Candida or yeast overgrowth seems to be one of the most misunderstood gut issues. It comes on sneakily, sometimes after a course of antibiotics, but often as a result of an unregulated diet rich in sweets and refined carbs. Once it establishes residence in your gut, it seems like it will never leave. I have seen cases of yeast overgrowth or Candida last for years.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been dealing with a host of symptoms that you think are due to candida or yeast overgrowth. I mention yeast overgrowth, because not every yeast problem in the gut is due to Candida. It is common, but it is not the only yeast that can make your gut its unwelcome home. However, let’s use candida as the general example for how to deal with this issue.
Candida can present with various symptoms that are significant enough to impact your day-to-day life. Check out this list of Candida symptoms that may be putting you into a state of distress:1
- Painful Cracks at the corners of your mouth
- White Patches on the Tongue
- Vaginal Itching
- Nail Fungus
- Brain Fog
- Sugar Cravings
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Bloating or Gas
- Poor Immunity
- Hormonal Imbalances
- Urinary Tract Infections
- Muscle aches
Harmless strains of yeast can be found in the intestinal tract, mouth and vagina. When it comes to the gut microbiome, diversity is the key as well as relative abundance. You want your good bacteria to outnumber and overpower any yeast growing in your gut. Your probiotic helpers keep yeast in check. When yeast has gotten out of hand, it’s because you’ve lost your resident helpers that kept the status quo.
The Candida Albicans strain of yeast is a particularly fastidious one. It can invade the lamina propria–the space between the gut lining and the interior of the body. It can protect itself by forming a biofilm, a gelatinous protein matrix that is used to share nutrients in a community of microorganisms, but also serves to protect it from antimicrobials. When Candida gets out of hand, it can lead to yeast infections in parts of the gastrointestinal tract beyond where it is normally found (like in the esophagus and mouth), or even within the body when an individual’s immune surveillance system is compromised.
Candida is one possible cause of leaky gut. A leaky gut happens when the intestinal wall becomes more permeable. Imagine holes getting wider in a cheese cloth, thus allowing the passage of bigger molecules, including incompletely digested food proteins your body creates an immune reaction to and results in a food sensitivities.
In many cases, candida is not looked at as a major issue, because you continue to act and function in your daily life, albeit not at your optimal capacity. However, this overgrowth can significantly impact how you feel. You live in a fog, not even fully aware of the impact it is having on your life.
Candida is no joke! It will wear you down, as you follow one internet trail after another trying this supplement and that recommendation. What I have found in my practice is that people with candida don’t understand how long it really takes to heal the body of candida, so they tend to give up too early.
This is a marathon. Are you tired of having a foggy brain? Annoyed that red, itchy rash keeps coming back? Want to curb your uncontrollable sugar and carbohydrate cravings? Do you want to have a clear head again? Well, then, first of all, don’t give up, and secondly, read on… I can help you free yourself of these imbalances!
First, let’s take a look at what may be causing this overgrowth. Once we understand that, we can make lifestyle changes or intervene with other methods to heal your body of this fungal overgrowth.
What Causes Candida? Take a look at the contributing factors in the list below.2
- Prescription Drug Use– Prescription drugs can alter the balance of healthy microbes. Beneficial bacteria serve as a counterbalance, keeping harmful strains from growing. Medications, like birth control pills, antibiotics and corticosteroids alter the gut environment, contributing to microbial imbalances (like dysbiosis) or creating a favorable milieu for Candida to grow in. These can result in an overgrowth of candida.
- Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD) – Studies show that individuals with Crohn’s and Ulcerative Colitis (IBD) have high colonization levels of candida. It may be that fungal overgrowth is at the root of these chronic, inflammatory diseases of the bowel.3
- Compromised Immune System– Individuals with a compromised immune system are at greater risk of fungal overgrowth.4
- High Carbohydrate Diet– A diet high in refined carbohydrates will create a sugar-rich environment in the body that favors colonization with candida albicans.5 Candida will then alter your brain chemistry to want more sugar. For instance, you eat too much sugar, over time your develop candida overgrowth, then the candida makes you crave more sugar/refined carbs and you eat more of them! All forms of sugar (grains, processed snack foods and even high amounts of fruit) will act as fuel for the yeast and feed it. This creates a vicious cycle that allows Candida to thrive and overgrow!
Happy Gut Candida Diet Changes
Now that we understand what contributes to yeast overgrowth, I am going to give you the tools to heal candida and get rid of it for good!
Candida Diet– This is basically a very low sugar/ low refined starch diet. Better explained, this diet is free of processed sugar, low in natural sugars and overall carbohydrates (grains, starchy vegetables, legumes and fruit). Be sure to leave out any foods that contain yeast. This means reading labels closely! Often, gluten-free products and other “healthy” baked goods contain yeast. Beware that gluten-free packaged foods are often made out of refined gluten-free flours, which will also fuel yeast overgrowth. This also means eliminating alcohol, like wine and beer, for the time-being. Stick with grass fed, free-range, or wild-caught proteins, greens, low-starch vegetables, and healthy fats (like coconut oil, which has anti-yeast properties).
Happy Gut Alternatives– Eating a low sugar diet doesn’t have to mean your diet has just gone to hell. At first, it may feel like your options have been severely limited. However, there are so many delicious recipes, low in sugar and free of added ingredients to satiate you at every meal. Be sure to check out my Happy Gut recipes here. We even have tasty desserts if you want a healthy treat! But, not too much, especially when you’re in the first phase of the strict Candida Diet. Be sure to add plenty of non-starchy vegetables, protein and healthy fats to your meals. This will leave you feeling satisfied to reduce your cravings for carbs and sugar! And resist snacking between meals. Satiate your hunger with wholesome meals, and avoid the temptation of snacking that often leads you down the pat of refined carbs.
Quality Counts– It is also important to watch the quality of the food you eat. Many toxins, antibiotics and other processed ingredients sneak their way onto your dinner table, surreptitiously disrupting the delicate balance of your microbiome. For example, antibiotics are added to the water in feedlot chickens to keep them “healthy” and plump them up. Gross! Be sure to eliminate all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) from your diet as well. Watch out for soy and corn, since most of it is genetically modified in the U.S. Look for organic, wild-caught and grass-fed protein options. In terms of fruit and vegetables, stick to organic or check out which ones to absolutely avoid buying non-organic with the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen List.
When healing candida, you will want to consider a few other things. If you’ve had Candida for a while, it’s not going to heal alone without additional help. This includes proper supplementation, healing a leaky gut and even working with a functional medicine practitioner, because sometimes you may require more powerful antifungal prescriptions to defeat candida. If you’ve been fighting this fight on your own and not succeeding, it’s time to seek professional guidance.
Below are a few natural remedies for healing candida! These also support immunity, which is important when treating and preventing yeast overgrowth.2,6,7
- Caprylic Acid: A fatty acid found in coconut that contains antifungal properties. It can be eaten in coconut oil, but also is found in many anti-candida supplements.
- Pau D’Arco Tea: Contains antimicrobial properties to protect against bacteria, yeast and fungi.
- Probiotics: Restore the gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria strains containing S. Boulardii, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Aim for a probiotic with at least 100 Billion CFU once or twice daily. If your symptoms are pretty strong, then you will likely need a stronger probiotic. I use a 225 Billion CFU probiotic nutraceutical with my patients in these cases. Saccharomyces boulardii is a special consideration, because it is a friendly yeast that helps restore normal gut permeability and prevents candida from binding to the gut lining.
- Prebiotics: Probiotics help re-establish balance in the GI tract, but they at best only create a transient residence. In order to promote the growth of the good guys, you need prebiotics nutrients. A lot of these are found in the foods you eat, but they can also be taken as a supplement containing resistant starches, such as arabinogalactan, FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides), and inulin.
- Oregano oil: One of my favorite plant-derived oils for combating yeast overgrowth. It can be ingested directly or taken in a capsule. The oil is very powerful, so normally only 2 – 3 drops per dose twice a day is all that’s needed.
- Vitamin D: Keeps the immune system strong and reduces inflammation.
- Omega-3’s: Help to reduce inflammation in the body.
Foods That Heal Candida
- Cultured Drinks: The king of these is homemade kefir. You can make it with organic, grass fed cow’s milk, goat’s milk, or even coconut milk. The probiotic counts in this culture drink can number in the trillion CFU’s, so kefir packs a strong candida-defeating punch.
- Fermented Veggies: The most well-known is sauerkraut, made from fermented cabbage, but you can pretty much ferment any vegetable. Be creative, and add flavors to your ferments, like turmeric, for an anti-inflammatory complement. Check out Kraut Source® for an easy fermentation kit.
There are many natural ways you can heal from candida to create a Happy Gut. Aside from this blog post, I’d love to help you get started on the road to recovery with my Quick Start to a Happy Gut. This is a complimentary guide to help you improve your overall gut health!
1. Candidiasis. Candidiasis. Retrieved November 3, 2017, from https://www.webmd.com/skin-problems-and-treatments/candidiasis
2. Candidiasis. Candidiasis | University of Maryland Medical Center. Retrieved November 3, 2017, from http://www.umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/candidiasis
3. Kumamoto CA.Inflammation and gastrointestinal Candida colonization.Curr Opin Microbiol. 2011 Aug; 14(4): 386–391.
4. Whibley N, Gaffen SL. Beyond Candida albicans: Mechanisms of immunity to non-albicans Candida species. Cytokine. 2015 Nov; 76(1): 42–52.
5. Santana IL, Gonçalves LM, Vasconcellos AAd, da Silva WJ, Cury JA, et al. (2013) Dietary Carbohydrates Modulate Candida albicans Biofilm Development on the Denture Surface. PLOS ONE 8(5): e64645.
6. Omura Y, O’Young B, Jones M, Pallos A, Duvvi H, Shimotsuura Y. Caprylic acid in the effective treatment of intractable medical problems of frequent urination, incontinence, chronic upper respiratory infection, root canalled tooth infection, ALS, etc., caused by asbestos & mixed infections of Candida albicans, Helicobacter pylori & cytomegalovirus with or without other microorganisms & mercury. Acupunct Electrother Res. 2011;36(1-2):19-64.
7. Pau D’ Arco. Retrieved November 3, 2017, from http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/pharmacy/currentstudents/OnCampusPharmDStudents/ExperientialProgram/Documents/nutr_monographs/Monograph-pau_darco.pdf