Overcoming Candida through Diet
by Maureen Buttigieg
For chronic Candida sufferers, ‘Candida’ is a dreadful word meaning a set of unpleasant symptoms. Symptoms are often not just physical but also psychological, influencing one’s self-concept as well as one’s relationship with others. If you are one of those unlucky individuals who have Candida, please do not despair. Fortunately, today, thanks to the vast research that has been conducted on the subject, we have lots of tools in our hands on how to deal with this yeasty beasty organism.
The following is dedicated to you Candida sufferers, hoping that my suggestions will help you restore your natural inside balance and eliminate once for all those recurring Candida attacks that bring a lot of unnecessary suffering, pain, discomfort and torment in your life! Good luck!
What is Candida?
Candida Albicans is a yeast organism that everybody has inside his body. It normally lives harmlessly in small numbers and resides in the digestive tract and vagina. In healthy individuals, Candida levels are kept in check by the immune system and friendly intestinal flora. However, when the normal ecology of the bowel is disturbed for some reason or another, for example by the overuse of antibiotics which kill probiotic bacteria (especially those antibiotics prescribed for the treatment of acne, an infection following a cold or for cystitis), or if the immune system becomes weakened, Candida yeast numbers can get out of control, overgrow and proliferate. When this happens, very often the result is ‘thrush’, a yeast infection at a surface level. This very often takes the form of oral thrush, skin infections or vaginal yeast infections in women. Thrush is usually easy to treat through diet and anti-fungal creams. However, if Candida takes a firm grip on the gut, the excess Candida yeast in the intestines can then penetrate the healthy membrane between the digestive tract and the bloodstream or cause further breaches in an already damaged gut wall. As a result of the damage to the mucosal membranes, toxic waste products, partially digested proteins and other unwanted particles leak through the damaged portions, enter the bloodstream and travel throughout one’s body causing a vast array of unpleasant symptoms, including allergic reactions, skin eruptions, memory loss, depression, nausea, muscle pain, hypoglycaemia, digestive discomfort, vaginal dryness and others. Candida specialists call this condition ‘Systematic Candidiasis’. Perhaps the most obvious sign of having Systematic Candidiasis (proliferation of Candida Albicans inside your body) are recurrent Candida infections.
Systematic Candidiasis and Orthodox Medicine
Orthodox medicine and most medical dictionaries recognise the condition of Systematic Candidiasis only in cases of people with severely weakened immune systems, such as those with cancer or AIDS, who often develop widespread Candida infection. Because of this reason, most conventional doctors define Candida merely as ‘a fungal infection at a superficial surface level’ and refuse to accept the suggestion of ‘Systematic Candidiasis’ as possible in people who are not terminally ill. Following the appropriate testing and swabs, they often diagnose vaginal thrush or oral thrush. However, they rarely consider the possibility that Candida can be a systematic problem that can lead to a wide range of physical and emotional symptoms. In fact, they claim that Candida is over diagnosed by holistic practitioners. However, today, an increasing number of doctors along with the majority of alternative practitioners are recognising the existence of this condition in individuals who are not terminally ill and are willing to treat it.
Symptoms of Candidiasis
Listed below are the possible diverse symptoms of Candidiasis. Such symptoms are not necessarily the result of Candidiasis; there could be other reasons for some or all of them. However, the more of them you have, the more likely it is that Candidiasis is your problem. Another important point to mention is that you may not have all of the symptoms at the same time, but may have any of them at any time depending on which part of your body the Candida has taken over.
- Anxiety attacks
- Athletes foot
- Bad breath
- Body odour after washing
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Cold hands and feet
- Constipation, diarrhoea, gas or belching
- Cravings for sugar, bread or cheese
- Digestive discomfort
- Dry cough
- Ear infections
- Frequent sore throats
- Headaches or migraine
- Impaired recall
- Irritable or shaking when hungry
- Loss of sexual desire
- Menstrual problems
- Mood swings
- Muscle aching or weakness
- Persistent infections
- Poor concentration
- Poor coordination
- Poor memory
- Rectal itching
- Sensitivity to smells especially cleaning fluids
- Sinus congestion
- Stiff joints
- Stomach pain
- Urinary frequency
- White coated tongue
- Weight gain
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal yeast infection
The presence of Candida Albicans can also foster or aggravate a number of other conditions that were already present in the individual before the onset of Candida, such as acne, eczema, urticaria, hyperactivity, pre-menstrual syndrome, asthma, food allergies and irritable bowel syndrome. Candida symptoms are also made worse by damp, humid weather and exposure to mouldy environments.
Likely Causes or Triggers
Some of the likely causes or triggers of Candida include:
- Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates
- Environmental and chemical overload
- Excess alcohol intake
- Frequent or long-term use of antibiotics
- Food allergies and intolerances
- HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy)
- Low thyroid function
- Lack or insufficiency of hydrochloric acid in the stomach
- Poor immunity
- Poor liver function
- Poor quality diet
- Prolonged stress
- Use of oral contraceptives, steroids, antacids, or anti-ulcer medications
From my own experience, it seems that the frequent courses of antibiotics that I took, were the starting point of my Candida condition. Antibiotics kill harmful bacteria but they cannot distinguish between friend and foe, and as a result kill beneficial bacteria as well. Thus if one takes repeated courses of antibiotics, one is at risk of creating yeast problems, because there will not be enough beneficial bacteria to keep the yeast in check. Through medication my problem with thrush seemed to wear away, however after a few months it resurfaced again. I believe that when you have repeated Candida infections, that is a sign that certain conditions in your lifestyle and/or diet are allowing Candida to come to the surface again. I found that the contraceptive pill (that I was taking to relieve my acne problem) together with prolonged stress and a diet high in sugar lacking in dietary fibre were the most likely triggers of my Candida condition. In fact, Candida is known to thrive on progesterone found in the pill (and is the reason why most women prone to thrush get more problems in the week before their periods when progesterone levels are high), stress weakens the immune system, sugar feeds the yeast and a diet low in dietary fibre makes it easier for Candida to thrive (dietary fibre improves the environment of the digestive tract). When I stopped the contraceptive pill, changed my lifestyle by starting exercising again and sleeping 8 hours a day (as a way to relieve stress), reduced sugar intake and increased dietary fibre intake, symptoms of Candida seemed to have vanished away.
To eradicate Candida from your system, taking or using some anti-fungal drugs is simply not enough. Anti-fungals are only efficient in the short-term. For better long-term results, anti-fungals must be used with improved diet and other lifestyle changes such as the reduction of stress in one’s life. Such treatment approach will not only kill the Candida in the body, but will improve the general health of the bowel and the immune system, making it difficult for Candida to reoccur again in the future. Along with these suggestions, however, I also recommend that one recurs to professional guidance as Candidiasis is a very complex condition.
Another important point to mention here is that there is no single treatment for Candidiasis. Each individual will have his or her own specific needs. Some people will need to adhere very strictly to Candida diet, consuming only protein-rich foods, vegetables and nuts, whilst others will see improvements even though they continue to consume moderate amounts of grains and fruit. My advice to this regard is to experiment and use common sense. If you think your problem is severe, it would be wiser to start off adhering strictly to the diet and then perhaps introduce slowly other foods back into your diet, once you observe results. On the other hand, if your problem is mild, you may start off by cutting from your diet the main problem foods and see what happens. If you are not satisfied with the results, then adopt a stricter approach.
Below is a list showing the main dietary modifications to make to alleviate Candida condition and shortly eradicate it from your system. Most probably you will find that the foods that you need to eliminate from your diet are your favourite foods and perhaps the ones that you feel addicted to! This is normal as very often your high intake of yeast-based foods is one of the primary causes of the development of Candidiasis inside your body. Or else, the development of Candidiasis gave you the urge to eat an increasing amount of these yeast-based foods.
Significant improvements usually appear after about one month of strictly adherence to Candida diet. However, before launching yourself into a drastic restricted dietary regime, please take the following into consideration – If you take drastic dietary measures what you will end up with are nutritional deficiencies. Lack of nutrients and the resultant poor immunity are two of the most likely causes why Candida picked on you in the very first place. So my advice is to avoid cutting calories and starving yourselves – your main objective when following Candida diet should be to replace sugar and yeast containing food with sugar free and yeast free food – and in particular increase your intake of dietary fibre. I strongly stress the avoidance of sugar and yeast as Candida feeds on these! Increasing your intake of dietary fibre ensures the normal, rapid transit of waster matter through the digestive tract. Also, dietary fibre takes up and absorbs a number of toxins produced by the Candida.
Please find more specific dietary advice:
- Cut all foods containing sugar such as cakes, chocolates, sweet biscuits, lollies, honey, alcohol and fruit juice. Read labels carefully because there may be hidden forms of sugar. Words to watch for include: sucrose, fructose, maltose, lactose, glycogen, glucose, mannitol, sorbitol, galactose, monosaccharides, polysaccharides
- Cut all foods containing yeast including bread, pizza, crackers, pastries, muffins, mushrooms and ferments like soy sauce, cheese, tomato paste, beer and vinegar
- Reduce your consumption of wheat-containing foods such as pasta and cereals. Wheat intolerance as well as allergy to wheat both inhibit the stomach’s ability to produce hydrochloric acid which is essential to kill most fungi and other potentially harmful microorganisms found in food
- Avoid refined carbohydrates as they are known to have a depressant effect on the immune system
- If you suffer from any food intolerances, avoid those foods that you are intolerant to, as food intolerances suppress the immune system
- Add garlic to your cooking or take garlic supplements – Candida hates garlic!
- Take 3 drops of tea tree oil diluted in a glass of water, twice per day for three to four days. Tea tree oil is a natural antimicrobial and will eliminate the yeast from the mouth to the anus
- Eat a yoghurt everyday that contains friendly bacteria for your intestines such as Lactobacillus Acidophilus, Streptococcus Thermophilus and Bifidobacterium Bifidum . These bacteria help you to restore your natural microbial balance within your digestive tract. Acidophilus is thought to be particularly beneficial in treating Candida as it makes the intestinal tract more acidic and as a result discourage the growth of Candida, and it also produces hydrogen peroxide which kills Candida. Lactobacillus Acidophilus and other friendly bacteria can also be taken in supplemental form
- Drink more water – preferably distilled or filtered. Normal tap water usually contains a variety of toxins and substances including organic chemicals and toxic minerals that can do one harm. Also, the chlorine in ordinary drinking water can have a negative effect because of its ability to destroy friendly bacteria in the large bowel
- Choose herbal teas and coffee substitutes rather than caffeinated and decaffeinated drinks. Caffeinated items are very strenuous on the bladder, the stomach and the prostate
- Drink veggie juice rather than fruit juice. Fruit juice contains sugar which feeds the yeast!
- Drink aloe Vera juice every day. Aloe Vera juice improves the healing of any damaged area of intestinal walls and is thought to have some anti-fungal action thanks to it’s immune system-boosting properties
- Support the immune system with Vitamin C, B complex and the mineral zinc. A strong immune system will avoid reoccurrence of yeast overgrowth. Biotin, one of the B-complex vitamins, is especially important in the cure and prevention of Candida as it inhibits the conversion of the benign yeast form of Candida to the invasive mycelial form. The usual effective therapeutic dose in adults is 1 milligram or more daily
- Take acid or pancreatic digestive enzymes supplements. Both hydrochloric acid as well as pancreatic enzymes help digest and inactivate fungi that enter the body with food
- Avoid all margarines and hydrogenated cooking oils. The normal process of hydrogenating the vegetable oils results in toxic and unwanted compounds called trans-fatty acids
- Avoid ordinary cow’s milk and replace it with soya, rice or oat milk. Pasteurized milk should be avoided both because of the sugar it contains (lactose) which encourages the growth of Candida
- Avoid peanuts, peanut butter, cashews and pistachios as these are thought to have mould contamination
- Avoid packaged and processed foods, which often contain refined sugar, chemicals, preservatives or food colouring. Chemical additives increase the toxic load on your body, thus worsening the condition of your immune system which is already under stress
- Hand-squeeze one small lemon or one-half of a large lemon and drink the juice straight down. Do this on an empty stomach. It can be drunk first thing in the morning after water only, or midmorning or mid-afternoon; never at night. Lemon juice is a potent antibacterial, cleansing, and healing food. It can kill bacteria and fungi, especially in the mouth, throat and a little bit in the stomach. Lemon juice also frees the body from any dead toxins
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs (such as birth control pills, antibiotics, steroids, and analgesics) as these deplete the body of B vitamins and zinc and indirectly suppress immunity. Also, an alteration of the normal bowel flora (the balance between friendly and unfriendly bacteria and yeast in the large bowel) may result from taking these drugs, predisposing the individual to infections
- Eat protein-digested foods separately from carbohydrate-digested foods. Following this food-combining principle can reduce energy spent on digestion. This helps one to speed up healing from Candida as the less energy is taken up by digestion, the more goes to healing the body. Also, to help digestion, raw fruit should eaten alone or first, before a meal. The enzymes in raw fruit make them the easiest food to digest. Stomach upset, incomplete indigestion, and fermentation of stomach foods may occur is raw fruit is eaten after a meal
- Take Capryllic Acid. Capryllic Acid is a fatty acid which is thought to replace some of the fatty acids normally produced by intestinal bacteria when these have been disrupted by antibiotics or immunosuppressive drug treatment. It should be administered at least an hour before of after meals.
Alternative Food Choices:
- All vegetables except mushrooms, corn and potatoes. (Scrub all vegetables before use. Also peel or skin when possible)
- Barley, oatmeal, chick pea and lentil flour
- Brown rice
- Cottage cheese
- Fish and fish oils (these are especially beneficial as fish oils and other fatty acids have strong antifungal properties)
- Fresh herbs and spices
- Freshly cracked nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, chestnuts, walnuts, etc)
- Garlic and onions (these are natural antifungals and kill the yeast)
- Olive oil (olive oil is rich in a fatty acid called oleic acid that also inhibits the transformation of Candida to its mycelial form)
- Rice biscuits
- Rice crackers
- Sea vegetables (these are especially beneficial as they contain an acid which prevents pollutants from being absorbed by the body. Also, thanks to their fibrous quality, they cleanse the colon.)
- Soya milk, rice milk, oat milk
The length of time of adherence to Candida diet depends on the severity of symptoms and on how much times it takes for symptoms to fade away. Most people however notice an improvement after strict adherence to the diet for two to four weeks. In severe cases, strict adherence to the diet is essential in the first phases of treatment as if you still continue to feed the yeast occasionally, it may never die! An important point to mention is that most often Candida symptoms get worse during the initial stages of treatment before they get better. This is called the ‘healing crisis’. As the yeast die off, the body is filled with poisons. This weakens the entire body, making all symptoms worse for a while. Side effects during treatment may also occur due to withdrawal symptoms from sugar, yeast, coffee, alcohol, chocolate and other not allowed foods. Candida treatment thus puts extra stress on the body as it tries to heal itself. It is for this reason that it is not a good idea to engage in strenuous forms of exercise while on treatment or extend oneself too much. On the contrary, one should try to get more rest and sleep and treat oneself gently.
Another important point to mention is that during the initial stages of treatment most Candida sufferers find themselves craving sugar and bread. This is because, as I already mentioned above, our bodies tend to crave the very foods which are causing the most problems. However, once these foods are cut out of the diet, after some initial withdrawal symptoms, the ‘need’ for those foods dies down. The body is then better able to free itself from mood swings which fluctuate from high to low, and the accompanying fatigue.
Once symptoms are gone, restricted foods can be slowly incorporated into one’s diet. However, one should never revert to old habits, or the Candida symptoms will quickly return.
Candida Treatment and Lifestyle Changes
Finally, but not least, treating Candidiasis successfully also involves some lifestyle changes. The main ones are listed below:
- Keep stress to the minimum
- Exercise everyday to relieve stress. Aerobic exercise is especially useful in treating candida as Candida and other fungi do not thrive in a high-oxygen environment. Also, fresh air and regular exercise have a positive effect on immunity
- Sleep 8 hours a day
- Choose cotton underwear and do not wear tight trousers (Moulds love warm, dark spaces with limited airflow)
- Avoid damp environments where airborne moulds are ever-present
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MARSDEN, K. (1998). Hotline to Health. London: Pan Books.
MARTIN, J. M. (2000). Complete Candida Yeast Guidebook. New York: Three Rivers Press.
WILLIAMS, X. (2002). Overcoming Candida – The Ultimate Cookery Guide. London: Vega.