Yeast infections are no fun. As well as the obvious symptoms, a Candida overgrowth can also be associated with headaches, bloating, sluggish bowel movements, brain fog and any number of other unpleasant symptoms.
The last thing you want to hear is that you may have brought it on yourself!
Like most people, you’ve probably googled your symptoms and tried numerous treatments – some of which have helped, and some have not. That’s fine: everyone is different, and everyone will respond to treatments differently. But have you considered that your diet might be the real cause of your yeast infection?
How Does Diet Lead To Yeast Infections?
In most cases, that yeast overgrowth can be directly linked to what you’re eating every day. And, thanks in part to our high-sugar diets, yeast infections are becoming more common.
While the Candida yeast can usually live in the digestive tract without causing any problems, it has the tendency to grow out of control if it has been ‘fed’ certain foods.
The right conditions can lead to pathogenic yeast colonizing your gut and overpowering the healthy bacteria that usually keep them in check. This not only upsets your digestion but can also damage the lining of your gut, leading to all sorts of health issues such as fatigue, skin rashes, seasonal allergies, and mood swings.
Although other triggers like stress and antibiotics can also increase your risk of developing a yeast infections, so too can the foods you eat. Much of the Western diet is high in sugar, which feeds the yeast, allowing it to thrive.
Many women don’t realize this, but eating a consistently high-sugar diet over a long period of time will leave you susceptible to chronic yeast infections.
What Is Sugar?
Sugar isn’t just those white granules you add to your coffee. There are many forms of sugar, depending on its source and how it’s been processed.
A few forms include raw sugar, brown sugar, fruit sugar, corn sugar, milk sugar… along with sugar alcohols and artificial sugars. The components of sugar are worth knowing, too: monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides.
Natural sugars are present in varying amounts in fruits, vegetables, dairy and grains. Refined sugars such as table sugar or sucrose have been altered or processed in some way, and are usually in the form of crystals, syrups or powders.
How Sugar Can Cause Yeast Infections
Sugar feeds yeast
Added sugar should be your number one enemy. It’s the ultimate fuel for Candida yeast. If you suffer from repeated yeast infections, you first need to ditch every source of added sugar from your diet.
The link between a high-sugar diet and Candida is clear. Animal studies have found that high amounts of dietary glucose result in increased gut colonization and Candida yeast cells. (1)
Yeasts such as Candida albicans rely on organic, carbon-based compounds as sources of energy. This includes sugar and all its forms: glucose, fructose and sucrose. Candida yeast uses this energy to build its cell walls, which are made up of 80% carbohydrates, as well as the protective biofilms that it uses to hide from your immune system. (2, 3)
Sugar also provides the Candida yeast with the ability to switch to its more powerful fungal form. This form of Candida is even better able to overcome your gut bacteria and grows long branches (hyphae) that can interfere with the lining of your intestinal wall.
The longer your Candida infection persists, the more likely it is to increase the permeability of your intestinal lining, a situation that is often known as Leaky Gut Syndrome. (4)
Sugar suppresses immunity
Research has suggested that sugar seriously hinders the function of your white blood cells, which are the ‘germ-killers’ of your immune system. It’s believed that this effect is so powerful, sugar can cripple your immune system for up to 5 hours after you eat it. (5)
Other studies have shown that glucose, fructose and sucrose all significantly reduce the activity of the neutrophils that your immune system uses to kill pathogenic microorganisms. Neutrophils are important: they’re the white blood cells that act as the first line of defense when unhelpful microbes invade your body.
Sugar also affects your white blood cells by inhibiting their ability to absorb Vitamin C. Linus Pauling’s research into how the body uses Vitamin C revealed that white blood cells need Vitamin C to destroy bacteria and viruses. However, sugar and Vitamin C have a similar chemical structure, which can confuse your body. When you eat sugar, the sugar molecules compete with Vitamin C for space in your immune cells.
The more sugar you eat, the less Vitamin C your white blood cells can absorb. Over time, this can severely weaken your immune system function, leaving you more susceptible to overgrowth of pathogenic yeast and bacteria. (6)
The Link between uncontrolled blood sugar, diabetes and yeast infections
It’s also been found that high blood sugar and the occurrence of vaginal yeast infections is linked. This explains why women and children with diabetes often suffer from yeast infections. A 2014 study showed that women with type 2 diabetes are at an even higher risk of vaginal yeast infection, possibly due to higher levels of blood sugar. (7)
Those with poorly-controlled diabetes are in danger of falling victim to yeast infections because yeast thrives on sugar.
If blood sugar levels spike, the yeast has more opportunity to grow. This can be in the genital area, but high blood sugar can also lead to a Candida overgrowth in the gut. If Candida albicans (or other types like Candida glabrata) establishes itself in the gut, it forms a reservoir that can re-infect other areas of the body even after the yeast infection has been treated.
How To Start Reducing Sugar In Your Diet
While it’s easy to say you’re going to ‘avoid sugar’, in practice it’s not easy at all! Sugar is incorporated into a huge number of foods, particularly processed or packaged foods.
Sticking to a low-sugar diet should be your first step in reduce your risk of yeast infection. And some types of candidiasis can lead to serious health complications if left untreated.
Just as eating lots of sugars can promote a Candida overgrowth, eating fewer sugars can slow down or reverse your Candida. Depriving the yeast of its main fuel source will slow its growth and prevent it from spreading throughout your digestive tract.
If you have diabetes, it’s a good idea to have regular screening for vaginal yeast infections. Talk with your doctor about the best screening schedule for you.
Try to avoid not only the obvious sources of sugar (such as candy, cookies and chocolate) but also the hidden sugars.
One of the most effective ways to reduce your sugar intake is to cut out any packaged snacks (nearly all of these contain sugar!) and also baked goods, soft drinks, condiments, cereals, honey, desserts and other treats. Make it a habit to check the nutritional labels before you eat anything.
Also try to limit alcohol because it destabilizes your blood sugar levels and can cause you to crave sugar even more.
High-sugar foods you should avoid as much as possible:
- Condiments such as sauces, dressings and marinades
- Biscuits, cakes and cookies (and most home baked goods)
- Packaged fruit juices
- Dried fruit
- Canned fruit
- Sports drinks
- Flavored milk
- Cereals, including granola
- Soft drinks
- Iced teas
Foods that contain ‘hidden’ sugars (some of these may surprise you!)
- Vitamin water
- Protein bars
- Instant meals (including noodles and soups)
- Baked beans
- Commercial smoothie drinks
- Frozen pizza
- Commercial yogurt (especially the low-fat kind)
Healthy Alternatives To Sugar
Reducing sugar intake doesn’t have to mean going without treats altogether. Try to replace your usual sweet treats with healthy alternatives such as probiotic yogurt and berries. Choose a sweet herbal tea such as licorice instead of soft drinks.
Increasing your fiber intake is an excellent idea, as this will keep your blood sugar in balance and reduce those sugar cravings. Add chia seeds to your smoothies and salads, eat nuts as a snack instead of potato chips, and choose complex carbohydrates such as buckwheat or quinoa over pasta and white rice. Another really effective source of fiber is psyllium husk, which you can add to a glass of water every day.
There are also lots of sugar-free natural sweeteners that you can use in place of sugar for baking and beverages:
- Stevia: Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from the leaves of the stevia plant. The steviol glycosides in stevia are 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar but contain no calories.
- Monk fruit extract: Monk fruit extract contains some incredible compounds that are 300-400 times sweeter than cane sugar. But, and here’s the real kicker, it’s virtually calorie-free. That means it won’t affect blood sugar levels, and it won’t rot your teeth.
- Erythritol: Over 90% of the sugar alcohol in erythritol can be absorbed in your intestines, making it significantly easier to digest than other sugar alcohols like maltitol and sorbitol that can ferment and produce gas.
- Xylitol: The alcohol form of xylose, xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar and 75% less carbohydrates.
Remember, the sooner you quit sugar, the sooner you’ll be able to beat those yeast infections and feel healthy again!
Beat your candida in 60 days with this detailed 5-step program
If you're looking for a more comprehensive Candida treatment plan, check out the Ultimate Candida Diet program, written by Lisa Richards and Dr Eric Wood. This plan is based on the latest research into Candida Related Complex, and contains everything you need to know to beat your Candida overgrowth.