This past Fall I began working with a new ND who, based on comprehensive stool testing, determined that I had a pretty severe Candida yeast overgrowth. I went on a 8-10 week protocol that consisted of a very low-carb/no sugar diet and natural anti-fungal supplements to get my overgrowth under control and back to healthy levels. I've done a lot of work on healing my gut in the last 1-2 years so I could tell something was still off. After doing this protocol, I felt a million times better, finally! But what I began to notice when I talked to people about my yeast overgrowth, they were very confused about what that actually meant.
What do you mean "a yeast overgrowth"? What does it feel like? Do I have a yeast overgrowth?!
Well, let's learn about yeast!
What is Candida?
Candida is a type of fungi that belong to the yeast family, so you may hear it commonly be called a "yeast or fungal infection." This is a prevalent and obvious form of dysbiosis, meaning the relationship between our microbes (bacteria, yeast or parasites) and the host (us) has turned very ugly. Dysbiosis can occur in the digestive system as well as on your skin, vagina, lungs, nose, sinuses, ears, nails or eyes but when we talk about Candida, we're specifically referring to a yeast overgrowth that is occurring in your digestive tract and/or mouth.
Here's the thing, we're supposed to have this yeast living in our intestines! In healthy levels, Candida aids in digestion and nutrient absorption of the foods we're eating. The real problems begin when this normally helpful yeast starts to grow out of control...
As Candida overgrows it breaks down the wall of our intestine and penetrates the bloodstream, releasing toxic byproducts into your body and causing leaky gut. This can lead to many different health problems ranging from digestive issues, depression, hormone imbalances and a weakened immune system.
So how Does Candida Overgrow?
Candida is usually kept in check when we have a healthy gut microbiome (think probiotics!). But if too many of those healthy bugs are killed, Candida is given free range to run rampant. Our good bugs are typically damaged from antibiotic use, a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, high alcohol intake and/or birth control pills or steroids.
If you're already thinking "crap, I've taken antibiotics, I take birth control, I eat a lot of bread and sugar!" then read on to see if you can also relate to the following common symptoms of a Candida overgrowth.
- Digestive issues such as bloating, diarrhea, constipation (or both!)
- Anxiety, depression, irritability, mood swings
- Skin and nail fungal infections such as athlete’s foot, ringworm, and toenail fungus
- Feeling tired and worn down or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Fuzzy thinking (brain fog), difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD
- Recurring vaginal or bladder infections
- Skin issues such as eczema, psoriasis, hives, and rashes
- Autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma, or Multiple sclerosis
- Strong sugar or refined carbohydrate cravings
If you experience a combination of these symptoms and fit the previously mentioned criteria (past antibiotic use, diet high in sugar or refined carbs, etc.) it may be possible that you're experiencing a Candida overgrowth. (Diagnostically, the best way to absolutely determine if you have a yeast overgrowth is to work with a doctor that can order you a comprehensive stool analysis.) But what can we do right now to get Candida under control?
Getting Candida Under Control
If you suspect you have a Candida overgrowth, the best place to begin is with your diet. Candida, bad bugs and other parasites THRIVE off of sugar, foods that easily convert into sugars, alcohol and other yeasts. Even whole foods that would normally be deemed very healthy and a great addition to any diet, can continue to feed Candida when it's out of control! You may hate to hear it but yes this includes foods like grains, beans, legumes and starchy veggies but keep in mind this is not forever. I recommend following an anti-candida protocol for about 8-10 weeks or longer if you feel there is more work to be done.
While I recommend following a Paleo template on a day to day basis to promote gut integrity, manage blood sugar and reduce inflammation, you may still choose to add back in grains, beans, legumes, etc. after the 8-10 weeks. That's your choice, just be mindful of how your body reacts to these foods as you gradually add them back in to your diet.
Sugars & Added Sweeteners (read all ingredient labels!)
Wine, Beer & Alcohol
Dried Fruit & Fruit Juices (1 cup per day of low-sugar, whole fruits like berries is ok)
Grains (yes this means gluten!)
Beans & Legumes
Starchy Vegetables (limit acorn squash, butternut squash, plantains, etc.)
Mushrooms (fungi feed fungi!)
Additionally, feel free to add these Candida fighting foods to help support the body along it's healing journey.
Grapefruit seed extract
You may want to take supplements to help eradicate the Candida. I recommend trying the following:
Be aware that as you're going through an Anti-Candida protocol, you may experience something called a Herxheimer reaction, aka "die-off" reaction. As Candida die, protein fragments and endotoxins are released, triggering an antibody response. This can initially produce a worsening of symptoms. To avoid this or reduce symptoms, begin supplements with small doses and gradually increase. Within a couple weeks you should start to feel better. If it's been many weeks of strictly following the dietary protocol and adding in supplements and you are still seeing no improvement, there is probably something greater than Candida going on. You should consult a clinician you like, know and trust to get to the bottom of things and make other therapeutic recommendations.
If you think you may have a Candida overgrowth and want more support in creating and going through a protocol that is individualized to you, consider working with me 1:1 to improve your gut health! I work with people both locally in Burlington, VT and remotely via the interwebs 😊
You can read more about my 1:1 consultations here!