All You Need To Know About Candida
What do toenail fungus, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), oral thrush (infant, child or adult), and brain fog have in common? Surprisingly often, the answer is Candida albicans overgrowth, commonly known as Candida, or Candida infection.
It can be a cause of a urinary tract infection or a sinus infection. When it affects the vagina, it is commonly called a yeast infection. When it affects the ear, it may be either a middle ear infection or, more frequently, an infection of the external canal.
It can also lead to problems with sleep, energy, mood, cognitive function, and others too numerous to list. Because it can affect any system of the body, and frequently affects multiple systems, it may go undiagnosed, or incorrectly diagnosed, for years.
Starving and weakening the Candida while supporting and mobilizing the immune system to fight it is key in controlling an overgrowth. Some medical providers use pharmaceutical antifungals for this purpose. Others use combinations of natural anti fungal options, due to their concerns regarding potential effects of the pharmaceuticals on the liver and other systems of the body.
1. What we put into our bodies and shouldn’t
This includes food that is not appropriate for us, and in some cases, is not appropriate for humans in general. These foods present a challenge to the immune system, requiring that its resources be spent dealing with our reactions to those foods rather than maintaining the balance of Candida and other microorganisms.
Some problem foods are unique to the individual. Most of us have specific food allergies, intolerances or sensitivities to one or more foods or food families. When we eat those foods, the immune system considers them to be toxic.
Also problematic are foods that depress the immune system or feed the Candida. In the case of Candida overgrowth, the most harmful foods are simple sugars and starches (think “white” as in white flour and sugar, although processed foods often include others that don’t appear to be white). Candida thrives on sugar, and on all of the foods that are rapidly broken down into sugar when we eat them.
Gluten deserves a special mention. Because the symptoms are so numerous and varied, it is impossible to know how many people are gluten intolerant/sensitive/allergic. Like Candida, right? This is a separate issue from celiac disease, which is somewhat more readily diagnosed, although there continue to be many who are never tested nor ever treated presumptively with gluten avoidance, and continue to suffer.
Medications (both those we take for our own bacterial infections and those that have been given to the animals we consume) are common culprits. Sometimes we may need to use them, however, medical professionals have come to realize that they are frequently overused. Antibiotics kill off the bad bugs that cause diseases but also decimate the beneficial microorganisms, which are the good guys that normally keep bad bugs (or potentially bad bugs) in check. This can lead to overgrowth of Candida, as well as other disease-causing organisms.
Other medications that have been implicated in Candida overgrowth include oral contraceptives (birth control pills), glucocorticoids (Prednisone, Cortisone, and numerous others).
2. What we don’t put into the body and should
This category includes the numerous vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that are often in short supply in our modern diet. For many of us, the processed foods we eat, and even the fruits and vegetables that are grown in depleted soil, provide insufficient nourishment for the immune system. Often the animals we eat have been raised to maximize marketable meat rather than to optimize nutrition.
Also lacking for many of us are adequate sleep, exercise, and sunshine, also important for a healthy immune system.
3. The overall condition of the body
Specific health conditions: someone who is diabetic or has an immune system that has been suppressed, either artificially or by disease (cancer, chemotherapy, HIV or any other immunosuppresive disease or treatment) is particularly susceptible to Candida overgrowth. Some people, especially including some of those whose symptoms include digestive problems or hives, also have a hypersensitivity reaction to Candida. This is a different issue, though the treatment is the same.
Once a suppressed or unbalanced immune system has allowed Candida to overgrow, this becomes a self-perpetuating condition. The Candida overgrowth further suppresses the immune system, providing ever greater opportunity for overgrowth.
A licensed practitioner (including an M.D. or N.D.) can order and interpret the results of Candida tests. These may include stool, blood, and urine tests. (See below for details.)
Alternatively, or initially, a questionnaire can be used. This is a checklist of symptoms and risk factors, typically with weighted scoring to reflect the importance of each item. The higher your score, the more likely the possibility that Candida overgrowth is present.
The “spit test”, widely circulated online, is easily performed, however, it is a nonspecific assessment. It may be used if you give it no more weight than one of the weightier questions in the questionnaire.
Blood tests: most frequently used is a test that measures antibodies specific to candida.
Stool tests: these include fecal yeast culture
Urine test: this is best used in the case of urinary tract infection, as the information it provides applies only to the urinary tract.
What about the “spit test”?
The “spit test,” widely circulated online, is easily performed, however, it is a nonspecific assessment. It may be used if you give it no more weight than one of the weightier questions in the questionnaire.
Avoid sugars, especially refined sugars, yeasts, fungi, dairy products, and alcohol. Initially, all sugars, including fruit, should be avoided. Avoiding processed foods will get you off to a good start, as it will make it easier to eliminate these, as well as other harmful foods that compete for the resources of the immune system.
Avoid empty calories, foods that are low in vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and amino acids, especially those that are also high in calories.
Eat a healthy diet that is nutrient dense, including a healthy protein choice at every meal, a rainbow of colored vegetables, limited lower sugar fruits (initially no fruit except lemon and lime juices and avocado), and whole grains. Include fermented foods, such as plain, unsweetened yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and others that are homemade or labeled as including live cultures. Other helpful foods include garlic, onions, coconut and olive oils, lemon and lime juices, ginger, pumpkin seeds, and cayenne pepper.
Drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins produced by the dying Candida. Every day, drink half as many ounces of water as you weigh in pounds. Best of all is to drink 20 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before each meal, when it will help you to produce digestive enzymes. It’s best not to drink it with meals when it will dilute the digestive enzymes.
Generally speaking, treating candida overgrowth with supplements requires a three-pronged approach.
The three aspects of treatment include antifungals, probiotics, and enzymes.
- The antifungals are the yeast killers.
- The probiotics replenish the beneficial organisms that normally help to maintain an appropriate balance, but have been lost through antibiotic use or other insults.
- The enzymes break down the fungal cell walls so that the antifungals can do their work effectively.
It is generally considered best to use a combination of antifungals. Combining them in a single supplement, while adding enzyme and probiotic support, allows for the use of a single product, rather than several different supplements.
Be sure to get 6 to 8 hours a night, so that your immune system can function optimally.
Exercise also supports the immune system, and helps your body eliminate the toxins produced by Candida die-off.
One last factor to address
Exercise helps, but also consider meditation, yoga or just deep breathing.
If you smoke, this is a great time to quit. Your immune system needs all the help it can get for fighting the Candida infection.
What is Die-Off ?
Die-off symptoms are caused by the toxins released into the body by the yeast as they die. They are most likely to occur in someone with a severe Candida infection, or possibly in someone who suddenly eliminates sugar and starchy carbohydrates after having eaten a diet that is high in these foods.
Some common die-off symptoms include intense sugar and carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, nausea, headaches, skin rashes, and many more. They may also include worsening of any of your existing Candida symptoms.
If you choose to incorporate an intensive liver cleanse at the same time as you begin the Candida diet and supplement, you may experience more severe die-off symptoms. On the other hand, beginning with a liver cleanse before starting the diet and taking antifungals can lessen the likelihood of die-off symptoms.
How do I know if I am suffering from die-off symptoms?
Timing is the major clue. Die-off symptoms, if they occur at all, generally occur early in the course of treatment of Candida, and lessen, then disappear, as the treatment continues.
The type of symptoms you are experiencing may also provide a clue. Some common die-off symptoms include intense sugar and carbohydrate cravings, fatigue, nausea, headaches, and skin rashes. They may also include worsening of any of your existing Candida symptoms.
What can I do to minimize die-off symptoms?
1. You may choose to wean down gradually on the foods you are to avoid, perhaps eliminating some of them before you begin taking antifungal drugs or supplements.
2. Drink plenty of water to flush out the toxins produced by the dying Candida. Every day, drink half as many ounces of water as you weigh in pounds. Best of all is to drink 20 ounces 20 to 30 minutes before each meal, when it will help you to produce digestive enzymes. It’s best not to drink it with meals when it will dilute the digestive enzymes.
3. Use bentonite clay (food grade) or charcoal capsules to absorb and eliminate the toxins being produced. It is best to limit the use of clay or charcoal to times when the symptoms are most severe, and to take it well away from meals and nutritional supplements. It can also bind and eliminate some beneficial nutrients.
4. If the strategies above are not sufficient to relieve your discomfort, try taking a lower dose antifungal supplement until you are able to tolerate the full dose.
5. Check with your health care provider for additional suggestions to manage die-off symptoms.