Candida: Acid or Alkaline?
The topic of acidity/alkalinity and Candida overgrowth always results in great confusion. Your body’s typical pH reading should be 7.4 (slightly alkaline), but there are very good reasons why you need to actually make your gut more acidic to kill the Candida yeast.
How does this make sense? Well, what one part of your body needs may be completely different from what another part needs. We see this in pH levels – your blood needs to be slightly alkaline, whereas your digestive system needs stomach acids to function correctly.
Maintaining the correct pH in your gut is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your Candida overgrowth. The Candida yeast likes an alkaline environment, which is often brought about by a course of antibiotics or an excessively alkaline diet. One of the aims of the Candida Diet is to restore your gut acidity to the correct levels. The right dietary changes and a course of good probiotics will do just that.
Acidity and alkalinity in your body
You may have read in various places that your body needs to be more alkaline or acidic, but the fact is that this is over-simplifying a very complicated topic.
Your body’s average blood pH is generally between 7.35 and 7.45, which is slightly alkaline. However, the various organs in your body require very different pH levels to work efficiently.
Your stomach, for example, needs an acidic environment to work properly, so this has the highest acidity in your body (a pH of somewhere between 2 and 4). Your colon requires a slightly acidic environment, i.e. a pH between 5.5 and 7. Even within your blood supply there is variation – blood that has circulated around your stomach has a lower pH than blood in other parts of your body.
There are diets that specifically promote alkalinity in the body. The pH Miracle diet and the Alkaline Diet are just two of these programs. They claim that an alkalizing diet will prevent fatigue, help you lose weight, increase your bone strength and even prevent cancer.
However, there are very few scientific studies backing up these diets, and increasing your blood pH to 7.45 or above can even be dangerous. This results in a condition known as alkalosis, with symptoms ranging from hand tremors to full muscle spasms. What really matters for Candida sufferers though, is that an alkaline environment in your intestines is exactly what your Candida overgrowth needs.
Why does Candida overgrowth require an alkaline environment?
Candida overgrowth relies on increased alkalinity in your intestines. It needs neutral or alkaline conditions to switch to its fungal form. This is why acid-producing probiotics like acidophilus are so effective at slowing and even reversing the overgrowth, and why caprylic acid is an effective antifungal. Your digestive system has evolved with a naturally acidic environment that protects us against pathogens like Candida, so when you begin your Candida treatment plan you need to maintain that acidity.
Candida not only prefers an alkaline (or less acidic) environment; it actually acts to further reduce the acidity of your intestines. One of Candida’s byproducts is ammonia, an alkaline gas that is produced by the Candida Albicans yeast in your intestine. Ammonia increases the alkalinity of your digestive tract, and has even been found to promote the growth of other yeasts. A 2011 study (see here) found that “under acidic conditions, this species can raise the pH from 4 to greater than 7 in less than 12 hours”. The same study showed that by alkalizing its environment, Candida triggers a switch to its pathogenic, hyphal form, which is the form that causes Leaky Gut Syndrome.
The acidic environment in your stomach and intestines is hugely important – its your first line of defense against pathogens that enter your digestive system. A 2001 study (click here to read) found that “both capric and lauric acids are active in killing Candida Albicans and may therefore be useful for treatment of infections caused by that pathogen”. Additionally, one of the most popular and effective antifungals for Candida overgrowth is caprylic acid. Studies have shown that coconut oil, which contains caprylic acid and lauric acid, is another effective antifungal.
This leads us on to another very important part of your Candida treatment: probiotics. One of the reasons that probiotics are so effective in treating Candida is that they produce small amounts of lactic and acetic acid. This helps to rebalance the pH in your intestine and restore the acidity that is needed to curb the Candida overgrowth. In fact one of the most common reasons that a Candida overgrowth happens is that a course of antibiotics has killed the acid-producing bacteria in your stomach, thus making the environment too alkaline and allowing the Candida to thrive.
How does your gut become too alkaline?
There are a number of reason for your gut becoming too alkaline. Perhaps the major cause of Candida overgrowth is antibiotics, which are sadly over-prescribed these days. When the antibiotics kill the good bacteria in your gut, they’re not just reducing competition for the Candida yeast. They’re actually also destroying one of your sources of stomach acid. These friendly bacteria produce small amounts of lactic acid and acetic acid that help to maintain your stomach acidity. When they are killed by the antibiotics, your gut becomes less acidic, more alkaline, and a perfect environment for Candida to grow and take over your gut.
Diet can be another contributory factor. Most fruits are very alkaline, so eating too much of these is one route to excess alkalinity in the stomach. There is another reason to be careful with your fruit intake of course – fruits contain large amounts of sugar that feed your Candida overgrowth.
There is one more reason for your reduced gut acidity that’s not the result of your diet or anything else that you’ve done. Its a fact that stomach acidity actually declines with age, so as we get older we become more susceptible to Candida overgrowth. One study showed that stomach acid secretion slowed from almost 180 mg/hr in 11-20 year-olds, all the way down to 50 mg/hr in 61-70 year-olds. That’s a drop of almost 70%.
How can you restore your gut acidity?
One of the most obvious things you can do to maintain your gut acidity is only take antibiotics if you absolutely have to. Of course there are times when you do need antibiotics – they can often be life-saving – but make sure that your doctor is not over-prescribing and don’t be afraid to get a second opinion. If you do need to go on a course of antibiotics, taking probiotic supplements at the same time will help you maintain the balance of your gut flora and prevent your stomach from becoming too alkaline.
In fact taking probiotics is one of the best ways to restore your normal gut acidity. The ‘good’ bacteria in probiotics secrete small quantities of lactic acid and acetic acid, which help to get the pH in your stomach and intestines down to normal levels.
There are vitamins that can help maintain a balanced gut pH too. Vitamin C is otherwise known as ascorbic acid, and is also an excellent supplement for boosting your adrenal glands and immune system. You can take vitamin C in quite large quantities and its a very useful complement to a Candida treatment plan. Vitamin B (or more specifically B6 and B12) helps with the production of hydrochloric acid in the gut. A general B-complex vitamin will do the job.
Diet is an incredibly important part of any Candida treatment plan, and you should make probiotic foods like kefir and yogurt a part of your daily routine. The good bacteria found in these probiotic foods secrete lactic acid and acetic acid into your gut, increasing the acidity. If you’re worried about the bacteria making it through your digestive system, don’t be – a 2006 study (click here to read) found that the live bacteria in yogurt do indeed make it all the way through!
Lastly, there are a few things you need to avoid. We’ve already mentioned antibiotics, but you should also steer clear off things like antacids and acid blockers. Anything that reduces your gut acidity can help the Candida yeast to flourish. If you’re taking alkaline waters it is also recommended that you stop until you have beaten your Candida overgrowth.
For a more comprehensive look at how pH affects Candida overgrowth, take a look at my Ultimate Candida Diet treatment plan.