Do you frequently experience any of the following symptoms?
Recurring skin rashes Constipation or diarrhea
Itchy eyes Brain fog
Thrush or coated tongue Chronic inflammatory conditions
Abdominal bloating/Gas Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Irritability/mood swings Allergies (including food-borne)
Frequent colds/flu Feel worse on damp days
Fatigue Recurring bladder infections
Depression Vaginal yeast infections
Sugar cravings Dry scalp/dandruff
If you said yes to three or more of these, you could have an imbalance in your gut known as yeast overgrowth, or candidiasis. This is the most common form of dysbiosis—an imbalance of the flora (living organisms) in the intestinal tract. Abraham Hoffer, M.D., a pioneer in nutritional therapy, estimated that up to one third of the population is affected by candidiasis.
The fact is there are more bacteria in our intestinal tract than there are cells in our entire body. That’s over one hundred trillion organisms with a collective weight of about four pounds – roughly the size of our liver! What’s great about this internal ecosystem is that when these various bacteria exist in the proper balance, they provide tremendous benefits to our body.
Our intestinal flora play an important role in our ability to fight infectious disease, providing a frontal defense in our elaborate immune system. Healthy gut flora manufacture many vitamins in our foods and bodies, including the B-complex vitamins and vitamins A and K, and increase the bioavailability of essential minerals like calcium and magnesium. They also aid directly in the digestive process, digesting lactose, breaking down proteins into amino acids, and helping to regulate peristalsis—the involuntary action that moves food through our GI tract—and regular bowel movements. A healthy flora environment also plays a role in the normalization of serum cholesterol and triglycerides and breaking down and rebuilding hormones that help to reduce inflammation.
The thing is these benefits are only realized when all is right in our gut. Unfortunately, achieving and maintaining balance in our intestinal environment is no simple task. Under prolonged circumstances of chronic stress, poor diet, a compromised immune system, or the use of antibiotics, the harmful bacteria can begin to outnumber the beneficial bacteria in the gut. It is this imbalance which creates the environment for many of the health conditions mentioned.
A growing number of rheumatologists believe that candidiasis is a root cause of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. Many naturopathic physicians believe that prolonged candidiasis can lead to even more serious illnesses like autism, heart disease and cancer. So you can see how important maintaining an optimal bacterial environment in your gut is for not only for proper digestion, but for your overall health.
The problem here is that most physicians fail to recognize candidiasis as a systemic condition. Even among physicians who acknowledge candidiasis as a legitimate health condition, the typical response is to administer an antibiotic or antifungal drug and leave it at that. This approach is misguided and typically ineffective in the long run.
Antibiotics do nothing for a fungal condition such as candidiasis and can actually exacerbate or promote the condition. And while the antifungal drug may kill off the active yeast organisms that are currently causing the problem, when the patient stops taking the drug the spores that were unaffected by the drug then mature into their full fungal form. Oftentimes, the yeast can be so ingrained in the tissues and organs that it would take months of drug treatment to make a significant difference.
Since this condition is primarily diet-driven, it is much better to use the symptom test suggested above and follow the nutritional and lifestyle recommendations in this article. This is truly a case where the treatment is often the best diagnosis. If the symptoms go away by changing your diet and taking some supplements, you have your diagnosis. And if making these changes does not adequately resolve your symptoms, you will almost certainly realize some unexpected health benefits from eating healthier and you can still seek guidance from an integrative health professional to address the candidiasis.
So what exactly is the treatment? The best way to summarize the integrative approach is “Weed, Seed, and Feed.” This means we first eliminate the harmful organisms, then reintroduce the beneficial organisms to re-establish normal gut flora, and finally incorporate a long-term plan for maintaining a healthy gut flora. While this approach is quite simple, it can be difficult to follow, especially if you’ve had this condition for some time. For example, the sugar cravings can be tough to shake and there is no sugar allowed on this program. A Yeast-Clearing Program should always consist of the following components:
1. Hit the bad guys head-on with a powerful herbal compound. Since herbs are essentially drugs, you do not want to start taking them without some guidance from a health professional who has experience in working with them, such as a nutritional consultant or herbalist. The purpose of this approach is to eliminate the yeastie beasties and make it easier for your immune system to deal with the rest – to level the playing field so to speak. The active ingredients here are herbs that have anti-microbial qualities such as garlic and oregano (which are also good on pizza, but you definitely can’t have any of THAT on this program).
2. Adhere to a special, low-glycemic, yeast-clearing diet consisting of whole, natural foods, lean meats and plenty of greens, and eliminating refined sugars (including fruit juices), fermented foods and alcohol. Since yeast is fungal in nature, it tends to thrive on sugar and fermented foods like alcohol and vinegar (think condiments). Also, studies have shown that there is a marked drop in T-cell production (immunity) after ingesting refined sugars. Is it is a good idea to also limit the amount of fruit intake at the same time. An acidic environment is also conducive to yeast proliferation so focusing on alkaline foods such as fresh greens makes it difficult for yeast to survive. Eating a healthier diet also makes it easier for your digestive system to handle its main job while trying to reestablish a normal gut flora. Plus, these foods provide the added benefit of boosting the immune system. Your integrative health professional can give you a more specific protocol here, including food lists, recommended supplements and menus.
3. Take fiber supplements in between meals. Most of us do not get the recommended 25-30 grams of dietary fiber per day. Dietary fiber is essential for proper elimination of harmful microbes and other toxins in our bodies. As the bad guys are dying off from the other methods being used here, they must be eliminated through your stool. Ideally, you want a supplement that contains both soluble fiber (such as guar gum or apple pectin) and insoluble fiber (such as cellulose). Ground flax seeds are a good example. These are best taken with plenty of water between meals so as not to inhibit the absorption of other key nutrients.
4. Supplement with probiotics. After you’ve completed your course of herbal anti-fungal supplements (3-4 weeks), Introduce the probiotics to replenish the beneficial bacteria in your gut. Since dysbiosis/candidiasis represents a deficiency of the good guys, it is important to reintroduce them once the bad guys’ numbers have been diminished. While these organisms occur naturally in cultured foods like yogurt and cottage cheese, it is not wise to rely on these foods as your sole source of probiotics because of their relatively high sugar content in the form of lactose. Probiotic supplements come in many forms (freeze-dried, tablets, powders, liquid, etc.) and vary greatly in quality. The most effective products tend to contain live cultures in capsule form. Because they are live cultures, they must be kept refrigerated. Again, consult with your integrative health professional for more specific supplement recommendations.
5. Supplement with B-complex, digestive enzymes and betaine HCL during meals. As mentioned earlier, a state of dysbiosis is almost always accompanied by a deficiency in digestive enzymes and/or stomach acid. It is during this time that your digestive system needs a little extra help from the outside so that you can digest, absorb and assimilate the nutrients from your foods that your immune system so desperately needs. The B vitamins are essential in helping your body to make digestive enzymes.
6. Gradually reintroduce limited amounts of fruits and whole grains while maintaining a diet rich in phytonutrients. After finishing the round of probiotics, it may be time to add back in some fruit. It is still a good idea not to overdue it here though because yeast spores can regain a foothold if the sugar intake creeps back up to previous levels. This may also be a time to gradually reintroduce the whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal and maybe even gluten-free breads. Phytonutrients are prevalent in fresh vegetables and fruits like kale, spinach, grapes, apples, parsley, swiss chard, broccoli, asparagus, squash, etc. Juicing your vegetables can also be an effective way of getting these nutrients in a more concentrated dose. Fresh wheat grass or other green juices are loaded with oxygen-rich chlorophyll, which supports beneficial flora and supports liver function.
7. Manage stress through daily, mindful practice. Since stress has such a tremendous negative impact on your immune system, it is important to do whatever you can to minimize it. Engaging in mindful practices like conscious breathing, meditation, or yoga relaxes the entire body and mind and has been clinically shown to release anti-stress hormones. These practices also increase oxygen throughout your body, which creates an unfavorable environment for harmful bacteria.
The length of time you want to be on such a program depends largely on the severity and persistence of your symptoms. Ideally, you should continue the supplemental regimen for at least two weeks after the symptoms subside. Keep in mind that candidiasis has a tendency to reappear after treatment is concluded. The amount of time it will take to eliminate candidiasis will range from one to six months, depending on the extent of the overgrowth and your compliance with the program.
Even after the problem is under control, care must be taken to avoid a relapse by being more mindful of sugar intake, chronic stress, and use of antibiotics. Some people are naturally more susceptible to reinfection because of genetics, chronic stress, or hypoglycemia. These people must constantly be mindful of the causative factors and take special care to keep the little buggers under control.
Most people will find that once they have restored balance to their gut flora all of their nagging health problems, even the ones they have lived with most of their lives, seem to disappear. The only reason this approach is not more widely used is because it takes a fair amount of attention and practice. It is not the typical quick-fix approach that people and even many health care professionals prefer. However, balancing your gut flora is one of the most effective and responsible ways to restore and maintain good health.