So many people go through life suffering from symptoms like fatigue, recurrent yeast infections, irritable bowel syndrome, itching and headaches. But as diverse as those symptoms sound, they often all have the same cause – an opportunistic fungus named Candida albicans.
Candida is often misdiagnosed, but today I’m going to explain exactly what it is, how it develops, and how to treat it. I’ll list the three most common causes of Candida overgrowth, and then I’ll share the three key elements that you must include in a successful Candida treatment plan.
What Is Candida?
Candida albicans is a pathogen that takes advantage of a disruption in the balance of microorganisms in your gut. This balance of ‘gut flora’ is a crucial part of your immune system and digestive health, but it can easily be lost during periods of stress or after a course of antibiotics. When this balance is lost, the colonies of Candida albicans are able to expand rapidly until they control a large portion of your gut.
If you’re wondering why a few extra pathogens in your gut are such a big problem, let me explain. Candida albicans releases up to 79 different byproducts, including uric acid and a powerful neurotoxin named acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde causes chronic headaches and brain fog, and was recently classified as a potential carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Uric acid can cause joint pain and lead to gout if an excess builds up. Meanwhile, the change in your gut flora can lead to digestive problems, food intolerances, yeast infections, and oral thrush.
A study by Rice University found that around 70% of us have Candida Albicans in our guts. That sounds like a lot! However, the fact is that most of the time Candida is completely harmless. It exists in small colonies and is kept under control by the other microorganisms in your gut. Candida only becomes a problem when we do something to change that balance.
Three Common Causes Of Candida Overgrowth
A course of antibiotics
Antibiotics are undoubtedly the most common cause of Candida overgrowth. They can be lifesavers, but they also come with serious side effects that should not be ignored. In fact, broad spectrum antibiotics are often prescribed for illnesses that would quickly clear up with a little rest. Unfortunately, this has some major consequences for our digestive and immune systems.
Broad spectrum antibiotics do exactly what they are designed to do – kill bacteria. But the problem is that not all the bacteria in your body are harmful. In fact, a typical healthy adult carries around 500 strains of bacteria and as many as 100 trillion individual bacteria. Many of these bacteria play important roles in digesting your food and maintaining a healthy immune system.
When antibiotics kill so many of these beneficial bacteria, there is one opportunistic fungus that is ready to take advantage. Because the colonies of Candida albicans no longer face competition for the space and nutrients in your gut, they can quickly multiply and expand. They create protective matrices named biofilms to hide from your immune system. And as they grow, the amount of toxic byproducts they release grows too. This is how those Candida symptoms like chronic headaches and fatigue begin to develop.
Eating a high-sugar diet
Can diet alone lead to a Candida overgrowth? Yes it can, especially if an unhealthy high-sugar diet is eaten for a long period of time. The modern Western diet is full of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, particularly since the increase in corn subsidies in the 1970s.
Take a walk through the supermarket and sugar is everywhere you look. It appears in the most unlikely places too. Processed meats, tortillas, pasta sauce, salad dressings and cereals are all surprising sources of added sugar. And the sugary diet that most of us eat is exactly what Candida albicans needs to thrive.
Of course it’s important to note that it takes a long term, high-sugar diet to cause a Candida overgrowth. If you have a healthy diet already, eating one chocolate bar a week won’t lead to a Candida overgrowth.
A long period of stress
Anyone who has suffered from stress will agree that it can make physical changes to your body. In fact stress may be one of the major causes of disease in today’s society. And there are a couple of different ways in which stress can affect your digestive system and contribute to a Candida outbreak.
First, stress raises your blood sugar. This is the typical ‘fight or flight’ response – your body senses the stress and makes lots of energy available for whatever happens next. Of course stress rarely comes from physical danger these days (it’s more likely to be your boss shouting at you!), but effect of the elevated blood sugar is the same. And secondly, your immune system is weakened by stress as your body’s resources are diverted elsewhere, undermining your natural defenses against a Candida overgrowth.
The Three Elements You Need In Your Candida Treatment
In our Candida treatment plan, Dr. Eric Wood and I lay out the three key elements that should be a part of any recovery program. First, you must change your diet to exclude as many sugars as you can. Second, you should consider some natural antifungals to kill off as much of the Candida as possible. And third, you should choose a good probiotic to replenish your gut flora and prevent the Candida from coming back.
Should you be doing all three of these elements at the same time? Absolutely! Candida is a difficult condition to beat and this plan allows you to attack it from all angles. Here is some more detail on each of those three elements and why they complement each other so well.
1. A Low Sugar Diet
Candida albicans is dependent on organic, carbon-based compounds to build its cell walls, reproduce and switch from yeast form to its more virulent fungal form. In practice this means it needs sugars, so that’s exactly what you should cut out of your diet.
There is a misconception that you only need to cut out added sugars from your diet to beat your Candida. This is not the case! Candida albicans is just as happy feasting on the natural sugars in fruit as the added sugars in your soda. A proper Candida diet involves cutting out as many sources of sugar as possible, whether they are natural or added.
There are a few obvious foods that you should avoid – chocolate, soda, sugary snacks etc. But if you’re serious about fighting your Candida overgrowth you should also steer clear of most fruit as well as starchy vegetables like potatoes and yams. Reading your food labels is key because so many foods have added sugars these days.
So what does that leave? Lots of delicious foods! Although you’ll have to do without your fries and chocolate, you will find yourself moving towards a much healthier, more nutritious diet. By using non-starchy vegetables, meats, fish, and healthy grains, you can create all kinds of tasty dishes. One simple tip? Use lots of herbs and seasoning to spice up your food.
Next up are probiotics. If you don’t already know about these ‘good bacteria’ that live in your gut, they are just great for fighting off a Candida overgrowth. In fact, they can be a useful addition to anyone’s daily routine, whether you are suffering from Candida or not.
Why have we included probiotics as the second key element in our Candida plan? There are three ways in which probiotics can help to control or reverse your condition.
First, they compete with the Candida yeast within your gut. There’s only so much space and nutrients to go around, so the more that is used by the ‘good bacteria’ the better. Second, they maintain the natural acidity in your gut. This acidity prevents Candida from switching to its pathogenic, fungal form. And third, they boost your immune system.
Probiotics usually come in supplement form but, as with antifungals, there are some natural alternatives too. Fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and kimchi all contains lots of ‘good bacteria’. Be careful what you buy though – make sure you get one that says ‘live cultures’ on the label. Alternatively, you can make your own probiotic foods at home.
Most antifungals, both natural and doctor-prescribed, work against Candida by disrupting its cell walls. While antifungals are unlikely to reverse a Candida overgrowth by themselves, using them in combination with a low sugar diet and some good probiotics will do just that.
Many people ask if they should be using natural antifungals or asking their doctor for a prescription antifungal like Nystatin. The answer is that both can be effective. On balance, natural antifungals tend to be milder and have fewer side effects. You may find that taking two or three natural antifungals at the same time is more effective, but you should definitely not rotate them as this simply allows the Candida to adapt.
If you choose a natural antifungal, here are a few options for you to try. Caprylic acid is an antifungal found naturally in coconut oil, and has been the subject of numerous studies into its antifungal properties. Oregano oil is another option (a 2001 study found that oregano oil “is both fungistatic and fungicidal to Candida Albicans, the human pathogenic yeast”). And a study by the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine showed that Grapefruit Seed Extract is effective against “over 800 bacterial and viral strains, 100 strains of fungus, and a large number of single and multi-celled parasites”.
There are some effective antifungals sitting on the supermarket shelves too! Antifungal foods like garlic, rutabaga, coconut oil and olive oil all have Candida-fighting properties. Integrating them into your diet can make a Candida treatment plan even more effective.
In addition to those natural antifungals, you might want to consider taking some systemic enzymes. The best example of these is a group of enzymes named lumbrokinase. They help to break down the biofilms that Candida builds to protect itself from your immune system and any supplements you might be taking.
One Key Misconception About Candida
You will hear some medical practitioners claim that Candida overgrowth can only affect those with severely compromised immune systems. For example, it can be a life-threatening condition among those suffering from AIDS or cancer.
Although it is certainly true that systemic Candida can be found among these patients, it is also true that a Candida overgrowth can occur in individuals who aren’t as severely immune-compromised. Risk factors like a high sugar diet and antibiotics can disturb the balance of your gut flora and allow Candida albicans to flourish. In fact, diagnostic tools such as a Comprehensive Stool Analysis and Candida antibodies test (you can find both here) can tell us if your body is fighting a Candida infection.
When the medical community refers to systemic Candida, it generally means the type of life-threatening Candida that is seen among patients suffering from severe illness. On the other hand, when we refer to Candida overgrowth, we mean the kind of Candida infestation that mostly affects your gut, and causes a wide range of symptoms like digestive problems, headaches, and recurrent yeast infections.
Would you like to learn more about beating your Candida overgrowth? The Ultimate Candida Diet program, which I wrote with Dr. Eric Wood, contains a simple 5-step program designed to eliminate those Candida symptoms for good.