Yeast is not only all around us – it’s in us too. We all have some yeasts, and some fermentation in the gut, usually confined to small amounts in the colon. We also eat yeast, most commonly baker’s yeast, in breads and bakery products, and in brewer’s yeast in beers. However, there are natural yeasts in fruit that are employed to ferment wine. One in five people are yeast allergic so, overall, you are likely to feel better if you have less yeasted breads and drinks.
One of the most common gut infections of all is an overgrowth of a kind of yeast called Candida albicans. The infection is technically called candidiasis. This is what is meant by a yeast infection. The name Candida albicans means ‘sweet and white’, suggesting something delicate and pure but in reality Candida albicans is a minute microbe, a yeast, which multiplies, migrates and releases toxins. All of us have some Candida present as part of a normal balanced gut ecology. However, when it overgrows, it can afflict us with countless symptoms, both physical and mental - bowel problems, allergies, extreme fatigue, hormone dysfunction, skin complaints, joint and muscle pain, thrush, infections and emotional disorders - many of which mimic other diseases and are frequently misdiagnosed.
Candida overgrowth occurs when we feed it the food it loves the most: refined sugar and other refined carbohydrates. In addition, antibiotic use wipes out friendly bacteria in the gut, leaving the way clear for Candida to proliferate; steroid drugs and hormone treatments depress the immune system so that it cannot keep Candida levels under control; and lack of breast feeding ensures an early imbalance in gut ecology.
Dr William Crook published a questionnaire in his book, The Yeast Connection, which can help ascertain the presence or severity of an overgrowth of Candida. It if shows a high score and if doctors have failed to make any other diagnosis, it makes sense to embark on an anti-Candida campaign, ideally with the support of a healthcare practitioner.
The Candida Questionnaire - How do you score?
Have you taken tetracycline or other antibiotics for 1 month or longer?
Have you, at any time in your life, taken other “broad spectrum” antibiotics for respiratory, urinary or other infections (for two months or longer, or in shorter courses four or more times in a one year period)?
Have you, at any time in your life, been bothered by persistent prostatitis, vaginitis or other problems affecting your reproductive organs?
Have you taken birth control pills for more than two years?
Have you taken cortisone type drugs for more than a month?
Does exposure to perfumes, insecticides, cigarette smoke and other chemicals provoke noticeable symptoms?
Are your symptoms worse on damp, muggy days or in mouldy places?
Have you athlete’s foot, ring worm, “jock itch” or other chronic fungal infections of the skin or nails?
Do you crave sugar, bread or alcoholic beverages?
Score 2 points for each ‘yes’ answer.
Do you often experience fatigue or lethargy?
Do you ever have the feeling of being ‘drained’?
Do you suffer from depression?
Do you have poor memory?
Do you ever experience feeling ‘spacey’ or ‘unreal’?
Do you suffer from an inability to make decisions?
Do you experience numbness, burning or tingling?
Do you ever get headaches or migraines?
Do you suffer from muscle aches?
Do you have muscle weakness or paralysis?
Do you have pain and / or swelling in joints?
Do you suffer from abdominal pain?
Do you get constipation and / or diarrhoea?
Do you suffer from bloating, belching or intestinal gas?
Do you have troublesome vaginal burning, itching or discharge?
Do you suffer from prostatitis or impotence?
Do you ever experience a loss of sexual desire or feeling?
Do you suffer from endometriosis or infertility?
Do you have cramps or other menstrual irregularities?
Do you get premenstrual tension?
Do you ever have attacks of anxiety or crying?
Do you suffer from cold hands or feet and / or chilliness?
Do you get shaky or irritable when hungry?
Score 1 point for each ‘yes’ answer.
Add up your total score.
If you score above 30 there’s a strong likelihood that you have candidiasis. If you score above 20 there’s a possibility that you have a degree of candidiasis.
If you do have a high score you should see your healthcare practitioner who can run diagnostic tests for Candida. The most reliable tests are the Candida antibody test (saliva or blood tests for IgG and IgA antibodies) and the Organic Acid urine test (ask your nutritional therapist).
The Anti-Candida regime consists of four main parts:
The aim of the diet is to cut off the Candida’s sugar supply. This should quickly improve your digestive symptoms and stops fuelling the Candida’s growth. All forms of sugar must be strictly avoided, including lactose (milk sugar), malt and fructose (fruit sugar). Refined carbohydrates add to the glucose load so it is essential to use only whole grain flour, rice, etc. The simplest guide is to follow a low-GL diet since this ensures no sugar and only slow-releasing complex carbohydrates. Other substances to be avoided are yeast (bread, gravy mixes, spreads), fermented products (alcohol, vinegar), mould (cheese, mushrooms), and stimulants (tea, coffee).
Candida often brings on cravings for its favourite foods; at these times steely determination is needed to keep to the diet. Even when Candida-related symptoms have completely disappeared, the diet should be maintained for a further year to consolidate the newly-corrected balance of gut flora. Before long, a “sweet tooth” disappears, making it easier to stay on a sugar-free diet. I recommend you read Erica White’s Beat Candida Cookbook to show that mealtimes can still be an enjoyable experience. Another good book with recipes is the Body Ecology Diet, by Donna Gates.
2. Immune-boosting supplement programme
A supplement programme is important to boost your immune system so that it can play its role in keeping the Candida under control. Its also important to correct imbalances in glucose tolerance and to detoxify the body of pollutants including Candida toxins. The best anti-candida agents are caprylic acid (from coconut), oregano and olive leaf extract. I also recommend you take an all-round comprehensive supplement programme, plus a supplement specifically designed to improve digestion, with both enzymes and probiotics, and, ideally glutamine, an amino acid which helps heal the gut, during the first month.
3. Anti-fungal supplements
As surprising as it may sound, one of the best supplements to tackle Candida is itself a yeast called Saccharomyces boulardii (S. boulardii). It’s a non-colonizing yeast which means that it will never take up residence in your gut. However, as it passes through it stimulates your gut’s production of an immune component called secretory IgA (SIgA). Greater amounts of this immunoglobulin make it increasingly difficult for the Candida to stick to your gut wall. Some people with Candida may be hypersensitive to all yeast including S. boulardii so taking it could make you feel worse. In this case, you should wait until you’ve cut all of the yeast out of your diet for about four weeks to reduce your hypersensitivity and then introduce the S. boulardii at very low doses and increase very gradually. This may mean starting with as little as 1 billion organisms (1/2 capsule) once daily before building up to the full dose of about 10 billion organisms a day. S. boulardii also helps to make the environment of your gut more hospitable to friendly bacteria so enhancing their chances of taking up residence.
Additional anti-fungal supplements to directly tackle the Candida may also be necessary. These can be taken while you are taking the S. boulardii but should be taken several hours apart so as not to kill off the S. boulardii as well. Its generally best not to start any of these additional supplements until you’ve been on the diet and taking the S. boulardii for about a month in order to minimize the ‘die-off’ reaction – more on this in a minute.
One of the most useful antifungal agents is caprylic acid, a fatty acid which occurs naturally in coconuts. It’s great advantage is that it does not kill off your friendly flora. As calcium/magnesium caprylate, it survives digestive processes and is able to reach the colon.
Oregano oil is another excellent anti-fungal agent. It also has the advantage of crossing the gut wall into the body so may be better if you have more ‘body-wide’ fungal symptoms such as athlete’s foot.
Artemisia is a herb with broad-spectrum antifungal properties, useful against a wide variety of pathogens without disturbing friendly flora. A high score on the Candida questionnaire and a history of illness originating in a hot climate are sufficient reasons to suspect a parasite other than Candida, and to use a broad-spectrum antifungal agent.
Propolis is another natural substance which, according to research at the University of Bratislava, is remarkably effective for all fungal infections of the skin and body. It can be taken as drops and built up gradually. Its anaesthetic effect is soothing for oral thrush, and as cream, for painful muscles.
Aloe vera is gently antifungal and is a refreshing mouthwash or gargle as well as an ingestible aid to digestion. It can be used as an overnight denture soak, preferable to products which are not specifically antifungal. Dentures can be an ongoing source of Candida reinfection.
Tea tree oil is an antifungal agent and, as a cream, can be used for fungal skin conditions. Candida is frequently associated with eczema, psoriasis and acne as well as athletes foot and other fungal skin or nail infections.
Grapefruit seed extract, also called Citricidal, is a powerful antibiotic, antifungal and anti-viral agent. The great advantage, however, is that it doesn’t have much effect on the beneficial gut bacteria. It comes in drops, best taken two or three times a day, fifteen drops at a time and in capsules. Other antifungal preparations include olive leaf, garlic, goldenseal and pau d’arco.
Supplements are needed to carry beneficial bacteria into the intestines and reestablish a healthy colony. I call it “re-florestation”! The role of these bacteria is to increase acidity by producing lactic acid and acetic acid, and to inhibit undesirable micro-organisms that would compete with them for space.
Lactobacillus acidophilus is the major coloniser of the small intestine and Bifidobacterium bifidum inhabits the large intestine and vagina; it also produces B vitamins. Other helpful bacteria are the transient Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus, which also produce lactic acid as they pass through the bowel. These friendly bacteria are contained in yoghurt which is therefore a helpful food provided there is no intolerance to dairy foods. In yoghurt, the lactose (milk sugar) content has largely been converted into lactic acid by enzyme-producing bifidobacteria, which accounts for the sharpness of its taste.
To ensure safe passage of these bacteria through the gastric juices, it is necessary to take them in a capsule supplying large numbers of viable organisms in freeze-dried form. Two capsules should be taken daily, at breakfast and dinner, but may be increased to six daily or even more in cases of diarrhoea or of illness necessitating antibiotics, which further deplete the friendly flora. An acidophilus cream is a beneficial aid for a vaginal fungal infection.
Dealing with die-off
Thriving Candida releases a minimum of seventy-nine known toxins. Dead and dying Candida releases even more. A general feeling of toxicity includes aching muscles, fuzzy head, depression, anxiety, nausea and diarrhoea. In specific areas where Candida has colonised, there can be an apparent flare-up of old symptoms - sore throat, thrush, painful joints, eczema, etc. This unpleasant situation is known as “die-off” or formally as Herxheimer’s reaction.
The art is to destroy Candida slowly but surely so that it is not being killed off faster than the body can eliminate the toxins. Initial die-off is usually triggered by the diet, and by vitamins and minerals as they boost the immune system to fight it. These first two points of the four-point plan usually cause more than enough die-off for most people to cope with, and antifungal agents should not be added to the regime until this phase is over. By the end of a month the majority of people claim that they feel better than they have for years! Then is the time to add the antifungal and probiotic supplements to the programme.
Most people on caprylic acid should start with one medium-strength capsule (about 400 mg) daily, without too much difficulty. If, after five days, they are not battling with die-off symptoms, the dose can be increased to 400 mg x 2, and so on up to six capsules daily. After this, they can graduate to a higher strength capsule (about 700 mg) three times daily and increase again if necessary. However, the climb up is seldom straightforward and at some stage there might come a surge of die-off reaction necessitating a drop to a lower level, or even a complete break, whilst the body eliminates the toxins. This should not be regarded as a setback, but simply as a necessary part of the process. Drinking plenty of fluid and taking good levels of vitamin C and B vitamins, as already discussed, will speed up detoxification. Eventually, caprylic acid accomplishes its job. The score on the Candida questionnaire falls to as low as it can, allowing for “history” factors which obviously do not change.
For more advice and information on candida visit Erica White’s site www.beatcandidapack.com.