Candida albicans is a yeast/fungus that lives within all humans. Known as a commensal microorganism, in good times, candida happily goes about its yeasty little life causing us no trouble at all. It’s when Candida gets too big for its own boots, expanding its fungal empire, symptoms appear.
Yeasts, related to moulds and fungi, prefer to live in a warm, dark and moist environment, so the intestines, vagina and even between soggy toes make ideal fungal hideaways. The trouble is when the community expands, candida albicans is able to penetrate the lining of the bowel with thin thready roots. This has a twofold effect of creating a ‘leaky gut’ where toxins found within the intestine are given access to the bloodstream, and the by-products of candida (methane and acetaldehyde) enters the bloodstream. It is these substances that explain the diverse symptoms of candida ranging from bloating to dizziness.
- Skin problems - These include pimples, eczema, psoriasis, tinea, jock itch and other fungal infections, jock itch, swimmer’s ear, itchy nose, body odour.
- All in the mind - These are symptoms where you feel slightly off-colur and may feel that you are imagining it or it is down to feeling flat. These include feeling drained, craving sugar, unable to concentrate, poor memory, frequent mood swings, headache, feeling ‘spacy’ or ‘unreal’, depression, lethargy.
- Immune system - Signs of a faulty immune system include allergies and sensitivities and/or depleted immune system.
- Respiratory tract - These include wheezing or shortness of breath, sinus, hayfever.
- Gastrointestinal tract - These include bad breath, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, bloating, oral thrush, itching around anus.
- Nerves and muscles - Sometimes there might be sensations such as numbness, tingling, muscular ache, muscular weakness, fatigue.
- Reproductive and urinary system - Symptoms can include vaginal thrush including itching and burning sensations or discharge, prostatitis, impotence, loss of sexual desire, menstrual problems, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), recurrent cystitis.
What causes it?
- Most people have had a course (or twelve) of antibiotics in their lives. As candida is not a bacterium but a yeast, it survives a dose of antibiotics. Antibiotics destroy the intended harmful bacteria as well as taking out some good bacteria as collateral damage. Certain species of good bacteria usually keep larrikins like Candida in line. Once these guardians are out of the way, candida can party on, taking over. Antibiotics predispose you to candida because of this change to microflora populations in the digestive tract and elsewhere. Of particular concern are those of who have taken weeks and months of antibiotic treatment for conditions such as acne. Even if you studiously avoid taking antibiotics, watch for antibiotics in the food chain, for example, chickens and dairy cows are routinely given antibiotics, so buy organic chicken and eggs rather than their poor battery cousins. Organically produced cow’s milk is also available or try sheep or goat’s milk products as these animals are rarely given antibiotics.
- Chlorine is added to our drinking water supply to prevent outbreaks of water-borne bacterial disease such as cholera and typhoid. Naturally enough, chlorine will also have an antibacterial effect on our internal microflora population, disturbing it day after day.
- The oral contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy can subtly change vaginal pH, making some women more susceptible to thrush (vaginal Candida albicans).
- Stress affects the immune system, allowing an infection such as candida to spread.
- Cortisone, the anti-inflammatory drug often given for aches, pains and skin eruptions, suppresses the immune system’s ability to fight bacteria, viruses and yeasts such as candida.
- Diabetes is a condition that raises blood sugar levels. As candida thrives on sugar, diabetics are predisposed to candida. Insulin dependent and non-insulin dependent diabetics do well on the candida diet. Of course, close supervision from a doctor is necessary for those dependent on prescribed insulin.
- A diet containing of white bread and pastries, sugar, alcohol and pizza is more likely to promote candida than a healthy diet that encourages the growth of beneficial microflora.
What To Do
Treating candida requires a three-pronged approach. Firstly, you need to reduce the candida population; this is done by starving them to death (the candida diet) in addition to killing them with antifungal agents. Next, you need to reintroduce friendlier probiotic bugs, and the final step is to improve and maintain the internal environment and immune system to prevent candida from recurring. All three ‘prongs’ happen simultaneously, that is, the candida diet AND antifungal supplements AND probiotics. The diet is central to treating the problem.
In all except the most persistent cases the candida treatment will take four weeks. After the program has finished, reinstate ‘banned’ foods slowly. People often find they no longer hanker after sugar as much, and choose to maintain many of the healthy choices of the candida diet.
Occasionally some people can feel unwell for a few days due to ‘die-off’, the reaction to a large percentage of the candida colony dying simultaneously. In their dying moments they release toxic substances such as acetaldehyde. The same chemical is released in the metabolism of alcohol. For this reason, you may experience ‘hangover’ symptoms including fatigue, headaches and nausea. Your existing symptoms may also worsen, but this is temporary. Take headache tablets, drink plenty of water and symptoms will resolve in a few days.
- Foods to avoid. For 4 weeks avoid the following foods:
- Sugar, including sugar added to foods, for example, cakes, soft drink, biscuits, most breakfast cereals, malt, molasses, honey, golden syrup.
- Fruit juice, grapes, dried fruit, melons (papaya, watermelon, rockmelon).
- Yeasted bread, sour dough bread, pizzas.
- Yeast spreads, especially a black one favoured by Australians.
- Beer, wine, fortified wine, liqueurs, sparkling wine, champagne.
- Yellow cheese, soft cheeses such as camembert brie, etc, blue cheese.
- Foods to Eat
- All vegetables and legumes/pulses.
- All fruit except grapes, dried fruit and melons or fruit juice (limit other fruit to two pieces per day).
- All grains such as rice, corn, quinoa, millet. Wheat products are fine except with yeast added. For instance, wheat crackers and mountain bread, are OK.
- All meat, chicken, fish, eggs.
- All oils, especially coconut oil as it contains caprylic acid which is antifungal.
- White cheese including ricotta, cottage and fetta.
- Probiotic foods miso, yoghurt, kimchi, sauerkraut and leben.
- Alcohol (vodka, gin, whisky)– spirits are OK with soda or water, not soft drinks or juice.
- Natural antifungals include garlic, caprylic acid (from coconut), pau d’arco, thyme, turmeric, calendula, golden seal and echinacea. Unless you are consulting a herbalist the easiest supplement is garlic. Garlic is not only antifungal, it is also very good for the immune system. Take six cloves of raw garlic daily with food or the equivalent in freeze-dried supplement form, or 2 to 3 1g garlic tablets. Make sure you take after dinner.
- Before breakfast take a good probiotic supplement. Invest in a good quality probiotic, one containing acidophilus, bifidus and saccharomyces boulardii at a dosage of 1 teaspoon of powder or 3 capsules.
- If thrush was one of the symptoms that alerted you to the fact that you have a candida overgrowth, it may be necessary to use a douche for the first three days of the program. Make a douche up by filling a squeezy plastic sauce bottle or rubber enema bulb 3/4 full with warm water. Add 30mls white vinegar (to correct the pH), one teaspoon acidophilus powder (or the contents of three capsules) and 2 drops tea tree oil. Lie in a bathtub and squeeze the contents into the vagina. Don’t worry that the water rushes out. Do this every night (or morning) before your shower or bath. Avoid douching during your period. It shouldn’t sting; if it does, add more water, if still stinging don’t use the tea tree oil. Men on the program can use this douche recipe as a wash for their dangly bits.
- On occasion, for severe cases, a pharmaceutical antifungal tablet could be taken in conjunction with above. These are available over the counter. One course should suffice.
- If your water supply is heavily chlorinated, boiling your drinking water or leave it standing for a day or so to allow time for the chlorine to evaporate.
Tea Tree has broad spectrum anti-microbial activity against bacteria, viruses and fungi making it a great choice to use in this instance and combining it with lavender boosts these therapeutic properties. Combine 4 drops of tea tree with 3 drops of lavender and mix thoroughly in 30g of unscented cream base or pure Aloe Vera gel and apply 3 to 4 times daily. This essential oil blend can also be used in a bath.
At a glance
- Avoid sugar and all food that contains sugar, melons, grapes, dried fruit, yellow and creamy cheeses, yeasted and sour dough bread, pizza, wine and beer.
- Include fruits (but see list of fruit to avoid above) and vegetables, crackers, spirits, white cheese such as cottage, oil, nuts, seeds, fish, meat, legumes/pulses.
- Garlic as an antifungal, or/and antifungal supplements and herbs such as caprilic acid, p’au darco, golden seal, calendula.
- Take a good quality probiotic supplement.
- If you have thrush, use a douche for the first few days of the program.