut Healing Powder. It provides fuel for the good bacteria, reduces inflammation and supports the uptake of nutrients.
3. Your immune system, or eliminatory organs may need extra support through this process to rebuild your internal ecosystem and flora to bring it back into a healthy balance.
4. You may need to address leaky gut.
5. There may need to be a further assessment for parasites, bacteria, heavy metals and other imbalances. (This is when I'd advise a naturopathic consultation)
How long do I have to stay on an anti-candida diet?
This totally depends on your body, how long you have had the issues, what other body systems are affected and your symptoms. It is important to address all the factors that have contributed towards the imbalance occurring. It isn't recommended to stay on a hugely restrictive diet long term. However, It is beneficial to keep sugary foods to a minimum as they don't offer any benefit to health.
What is the die-off?
A die-off can be experienced as the candida yeasts die off and release toxic metabolites. The liver gets overwhelmed with these by- products that it has to break down. Don’t give up and start eating sugar again! Drink lots of water.
Discuss any symptoms with your practitioner and they will make recommendations how to support this detoxification process. I can't stress enough how we all have different bodies, tolerances and there is no 'one size fits all' when it comes to addressing our unique health challenges.
General anti-candida diet
- Diet should be based on fresh, whole foods. A wide range of nutrients are essential for adequate immune function.
- Sugar, sweets, soft drinks, fruit juices should be avoided
- Other high carbohydrate foods such as grains, fruit, and starchy vegetables should be consumed sparingly or avoided initially
- Some people with Candida infections develop an intolerance to yeasts, and find avoiding yeasts and fermented foods helpful. These include: Bread, vinegar, pickles, alcohol, vegemite, mushrooms, cheese, processed meats (salami etc), peanuts and peanut butter and left overs.
- Natural yoghurt (unsweetened) with live lactobacillus is likely to be helpful if client doesn’t have dairy intolerance.
- Foods should be cooked and easy to digest to minimise fermentable material in the gut.
Testing for candida
Hair Testing I find Hair Testing for food and environmental intolerances a very effective way to ascertain if there is a candida overgrowth. It will also pick up some parasites, worms, bacteria, heavy metals and other intolerances.
If you have had ongoing digestive problems a full Gut Microbiome Test will determine a much more detailed analysis of what is going on in your gut.