What is Candida overgrowth?
Most women are familiar with yeast overgrowth but aren’t necessarily aware of what kinds of yeast this might be (Candida overgrowth) and how to naturally manage it. At some point in your adult life, you’ve probably had a vaginal yeast infection caused by yeast overgrowth, especially if you’ve been through a pregnancy. Another common type of yeast infection is oral thrush, an inflammation of the mouth and throat. Yeast overgrowth can affect the entire body, leading to an array of health problems. Even more surprising, many people can have chronic multi-systemic yeast infections that go undiagnosed for years or even an entire lifetime, leading to many health problems that diminish quality of life and are incredibly annoying to live with.
Outside of yeast infections, most people are familiar with yeast in some form. In cooking, it is a leavening agent that you can buy in little packages at the grocery store, known as baker’s yeast. It is just one type of around 600 species of yeast, which is a type of single-celled fungus.
The yeast that commonly occurs in the human body is called Candida albicans, which is different from but related to baker’s yeast.
Nutritional yeast, however, which is a B vitamin and amino acid rich organism that you may find in lots of vegan recipes, is the genus and species Saccharomyces cerevisiae and does not contribute to Candida overgrowths.
Every body has some yeast in and on it; in oral cavities, the digestive tract, and even on the skin. In a healthy body, the presence of helpful bacteria keeps yeast in balance. If you’ve ever taken a course of antibiotics and then suffered a yeast infection, then you are aware of some of the consequences that occur when your body chemistry gets out of balance. Post-antibiotic yeast infections occur because antibiotics kill off more than just the harmful bacteria in your body. They also kill beneficial bacteria. The result is often Candida overgrowth.
Causes of yeast infections
Yeast infections after a course of antibiotics often manifest as a sudden onset acute infection with the well known culprit, Candida albicans. But many other factors may predispose you to chronic yeast Candida overgrowth – also known as candidiasis.
- Medications (other than antibiotics) such as steroids, birth control pills, and some other prescription meds
- Dietary factors such as too much sugar, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, acid reflux
- A weak or compromised immune system
- Chronic allergic reactions
- Toxins in food, drink, and the environment
- Parasitic infections
- Unmanaged stress responses
- Chlorine in tap water
- Chemical sensitivities
Symptoms of Candida overgrowth
If you don’t have an active yeast infection, there are a few ways to tell if you are suffering from chronic candidiasis. People with chronic yeast overgrowth present with multiple symptoms, including:
- tiredness after eating
- constipation, diarrhea, or other forms of bowel irregularities
- feelings of anger, depression, aggression, or anxiety after eating
- mood swings
- brain fog
- cravings for simple carbohydrates
- anal itching
- skin infections
- PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- memory loss
- night sweats
- food allergies
- feeling “off” or woozy after a high sugar/carbohydrate meal
- repeated fungal infections (like jock itch or athlete’s foot)
- joint pain
- sensitivity to extreme environments
- chronic pain
- acid reflux
Candida albicans overgrowth may be a major player in many health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), alcoholism, anxiety disorders, food allergies, asthma, multiple sclerosis (MS) and a host of other autoimmune conditions.
How do you know if you have Candida overgrowth?
You can go to your medical provider for a yeast test, such as a Functional medicine comprehensive stool test. However, these tests can be pricey and sometimes do not detect a problem unless severe. Ideally you can start following a program to help eliminate or minimize yeast (low-sugar, gluten free, caffeine free, etc.) and see if your negative symptoms lessen or even disappear. If they positively change, continue eating in this fashion to keep the problem under control.
Naturally Controlling Candida overgrowth
Diet plays a dominant role in yeast control. Yeast thrives on certain foods you eat, including sugar, vinegar (except for apple cider vinegar), alcohol, and simple carbohydrates (which are sugars). When you ingest foods containing these ingredients, the yeast in your body feeds on them and can quickly grow out of control.
To help control Candida overgrowth, I recommend eliminating the following foods:
- all forms of sugar, including honey and fructose (especially agave)
- processed foods
- inorganic produce
- anything containing artificial ingredients or chemicals (including diet soda)
- wheat, rye and barley (glutenous grains)
- simple carbohydrates like bread, white rice, and pasta, which immediately break down to simple sugars in your body
- dairy products, which contain both simple sugars and antibiotics from processing
- alcoholic beverages (high sugar)
- vinegar (except apple cider vinegar)
- any animal products that rely heavily on the use of antibiotics
- soy, which can throw off your hormonal balance and lead to yeast overgrowth
- yeast fermented foods, like some wine and beer
Other recommendations to control Candida overgrowth:
It is also important to select a source of non-chlorinated water and to minimize any prescription medications you take (but discuss this with your physician first).
If you believe birth control pills are contributing to hormonal imbalance that supports yeast overgrowth, then switch to a non-hormonal form of birth control such as hormone free IUD or condoms.
Rely on raw fruits and vegetables, as well as unprocessed, gluten free whole grains.
If you do eat meat, choose locally raised, antibiotic-free animal products.
Balancing the amount of fat in your diet and including various supplement protocols can also powerfully help bring your body back in balance. I discuss this in great detail when I meet with patients.
The other way to keep yeast in check is by supporting growth of the beneficial bacteria in your intestines. I often recommend taking an excellent probiotic, at varying concentrations, twice a day for a few months, then once a day for another few months, to help re-establish the healthy bacteria again in the large intestine. Probiotic supplements contain live micro-organisms that live out their lives in your large intestine to support many things including aiding in digestion of some foods, controlling yeast overgrowth and even helping to make some vitamins available from your food. If there is an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine though – called SIBO, taking Probiotics can aggravate symptoms until the SIBO is dealt with. Therefore, it is important to determine first if there is SIBO along with yeast overgrowth so the best ways to treat it can be figured out.
Yeast can wreak havoc on your health. In a normal, balanced, healthy body yeast causes few problems, but when your gut microbial communities become out of balance due to illness, diet, medication, or other factors, then you may experience uncomfortable symptoms. The best way to control yeast is by choosing a healthy, mostly or all plant-based diet – essentially a Paleo diet, free of processed foods and chemicals. By doing this, you will create an environment where yeast stays under control, leaving you healthier and as the most energetic version of yourself.
If you need some assistance figuring out if your health issues are related to yeast problems, contact me for a consult at 403-942-7070.