Candida yeast overgrowth in the colon and other areas of the body still sparks controversy in the Western, mainstream medical community. However, the integrative medical community has long recognized that this “ecological imbalance,” which originates in the digestive tract, is a contributing factor to numerous chronic health problems: fatigue, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, skin conditions, allergies and sensitivities, brain fog, memory loss, poor focus and concentration, insomnia, joint pain, chronic sinusitis, headaches… the list goes on.
Candida is a pathogenic yeast organism that is normally present in low numbers in the colon and in the vagina. It is considered an “opportunistic infection” in the sense that it takes advantage of imbalances in the body to overgrow and dominate the gut. Most women are familiar with symptoms of a yeast infection occurring in the vagina, which happens when the sensitive balance of beneficial bacteria is disrupted, usually by medications or by unhealthy dietary patterns. Antibiotics are the leading offender, along with steroids and birth control pills. The predominance of sugar, white flour and other processed grains and foods in the standard American diet provide plenty of food for the yeast to thrive.
As Candida overgrowth becomes chronic, a domino effect occurs. Inflammation in the digestive tract leads to disruption of digestion and causes the intestinal wall to become more permeable, allowing larger food particles to move into the bloodstream and lymphatic system. These larger-than-usual molecules trigger an immune system reaction, causing more inflammation in an attempt to rid the body of a potential offender. And that’s when you can start to experience sensitivity to certain foods.
In addition, Candida organisms produce toxic chemicals of their own, including aldehydes (similar to formaldehyde), that travel into the bloodstream and affect multiple body systems, including the brain. This toxic process causes brain fog, inability to concentrate, etc. If the pattern is allowed to continue, the symptoms can intensify and the entire body is affected by the imbalance that originated in the digestive tract.
Candida stubbornly resists treatment. However, the latest research has given us an important clue that may explain this, as well as offer solutions. Candida is a biofilm-producing organism. Biofilm is a protective matrix excreted by certain organisms to protect their community from harm, and it works very effectively to keep antifungal herbs and medications from penetrating and killing the Candida. Special enzyme formulations that break up biofilm are now available to add to an anti-Candida regimen, greatly increasing the effectiveness of treatments.
Candida TestingThere are a few different tests to detect an overgrowth of Candida in the gut. In my clinical practice, we often recommend a stool test that includes detection of yeast as well as levels of both beneficial and harmful bacteria. It also includes a sensitivity test that cultures any yeast or bacteria discovered, and uses both pharmaceuticals and herbal substances to see which are most effective in killing the yeast. This test can be very useful in guiding treatment.
TreatmentTreatment for Candida overgrowth involves a multilayered approach:
- Reduce the concentration of yeast to normal levels using dietary changes; herbal and, if needed, pharmaceutical antifungals; along with specific enzymes to address biofilm.
- Replenish beneficial intestinal bacteria using high-dose probiotics.
- Support healthy digestion and assimilation using digestive enzymes, herbs and amino acids that support healthy digestive function.
- Support immune function using vitamins, minerals, herbs and medicinal mushrooms.
- Heavy metal testing and detoxification.
DietThere are many anti-Candida diets, and some are stricter than others. The basic goal of the diet is to reduce or eliminate simple carbohydrates that provide food for the yeast. Avoidance of all processed grains, white rice, dairy, fruits (except lemons, limes and unsweetened cranberry) and any foods over 55 on the glycemic index is optimal. Because most people experience food sensitivities due to long-standing Candida overgrowth, it can also help to try an elimination diet, which involves two weeks of avoiding any potentially offending foods, adding each back one at a time every two days and monitoring symptoms.
Organic fruits, vegetables and meats are always preferred; they do not contain the pesticides, hormones, growth factors and genetic modifications often found in non-organic products.
Yeast ReductionIt’s important to follow a supplement program that includes natural antifungals. Natural antifungals include black walnut extract, olive leaf extract, burdock root, oregano oil, garlic, garlic extract, honokiol, coconut oil and neem. But, depending on the severity of symptoms, a pharmaceutical antifungal may also be necessary.
Commonly, a die-off reaction is experienced in which symptoms become temporarily exacerbated when the burden of toxins from yeast that are dying off are eliminated by the body. In these cases, it’s important to slow down the process and reduce antifungals if this reaction causes too much discomfort. For this reason, it is also recommended to start one antifungal agent at a time and slowly build up to the maximum dose before adding another. It is extremely important that the body’s detoxification systems are working efficiently for an anti-Candida program. Drink plenty of pure water and herbal teas during this time to aid in elimination of toxins.
Replenishing Beneficial BacteriaRestoring the dynamic healthy balance of bacteria in the intestine is a pivotal part of any anti-Candida treatment plan. Look for a high-quality probiotic as well as prebiotic formula, which helps provide nutrients for good bacteria to flourish. A high-fiber diet also provides a foundation for healthy bacteria.
Digestive And Immune SupportA supplement program to support digestion, nutrient assimilation and immune function is also important. In my practice, I recommend a comprehensive digestion formula that includes herbs, mushrooms, nutrients and enzymes to help heal and optimize digestive function. Essential fatty acids, omega 3s, L-Glutamine, curcumin and other digestive and immune supplements are also helpful.
Toxic Metal Testing And DetoxificationToxic metals are everywhere in our environment. We are all exposed to some degree, however cautious we try to be. The chronic inflammation and immune suppression caused by the presence of these metals in the body can make successful treatment of Candida very difficult. For those with chronic Candida, it’s important to test for the presence of these metals and provide treatment with a targeted natural chelation program.
PreventionOnce balance has been restored, it’s important to stay on a maintenance program that helps keep your system strong. For prevention and maintenance, a low-glycemic diet has a much broader range of choices than the anti-Candida diet, but with same general principle: Keep blood sugar from spiking and dropping. A high-fiber diet, with healthy oils and protein with each meal, help stabilize blood sugar and provide nutrients to maintain healthy digestive flora.
Avoidance of antibiotics as much as possible is a must for prevention of Candida overgrowth. We have become accustomed to the overuse of antibiotics, but this trend is contributing to a deadly, worldwide spread of drug-resistant organisms. But as we learn to sustain long-term wellness by adopting healthy diets and lifestyle patterns, we can reap the benefits on every level. A primary factor is paying attention to our inner ecology and living in ecological balance both “inside” and “outside” — this is the best way for us to care for ourselves and our planet.
For more health and wellness information, visit www.dreliaz.org.