Have you ever experienced signs or symptoms associated with candida overgrowths or candida infection? Did you know that it was candida in the first place? Maybe not. Overgrowths of candida are linked to several health issues, some of which you are probably already familiar with. Issues like urinary tract infections (men can get these as well) and oral thrush. In addition here are some symptoms you might not have linked to candida:
Cravings for sweets
Tired and Fatigued
Skin and Nail Issues
Digestive Tract Issues (gas and bloating)
Chronic Sinus Infections
Low or no sex drive
These are just a few of the signs and symptoms associated with candida overgrowths. Since the year 2000, candida infections have increased 15 times over (1). When I look back over the years, before truly knowing about candida, I probably have seen thousands of cases walk into my clinic that had candida and I wasn't even aware of it. Fortunately, now through my training in Functional Medicine and working with people with candida, I've learned how destructive this little yeast overgrowth can be to our systems and how to detect it and solve it. In this post you'll become more familiar with what candida is, what causes candida to overgrow in the first place, and how to naturally overcome candida overgrowths with a specific diet.
What Is Candida?
Candida is a type of yeast - also known as a fungus - that naturally lives on and in our bodies. In the right amounts, candida is one of the necessary "critters" that aids our system with nutrient absorption and digestion and is an integral part of our microbiome. It normally lives in the right amounts in places like the skin, mouth, throat, urinary and vaginal tract, and of course the gut. The problem arises when the host environment turns for the worse (and in this case the better for the yeast) allowing the yeast to multiply and grow out of control.
The word Candida is the shortened name given to a class of fungi that includes more than 150 different species of yeast. The most common of the species is Candida Albicans (2). Recently there have been discoveries of a type of "superbug" candida known as Candida Auris (3). Since 2009, Candida Auris has emerged as a multi-drug resistant yeast pathogen with the capacity for transmission between patients in hospitals by touching surfaces infected like bedrails, doorknobs, and other environmental surfaces.
When candida goes unchecked and grows out of control, typical symptoms may appear. When there is an infection (think overgrowth) of the mouth or throat this is called oral thrush. In the digestive tract, an overgrowth of candida can breakdown our intestinal wall (a single cell layer about 50 microns thick) leading to leaky gut. When this happens it can severely impact our immune system and immune function. Remember over 80% of your immune system lives in your gut. So if an overgrowth of candida happens in the gut, we are at a severe risk for a whole host of problems.
How Does Candida Lead To Leaky Gut
I like to think of our gut like a garden that includes all types of healthy bacteria, bad bacteria, viruses, fungus (yeast), etc. that all live in harmonious balance. A lot of folks interpret gut as being "the stomach" however when I say "gut" we are talking about from inside the mouth to the rectum. That's a lot of real estate for bad things to live and hide and flourish. Candida being one of them.
Candida (and other bugs) serve a valuable purpose. They help us clean, prune, disinfect, detox, digest, and much more. Just like we wouldn't want weeds and other animals entering our precious garden, we don't want overgrowths of bad gut bugs growing in our gut. So when we don't tend to our garden, the internal environment changes (not in a good way) so that undesirable "critters" can now grow and cause damage to our garden.
When candida gets an opportunity to over grow and setup camp, they end up damaging our gut lining. Think of the gut lining like a screen door or screened in patio. The screen will allow very small particles like water and nutrients through, but is "tight" enough to keep out larger items. I use the word "tight" because between each cell is something called a tight junction. This is what holds together all the enterocytes (the screen). So back to candida. Candida can actually damage not only the cells (called enterocytes) that line the intestinal tract but in addition can destroy the tight junctions.
When the tight junctions are destroyed, we have a big hole in our screen. Now invaders like undigested food particles, viruses, bad bacteria, and yes you guessed it - candida can enter the bloodstream. And where does the bloodstream go? EVERYWHERE! This is what leads to symptoms like joint pain or brain fog that you would never have connected to the health or integrity of your gut lining that was being damaged by some pesky yeast.
Obviously candida isn't the only thing that can cause our gut lining to break down. Many external factors such as inflammatory foods (4), infections, overuse of antibiotics (5), stress, and environmental toxins can all cause intestinal permeability or leaky gut.
When something from the "outside" enters the very protective "inside" that isn't supposed to be there, our immune system springs into action and flags it as an invader and attacks it. The immune system sounds the alarm and we're off and running to the inflammatory races.
The same thing happens if you have, let's say, a gluten or dairy sensitivity (allergy). You eat some pasta or bread, it enters the gut, the immune system flags and tags it as a "foreign invader", and away we go with the inflammatory, immune reaction. On the surface, you didn't link your runny nose with the bread you just ate. You said something like "It's the darn allergies again." Well you were partially right. It was an allergy just not connected to what you thought. It was the gluten all along.
Candida under a microscope looks like a ball with a long stick. Almost like a push pin. This little pin can poke holes in our "not so thick" gut wall. Remember it's a one cell thick layer about 50 microns in depth. That's approximately half the thickness of one strand of hair.
Causes of Candida Overgrowth
There are many possible underlying causes of candida infections. Let's take a look at some of the most common causes.
I'd say diet is number 1. Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugars can lead to a candida overgrowth. Alcohol, which turns to sugar in the bloodstream, can also be a cause for candida to grow. Typically anything that raises our blood sugar levels to outside normal ranges can feed not only candida but any "critter" that requires sugar for fuel. (6)
At times antibiotics are necessary to fight off some pesky bacteria. Bacteria being the keyword. The problem however is that antibiotics act like a napalm bomb and kill off all "bad guys" and "good guys". Even though the antibiotic killed the bad bacteria, it ended up weakening the immune system. After a long course of antibiotics your body can build up a resistance, but worse yet it makes your body a perfect breeding ground for candida. (8)
Medications such as corticosteroids (7) and NSAIDS can increase your risk of developing a candida overgrowth. Individuals with asthma may want to swish with coconut oil after inhaler use. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can have an opposite effect and can lower our immune function and the body's natural anti-inflammatory processes. NSAIDS on the other hand can severely impact our gut microbiome. This study shows that a single dose of aspirin can decrease our gut flora and increase intestinal permeability. (9)
Stress. Seems like everyone today is dealing with some stressor in their life. Buying a house, selling a house, job, commute, bad drivers, relationships, kids, poor sleep, and the list goes on. It's like "death by a thousand cuts." The deal is this constant onslaught of all these little stressors increase the release of a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is our stress hormone. It gets the body ready to fight or flight. When cortisol is released some major changes happen within the body. One specifically is it raises our blood glucose level. And we've already learned that candida can thrive and overgrow in a high sugar environment. (10)
Secondly, stress weakens our immune system and disrupts the microbiome balance. When we are under chronic stress, we suppress our good bacteria while providing an opportunity for bad "gut bugs" to grow. This can lead to a dysbiosis (11). Over 80% of the immune system lives in the gut. When our immune system is compromised, bad bacteria and candida can overtake our delicate microbiome and grow out of control.
In a diabetic, either Type 1 or Type 2, there already is a sugar dysregulation problem. Since candida is a yeast, the preferred fuel source for yeast is sugar. Remember candida thrive in a high sugar environment. A Type 1 or Type 2 diabetic typically has higher levels of blood glucose than a person who does not have diabetes. It is understandable why a person with diabetes is at a higher risk for a yeast (candida) infection or candida overgrowth.
The Solution To Kill Candida
This is the exact process I use with my patients in my clinic to rid their body of candida. I believe in doing things naturally and it shouldn't cost a lot.
Remove all sugars, refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and alcohol. If you remove the desired fuel source, sugar, from your diet, the yeast cannot grow and survive. Essentially starve the yeast.
Eat whole, real, organic foods. Replace the high carb, processed foods with organic vegetables like broccoli, brussell sprouts, cauliflower, mushrooms, peppers, cucumber, onions, tomatoes, spinach, kale, beets, and asparagus. Of course there are more than just these that I've listed. I recommend, even in this stage, to remove certain "healthy carbs" like potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, peas, beans, rice, butternut squash, acorn squash, corn, and lentils.
Keeps fruits low. Limit to one fruit per day. My saying is if it doesn't end in "berry" you don't want to have it. That means fruits like bananas, peaches, pineapples, grapes, are all out.
Eliminate artificial sweeteners like aspartame and splenda. In addition, remove natural sweeteners like agave, honey, and maple syrup.
Introduce fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut. Fermented foods are rich in probiotics to help restore your microbiome.
I'm a fan of supplements. With that said, you still have to do The Diet section first above all else. Supplements are exactly that. They supplement what you might be missing from a diet.
Coconut Oil. Coconut oil contains caprylic acid that breaks down the cell wall of candida. Coconut oil is anti-microbial, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-inflammatory.
Glutathione. Glutathione is our number one antioxidant. It helps the body detox from heavy metals, cleans your liver, and protects your body against the harms of oxidation. In addition, it has the incredible ability to clear fungus and suppress candida infections (12). Foods that are high in glutathione are asparagus, broccoli, avocado, spinach, and okra. Glutathione also strengthens the immune system.
Vitamin C. Chances are if you have a candida infection you are going to be vitamin C deficient. Candida love this 6 carbon sugar. So it's good to supplement with vitamin C. High doses (1000mg) of Vitamin C have shown to decrease blood sugar levels in diabetics. In addition, high doses of vitamin C can lower triglycerides levels, lower LDL, and lower total cholesterol (13). Take 1000mg of vitamin C two to three times per day.
Essential Oils. Essential oils like oil of oregano, myrrh, and clove oil can help to kill a variety of parasites and fungus like candida. For example, add a couple of drops of clove oil and a tablespoon of coconut oil and swish it around in your mouth for 20 minutes is a great way to kill oral thrush.
From the sounds of it, you might be suffering from leaky gut. Be sure to get my free e-book on how to heal leaky gut. Click here to grab your copy.
Maybe you suspect you have leaky gut but aren't sure. I've made it easy. Take my Leaky Gut Quiz and find out. Click here to go take the quiz.