If you’ve ever heard the word “candida” being thrown around and wondered what the heck everyone was talking about, it’s your lucky day! Here are 6 things you should absolutely know about candida (so you can catch some of the warning signs of a candida problem before it gets out of control, plus sound super smart at your next little candida pow-wow – you’re welcome).
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#1: Candida is normal… sort of.
When people talk about candida, most are referring to candida albicans, though there are 81 different types of candida. Candida is a form of yeast (which is a type of fungus) and is already present in most of us at birth (those not born with candida usually acquire it through exposure in the environment). Candida mainly resides in the digestive tract, though it’s been known to hang out in other places, too (like the vajayjay – ladies, you know what I’m talking about here). Under normal, ‘healthy’ conditions, candida is completely harmless. When your health becomes compromised, a switch can be flipped in the candida that turns these little guys from harmless to harmful (also referred to as “mycelial” or “pathogenic”). If this happens, candida can multiply super quickly – 1 little candida cell can produce 100 (or more) little candida babies within 24 hours (oy vey!). This is referred to as candida overgrowth (or yeast overgrowth) or candidiasis.
#2: Candida overgrowth can affect just about any organ and tissue in the body.
The main role of the harmless form of candida is to help digest us when we die – pretty morbid, I know! What’s even more creepy is that the mycelial/harmful form of candida basically starts to digest us while we’re still alive! This is why candida overgrowth can cause serious problems if left untreated.
When the mycelial form of candida takes over, here’s what happens: the candida forms little root-like structures, which enables it to burrow into various tissues. This burrowing pokes holes where there shouldn’t be holes, allowing toxins, undigested food particles, and all kinds of other fun stuff to enter the bloodstream. The candida overgrowth, in and of itself, provokes an immune response; this, coupled with the newly poked holes in your system can overwork the immune system and lead to multiple food and chemical sensitivities, allergies, aggravations of pre-existing health conditions, and many other complications. If the candida decides to hop into your bloodstream, it then has a first class ticket to wherever the hell it wants to go in your body. This lowers your body’s defenses further, meaning you are even more susceptible to illness. Some theorize that candida that have run-a-muck can even lead to conditions such as cancer due to the chronic demand on the immune system. No bueno.
#3: Candida overgrowth is not as easy to identify as you might think.
Many of the symptoms that can occur with candida overgrowth are also common symptoms of other conditions. Fatigue, for example, is a common candida overgrowth symptom, but it could also be a symptom of a nutrient deficiency, food sensitivities, food allergies, or other health conditions. Symptoms that might be a little more specific to a potential candida overgrowth problem include: frequent yeast infections, white coated tongue (especially in the morning), jock itch, athlete’s foot, nail fungus, ringworm, cravings for sugar/carbs, sensitivity to mold… though absence of these symptoms does not necessarily rule out candida.
Other symptoms that may be associated with candida overgrowth (though not always):
- bloating/digestive upset
- chronic heartburn
- mood swings
- brain fog
- new onset of food/chemical sensitivities and allergies
- and many others
Oftentimes, candida overgrowth is diagnosed based on a thorough health history and review of symptoms.
#4: Candida overgrowth can be caused by TONS of different things.
One of the most common causes of candida overgrowth is gut dysbiosis, resulting from antibiotic use. Gut dybiosis is basically when there is an imbalance of bacteria in the gut. When antibiotics are taken, they kill off the good bacteria along with the bad bacteria. Candida is NOT affected by antibiotics (since candida is a fungus), so when the good bacteria are wiped out and are not keeping the candida in check, the candida has the opportunity to take over.
It’s important to note that prescription antibiotics are not the only antibiotics that we may be exposed to; antibiotics are also commonly found in our food supply, especially in meat and animal products (though there have also been cases of antibiotics contaminating produce, too).
One thing you can do to avoid dysbiosis caused by prescription antibiotics is to repopulate the good bacteria in the gut during and after treatment with probiotics. Saccharomyces Boulardii is a probiotic that I often recommend for this purpose.
Other possible contributors to candida overgrowth include:
- chronic illness or stress
- steroid hormones
- immunosuppressant drugs (such as cortisone)
- thyroid medication
- birth control pills
- multiple pregnancies
- high sugar/carb diets
- prolonged exposure to molds
- heavy metal exposure (especially mercury, since mercury can impair the body’s ability to kill off candida)
Obviously, if you’re on a medication long-term that is needed for your particular health condition, you should not stop taking that medication (unless you consult with your doctor first). Those taking certain medications may just be at a higher risk for developing candida overgrowth and should pay closer attention to diet and lifestyle (avoiding other things that can perpetuate candida overgrowth).
#5: Women are 8x more likely to get candida overgrowth than men.
Why? Hormones! Most women have hormonal imbalances and fluctuations at one point or another… and these imbalances and fluctuations are exacerbated with pregnancy and birth control use. These imbalances can create an environment for candida to thrive, though the mechanisms for why this happens is still not very clear.
#6: Controlling candida overgrowth can be a long and complicated process.
Unfortunately, getting rid of candida overgrowth isn’t quite as simple as taking a pill; there are usually a lot of different components to anti-candida protocols to tackle the yeast from different angles. The different components are needed in order to tackle the candida at different stages of growth.
Starve those little yeasties
Candida likes to eat a lot of things that are in the typical American diet, with the most prominent food sources being sugar and starches. Many treatments for candida include “starving” out the yeast by eliminating its favorite foods.
Avoid: grains (especially refined grains), sugar, fruit juice (and fresh fruit in severe cases), mushrooms, dairy products, nuts without shells, vinegar, alcohol
Ok to include: meat/fish/poultry, beans, eggs, vegetables (limit starchy vegetables), nuts purchased with the shell still intact, cooking oils
The length of time needed to stay on an anti-candida diet will vary based on the severity of your overgrowth. Some cases clear up in a couple months, but some cases can take nearly a year (or longer). If you’re not sure whether you have candida, sometimes it can be helpful to go on an anti-candida diet for several days and see if you get better (if you do get better, this doesn’t automatically mean that you have candida, but it’s more suspicious). When coming off an anti-candida diet, it’s best to add in previously eliminated foods gradually and gauge whether or not you experience a worsening of symptoms. If symptoms worsen, you may need to continue with the anti-candida protocol longer.
Avoid foods and chemicals that tax the immune system
Any foods/chemicals that you have developed allergies or sensitivities to should be strictly avoided. It may also be helpful to avoid heavily processed foods and to choose organic, GMO-free foods (as well as antibiotic-free foods) whenever possible. This will give the immune system a better shot at handling what’s thrown at it.
Include some anti-fungals
Most anti-candida protocols will usually include various anti-fungals to kill off the yeast. A couple common higher-strength anti-fungals include Nystatin and Diflucan (prescribed by your doctor). A few common over-the-counter anti-fungals include: grapefruit seed extract, caprylic acid, oil of oregano, olive leaf extract, and others (some supplements may include a combination of anti-fungals, such as AC Formula II). It may be beneficial to rotate anti-fungals, since the candida may adapt to treatment over time. It may also be helpful to take a product that will break through the biofilm (protective coating) of the yeast to help make anti-fungal treatments more successful – Interfase Plus is commonly recommended for this purpose.
Get more of the good guys
Re-populating the good bacteria in the gut is a must – probiotics and prebiotics should be part of the treatment plan. Saccharomyces Boulardii and Culturelle are two supplements worth considering, though there are others out there that may be helpful, too (even though Saccharomyces Boulardii is yeast-derived, most respond well to it). Fermented foods are typically avoided during anti-candida diets (due to possible mold exposure and other factors that might favor yeast production), so probiotic supplements may be your best bet for re-populating the good bacteria during the protocol. After the protocol is finished, include probiotics and prebiotics in food form (probiotics include good bacteria: yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods; prebiotics feed good bacteria: garlic, onions, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, and others).
What to expect on an anti-candida protocol:
It’s common to have flu-like symptoms when starting an anti-candida protocol – the reason for this is that when the yeast die off, the various toxins, heavy metals, and other substances that the yeast hold onto are released into your system. When the yeast die-off occurs quickly and your liver and kidneys can’t keep up with the demand of removing these toxins, flu-like symptoms (called Herxheimer reactions) occur. Usually die-off symptoms only last for a few hours, but they can last for a few days. Symptoms that are common during die-off include: aching, bloating, dizziness, nausea, or a general worsening of the original symptoms. Although this reaction is uncomfortable, it’s at least confirmation that the protocol is working.
Now, in the comments below, I’d love to know:
Have YOU ever had to deal with candida overgrowth? What helped you through it?
The above information is for educational purposes only. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or your other health practitioners. Always consult with your doctor before starting a new diet program or supplement.
Georgiou, George. “Scourge of the 21st century: Systemic Candidiasis.” British Naturopathic Journal, Vol. 25, No. 1.
Georgiou, George. “Treatment of Systemic Candidiasis.” British Naturopathic Journal, Vol. 25, No. 2.
Hotze, Steven F. “Candida: A Candid Conversation About Yeast.” DrHotze.com.
Amanda Austin is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified LEAP Therapist who approaches health and wellness from an integrative and functional perspective. She loves a good DIY, making a mess in the kitchen, and working up a sweat. She’s also obsessed with her incredibly spoiled fur-babies, which includes a rambunctious Boston Terrier, 2 cranky house cats, and 3 boisterous chickens.