Maintaining a healthy, low sugar diet is one of the best ways to prevent candida. Antibiotic use may be necessary and unavoidable at times however ensuring strong, nutrient-rich meals with fermentable foods along with probiotics can help to prevent yeast overgrowth. When yeast colonies grow stronger, inflammation can occur and lead to a multitude of symptoms. There are several natural ways to lower colony counts back to normal and promote microbiome balance.
What is Candida?
The fungus kingdom has been estimated to encompass over 2 million species, ranging from mushroom to mold, mildew and yeast. Several hundred species have shown to be harmful to humans. Candida is a grouping or genus of single-celled yeast found as part of normal human flora. Small amounts of different candida species make up a small portion of the trillions of non-human cells within a human being.
Candida species can live harmoniously with other bacteria in the digestive tract. Yeast typically consume a diet of sugars and starches to provide energy for reproduction and daily living. In situations where high sugar diets are consumed along with triggers such as antibiotic use, these yeast colonies can grow larger and lead to inflammatory changes and healthy bacteria death. This can initiate either an acute candida infection or a chronic candida overgrowth called candidiasis.
How Does Candida Enter the Body?
Yeast colonies are part of the normal microbiome in small amounts. The presence of healthy bacteria will keep the yeast population low and controlled. When external factors disrupt the intricate balance of flora, beneficial bacteria levels decrease and allow for stronger growth of yeast colonies. This can lead to candida infections such as vaginal yeast or skin rashes but in the long term it can develop into yeast overgrowth. Warm and humid environments can foster these types of overgrowth.
Individuals with weaker immune systems may have an increased risk of overgrowth. While yeast is a normal part of flora, the immune system and other bacterial cultures keep the population low. Compromised immune systems may not recognize the overgrowth or may not be able to control the population balance. Diabetes, HIV and those undergoing certain cancer treatments may be at a higher risk of yeast overgrowth or yeast infection.
Candida Infection vs Candida Overgrowth
Candida growth can be normal, a flare-up or infection or a chronic, long-term condition. Infections regarding yeast often refer to a short-term flare-up of colonies that cause new symptoms. This might be a new skin rash that itches and is usually found in skin folds such as under the breast or an abdominal fold. Thrush is an oral candida infection that appears as a thick white coating on the tongue but may also be white patches inside the cheeks with redness surrounding. These infections usually respond well to antifungal medications such as creams or oral rinses but they can recur if there is a chronic candida overgrowth.
Overgrowth typically refers to a more long-term condition where yeast colonies are thriving in areas such as the digestive tract, vaginal canal, respiratory system, sinuses and even possibly the urinary system. The body’s natural immune system and other healthy bacteria colonies work to keep yeast growth to a minimum but sometimes imbalance results from factors like antibiotics, poor dietary choices or immune system challenges. Overgrowths typically take longer to treat and require dietary changes and probiotics along with natural and sometimes pharmaceutical antifungals.
Symptoms of Candida
There is a wide range of symptoms that can be associated with yeast overgrowth. Digestive disturbances, skin conditions and rashes, sinus and nasal congestion and pain, headaches, vaginal yeast infections, anxiety and other mood disturbances, brain fog, numbness and tingling and fatigue can all be part of the umbrella of yeast-related symptoms.
Candidiasis (the condition of having yeast overgrowth) presents in so many different ways because of the wide-spread effects of digestive imbalance. The obvious digestive symptoms include bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn and acid reflux. However, since nutrient deficiencies such as iron deficiency and Vitamin B12 deficiency can result from the inflammatory impact of yeast, low energy, numbness and tingling, dizziness, and low mood can be observed.
Abdominal inflammation affects neurotransmitter production and can affect mood, addictions, anxiety and sleep patterns. Studies have estimated that 95% of the body’s serotonin production comes from the gut, so imagine the impact and reduced rate of production when yeast overgrowth is present!
Is Candida Deadly?
Generally, no, candida is not deadly. In immuno-compromised patients such as persons with advanced HIV, candidiasis may have more serious consequences. However in general yeast-overgrowth is not life-threatening and can be treated successfully.
How to Naturally Prevent Candida
There are a few key diet and lifestyle approaches to help maintain a healthy flora balance and prevent yeast overgrowth. Thinking of factors that cause overgrowth – antibiotic use, high sugar diet, gut inflammation, strategies can be put in place to prevent a shift in balance.
Lower your sugar intake
Yeast use simple sugars for metabolism which enables growth and colonization. This includes both natural and refined sugars, however the problem is yeast will cause sugar cravings making healthy food choices a challenge at times.
Natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup and agave feed yeast just as much as white, refined sugars and added glucose to pre-made foods. Keto-based sugars such as stevia, monk fruit and erythritol cannot be used for metabolism by yeast and are a good alternative when a sweetener is required.
Fruit has a lot of healthy nutrients, particularly vitamins and fibre, but it also contains high amounts of fructose. Keeping daily fruit servings to 1-2 per day and consuming lower-glycemic fruits such as berries can be helpful. White starches break down quickly into simple sugars and are a great food source for yeast. Consider whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa and oats as an alternative to white breads, white rice and potatoes.
Take probiotics after antibiotics
Some infections require antibiotics and should be used to control infections. To help mitigate the overgrowth of yeast which naturally occurs when the bacterial competitors are killed off by antibiotics, healthy bacteria should be introduced. The debate is whether to start probiotics alongside antibiotics or to wait until the prescription course is complete. There is no harm to take concurrently, it is unknown though how effective supplementation is at this time. Generally, a multi-strain supplement that contains 100 billion colony forming units per serving for at least 2 weeks is recommended. The species S. boulardii is a tropical yeast derived from lychee and mangosteen which can be used to prevent diarrhea associated with antibiotic use. This supplement can also be given to help fight yeast overgrowth and certain other overgrowths such as Blastocystis hominis.
Eat fermentable foods
Yum! Sauerkraut, kimchi, fermented vegetables and yogurt all contain millions if not billions of probiotics in a food-based vessel. Starting with a forkful per day and building up as tolerated is an excellent way to maintain healthy flora. Sometimes with initial introduction, digestive symptoms such as gas and bloating can occur as the body adjusts. If gas and bloating persists, it could be a sign of another underlying condition and should be stopped.
Common Treatments for Candida
There are many readily-available yeast supplements found in health stores, however not all are effective and might lower the good bacteria at the same time as killing yeast if used improperly. Well rounded candidiasis protocols always involve diet, probiotics, yeast-killing against and consider concurrent conditions such as SIBO, dysbiosis (high amounts of inflammatory bacteria), mold toxins and sometimes heavy metal overload. The most successful treatments are derived by considering all possible imbalances and using the most effective supplements with minimal sugar in the diet. Consultation with a Naturopathic doctor is highly recommended.
Treating Candida With Natural Supplements
Ideally testing and identifying reasons for yeast overgrowth will guide the most effective treatment plans. Candidiasis can mimic mold toxin illness or both yeast overgrowth and mold can be present. If mold illness is suspected, mycotoxin testing can be performed and different approaches are required with regards to treatment. The 3 most important strategies for effective yeast treatment involve diet, probiotics and yeast-killing agents. A low-sugar diet that lasts for the duration of treatment will yield the best results.
Good, healthy bacteria will help to crowd out and normalize the microbiome balance. Dietary sources are helpful and after using probiotics, a transition to food-based probiotics will continue to maintain the balance achieved. Multi-strain probiotic supplements come in a wide selection of strains and colony forming units (CFUs).
Lactobacillus are a dominant bacteria in humans that will compete with yeast for space in the large intestine. Taking this type, especially Lactobacillus rhaminosus, can help to decrease vaginal yeast infections and promote healthy digestion. The healthy yeast Sacchromyces boulardii is also a traditional supplement to lower the unhealthy yeast colonies. Both strains can be consumed daily at an amount of 10 billion CFUs per day or in some cases more.
Made from coconuts, caprylic acid is a potent yeast-buster. To prevent mold and fungus infections that are more common in damp, tropical environments, coconuts adapted to make their own, all natural anti-fungal. Caprylic acid works well to lower yeast colony counts found throughout the whole body and many species can be seen to have high sensitivity to it when tested clinically. Depending on factors such as severity of overgrowth, detoxification abilities and general sensitivity of an individual, the dose of caprylic acid can range from one capsule (300mg) to four capsules daily.
The healing powers of food and spices are highly evident in Allium sativum, otherwise known as garlic. This delicious food is also one of the most potent plant-based antimicrobials and can be used to kill off yeast. The bioactive compound allicin gets activated by oxygen and has been clinically proven to kill yeast, bacteria and even the highly antibiotic resistant strains such as MRSA.
When cooking with garlic, mincing or crushing enables the enzymatic reaction to form allicin and enables foods to have medicinal properties. Leaving garlic crushed for 5 minutes before adding to the recipe maximizes antimicrobial properties. Interestingly, in the digestive condition SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), garlic as a food can provide nutrients to these overgrown bacteria and sometimes results in bloating, gas or other digestive upset. However, when allicin extract in pill form is consumed, rarely do symptoms occur but rather relief from symptoms.
Dosing of allicin extract depends on severity of yeast and/or bacterial overgrowth. With 50 mg per capsule, protocols can be 1 cap twice per day and up to 2-3 caps 2-3 times per day. Typically antimicrobials are rotated in well-rounded treatment plans and should not be used continuously at high amounts for prolonged periods of time. Healthy flora will also be killed off, so probiotics in conjunction with allicin are suggested.
Food and Candida
Diet plays a large role in both the prevention and treatment of yeast overgrowth. Removal of high sugar foods and introduction of fibre, fermentable foods and whole grains is an excellent start. Permanent shifts of the microbiome require time and consistency, sometimes a strict removal or a sugar cleanse annually or semi-annually can be key if candida is a more chronic concern.
Sugar cleanses range from strict keto diets to the removal of refined sugars only. The most important part is commitment to the diet for a given length of time, not as much the degree of sugar removal. Set-up for success! Start a sugar cleanse when the timing is right and expect to keep to guidelines for a solid month. When paired with the right supplements, often one month is all that is needed and a slow transition back to a more balanced diet is possible without a return of symptoms.
Foods To Incorporate Into Your Diet
Looking at a range of dietary styles to prevent and treat candida, optimally a low sugar and less-carb focused diet is ideal. High vegetable consumption, such as getting up to 50% of the meal consisting of non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, leafy greens, onions, beets, carrots, celery…) is a goal to work towards. 25% of the meals should be protein (plant or animal) and 25% or about ½ cup whole grains or carbohydrates such as root vegetables, quinoa, lentils or brown rice. Rounding out the nutrition would include healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, nuts or seeds.
Foods to Stay Away From
High sugar and processed foods will feed inflammatory bacteria and yeast colonies. Desserts are obvious but read the labels for granola bars, fruit cups and high-fruit smoothies – it can be surprising! Sometimes people with yeast overgrowth will have strong reactions to alcohols like beer or wine – either digestively or headaches, nausea and bad hangovers. Pay attention to this especially if it is new to not tolerate alcohol the same way as the past.
Other Lifestyle Changes to Prevent and Treat Candida
Stress, through the hormone cortisol, impacts the whole body, even digestion and microbiome balance. Cortisol is produced in higher levels to help cope with excess stress, however it impacts processes such as digestion. Less stomach acid is made and this inturn lowers digestive enzyme production leading to undigested food moving through the small intestine. In cases of chronic stress, the microbiome balance is changed which allows for the opportunistic yeast and inflammatory bacteria to grow strong.
Sleep pushes the body towards rest and digest mode and enables healing. Turn screens off 60 minutes before bed and aim to be asleep earlier in the night to take advantage of more time in deep sleep. A cool room temperature, sound deprivation and total darkness also allow for maximum healing and repair during the night.
Alcohol contains both sugars and often yeast, both of which contribute to overgrown yeast populations. Beer and wine contain yeast which sometimes triggers people to feel worse with either. Vodka and other hard liquors do not have yeast and are lower in sugar content, thus may not feed yeast when consumed in moderation. Watch out for sugary, fruity cocktails, those can be the ultimate food sources for yeast.
Getting Tested for Candida
Yeast testing is possible, although not all are through conventional medical tests. The main types of tests are stool cultures, vaginal yeast swabs and blood antibody testing.
Conventional stool tests are looking for parasites and eggs of parasites. Yeast cultures are not generally tested for yet can be a helpful way to determine if candidiasis is present. Private labs will grow cultures from stool to identify both the beneficial flora and imbalanced or inflammatory flora. Sensitivities can also be performed using herbs and pharmaceuticals to determine which treatments are the most effective to kill off the unwanted cultures. Yeast can be difficult to culture and may not grow on the medium to show positive results. This is when a microscopic analysis is helpful and it can uncover colonies that didn’t grow.
Vaginal yeast swabs are offered when symptoms of vaginal irritation, pain, itching or discharge are present. This is often paired with testing for bacterial vaginosis and can be done as part of an office visit.
Blood antibody testing shows levels of 3 types of immune markers involved with candida overgrowth. Chronic, acute and recent overgrowths will show elevated levels of these markers and can be useful to determine the presence and severity of yeast overgrowth. Depending on the presenting symptoms, it can be helpful to perform a few different yeasts tests for a more detailed treatment plan.