by Sue Kira, Naturopath & Clinical Nutritionist
- How do you get candida overgrowth?
- What are the signs and symptoms of candida overgrowth?
- How do you test for candida overgrowth?
- Candida and leaky gut
- Candida and the liver
- Candida and inflammation
- Stop the yeast overgrowth
- Build up friendly bacteria
- Heal your gut
- Candida cleanse: foods to avoid
Would you fertilise weeds so they could grow bigger and wreck your garden and lawns?
Similarly, would you feed sugar to a fungus in your body called candida, to help it release toxins into your body and wreck your health?
Candida is a fungus, which is a type of yeast. A small amount lives naturally in your mouth and intestines, co-existing with other more beneficial bacteria. Candida does have a role in helping digestion and nutrient absorption, but when there is an over-abundance candida can break down the wall of the intestine and get into the bloodstream where it releases toxic by-products into your body and creates leaky gut. This can lead to many different health problems such as digestive issues, immune imbalances, chronic fatigue and depression.
The aim of an Anti-Candida Diet is to reduce the foods that may feed the fungal/yeast candida in your body so those organisms are starved of what they thrive on. You can never completely starve candida because there will always be some sugar from healthy carbohydrates in your diet. But by reducing high sugar foods, you can significantly reduce these organisms.
Apart from reducing sugars, this diet also focuses on cutting out potential moulds and fungal type foods that can feed candida.
How do you get candida overgrowth?
The healthy bacteria in your digestive system usually keeps candida levels in a healthy balance, but there are factors that can cause the candida population to grow out of control such as:
- A diet with lots of refined carbohydrates and/or sugar
- Antibiotics kill friendly bacteria, but not candida, so candida increases without enough competing good bacteria
- Consuming alcohol because it has lots of sugar
- The oral contraceptive pill disrupts good gut bacteria levels
- Eating lots of fermented foods like kombucha, sauerkraut and pickles as fermented foods feed both the good and bad bacteria
- A high-stress lifestyle suppresses digestive acids that kill candida
- Corticosteroids, like Prednisone (commonly used to treat severe allergies, skin problems, asthma and arthritis) are known to cause yeast infections in humans
- A weakened immune system. 80% of the body’s immune system resides in your gut. A compromised immune system means a higher risk for gut imbalances and candida overgrowth.
What are the signs and symptoms of candida overgrowth?
- Feeling tired, worn out, chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
- Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- Skin and nail fungal infections e.g. athlete’s foot, toenail fungus
- Autoimmune conditions linked to candida overgrowth include rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ulcerative colitis, scleroderma, lupus, and multiple sclerosis
- Poor memory, concentration and focus, brain fog, attention deficit
- Skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, hives and rashes
- Irritability, mood swings, anxiety, or depression
- White patches and soreness in the mouth
- Vaginal and urinary tract infections, rectal or vaginal itching
- Severe seasonal allergies, itchy ears or itchy anything
- Sugar, chocolate, and refined carbohydrate cravings
How do you test for candida overgrowth?
Tests are available from most private pathology labs. Tests can detect candida antibodies and high levels can indicate overgrowth of candida. Sometimes these antibody tests can be negative, while a bowel or urine test show as positive, depending on how the candida is influencing your immune system. With no immune activation, it will not show in the blood.
Stool testing is probably the most accurate and also shows the species of candida. The labs usually do a ‘sensitivity panel’ – a test showing the best way to kill off the candida. Make sure that your doctor or health practitioner orders a comprehensive stool analysis, rather than the standard one for parasites.
Urine Dysbiosis Test
This test looks for a waste product of candida yeast overgrowth called D-arabinitol. Elevated levels of D-arabinitol indicate excessive candida growth, and the test can help you determine if there is candida in your upper gut or small intestines. Your practitioner can explain.
At home candida test: the spit test
This do-it-yourself candida spit test lacks scientific backing, but many candida experts suggest it as a simple starting point. Feel free to try the test but be aware that it is limited in what it provides.
How to do the test:
Step 1. When you get up in the morning, before brushing your teeth, or eating or drinking anything, fill a glass with filtered water at room temperature, then spit some saliva gently into the glass.
Step 2. Come back every 20 minutes for the next hour and check for some of these tell-tale signs of candida:
- ‘Strings’ coming down through the water from the saliva at the top
- Cloudy saliva sitting at the bottom of the glass (rather than floating in one healthy clear blob)
- Opaque specks of saliva suspended in the water
Ultimately this test just tells you how thick your mucus is and little else. The thickness of your mucus can be created by many factors that may have nothing to do with candida or any other health problem.
If you have allergies or have eaten some dairy products, you will likely test ‘positive’ on the spit test. Simple dehydration can give false positive results, which basically means that you are more likely to test ‘positive’ after you wake up in the morning because you didn’t drink water all night. Clearly, the thickness of your mucus is not a reliable indicator for gut issues like candida, but I have included it as you may see it elsewhere and wonder about its accuracy.
The white coated tongue
The tongue is an extension of the digestive system, and a ‘white coated tongue’ indicates you probably have dampness in your digestive system with the possibility of a candida overgrowth.
You may also have a white coated tongue after drinking and eating certain foods, but this can also indicate that these substances are not good for your digestive system. This test is more accurate if your tongue is like that all day and night and not just at random times. Obviously, lab tests are more accurate, but it is interesting to observe your tongue and saliva to get to know what is ‘normal’ for you.
If all your tests show you don’t have candida but you suffer from many of the symptoms of candida, you can always make diet and lifestyle changes and see how you feel. Tests are not always reliable. How you feel is a very good indicator.
When left untreated, candida is more dangerous than you may realise.
Many years ago, a client had candida so severely that she was reactive to all foods and all supplements and pretty much sensitive to life. She was sick from the off gasses from the car upholstery when she drove, carpets in buildings she visited and even furniture at home. She constantly needed an air purifier to breathe.
She had MCS (multiple chemical sensitivity) from a massive systemic candida infection which was so bad that I could see it under the microscope in her live blood in full-form fungal hyphae (like arms waving) which is the most dangerous and invasive form.
Candida overload can be toxic for our bodies, particularly when it gets out of the gut and into the bloodstream where it can release toxic by-products such as acetaldehyde. Acetaldehyde is a well-known carcinogen that creates a groggy, foggy hangover feeling, along with other symptoms such as nausea, headache, fatigue and even liver damage when high doses of acetaldehyde are released from an overgrowth of candida.
Candida and leaky gut
A leaky gut creates the perfect environment for candida to thrive and multiply, then pass through the intestinal lining and enter the bloodstream along with any undigested food particles. This is characteristic of leaky gut syndrome. Or it can happen the other way around, where candida can over colonize the gut, damage the intestinal lining and create leaky gut. They can exacerbate each other, creating dis-harmony and dis-ease in the body.
Candida and the liver
Candida overgrowth releases toxins into the bloodstream that must be filtered by the liver. If there are too many toxins from candida, they can overload the liver and interfere with its ability to do its many other jobs. This toxicity can create difficulties in maintaining blood sugar levels, storing vitamins and minerals, and regulating hormone levels. The connection between candida and the liver explains why many of the symptoms of candida overgrowth like irritability, fatigue and brain fog, are like those of a toxic overloaded liver.
Candida and inflammation
When you have candida overgrowth, leaky gut and an overburdened liver, the immune system can react and create inflammation in the body. Inflammation can manifest itself in symptoms like weight gain, skin rashes and brain fog and lead to autoimmune disease.
To successfully treat candida, you need to do three things:
- Stop the yeast overgrowth
- Build up the friendly bacteria
- Heal the gut
Step 1: Stop the yeast overgrowth
Sugar feeds yeast, so eliminate sugar in all forms such as lollies/candy, desserts, alcohol, cereals and grain flours. Also cut out the more complex carbohydrates like grains, beans, fruit, bread, pasta and potatoes until tests show the overgrowth has settled down. This helps prevent the candida from growing and will eventually cause the excess to die off.
Eliminate all fermented foods, because while fermented foods help to feed the good bacteria, most people don’t realise that bad bacteria feed off these foods as well. An Anti-Candida diet will help support any treatment regime your practitioner has given you. Some people don’t handle herbs or anti-fungals well, which is why the anti-candida diet is even more important.
Step 2: Build up friendly bacteria
Rebuild good bacteria to keep your candida population under control. Taking anywhere from 25 to 100 billion units of mixed strain probiotics daily should help to reduce the candida levels and restore your levels of good bacteria. An excellent specific yeast microorganism is Saccharomyces Boulardii which is known to eat candida for breakfast, lunch and dinner. See your health practitioner about this strain of friendly organism.
Step 3: Heal your gut
Once you have removed the foods that feed the candida and reintroduced the good bacteria back into your gut and tests show that your candida levels are under control, then it is time to use the fermented foods to feed the good bacteria and maintain a healthy balance once again.
Eliminate inflammatory foods that can harm your gut, such as gluten, dairy, sugar, additives and hormone fed animals, and introduce foods that reduce inflammation to help prevent candida from working its way through your body.
Candida cleanse: foods to avoid when you have candida
Avoid all sugar. This includes many salad dressings and condiments and even natural sweeteners like honey, coconut sugar and agave as these will all feed candida. Completely eliminating sugar can initially leave you with strong cravings and irritability, but this will soon pass.
Many foods that contain carbohydrates, such as fruits and vegetables, are not inherently bad for you, but when you are fighting candida it is very important to cut off its food supply wherever possible. Certain vegetables that have very little sugar are the important carbohydrates to eat (list follows). It can be challenging and you may slip-up, but don’t beat yourself up. The more you can cut sugars and carbs from your diet, the faster you will get results.
An anti-candida diet includes candida starving foods, plus ingredients like garlic, olive oil and lemon to help fight off candida overgrowth.
So what are you going to eat? Nuts and seeds, avocado, many vegetables, lean protein and stevia for sweetener will become your friends. Here’s a list of friendly foods for your anti-candida diet:
Low sugar vegetables (carbohydrates)
- Brussels sprouts
- Meats and eggs (Protein foods)
Eat only fresh pasture-raised, or organic meat as the grain fed varieties may have hormones, antibiotics and substances that can kill off the good bacteria and feed candida.
- Eggs from any poultry
Note: Avoid processed meat like lunch meat, bacon and spam which are loaded with dextrose, nitrates, sulphates and sugars. Smoked or vacuum-packed meats are best avoided as smoked meats contain chemicals found in processed meats and vacuum-packed meats that are often gassed with nitrogen.
Fish (protein foods)
Wild caught salmon and sardines contain ocean contaminants such as mercury but in much lower amounts than other seafood. Wild caught salmon is an excellent source of omega-3s fats which can help fight fungal infections. It’s best to choose fresh fish or fish tinned in olive oil or water as fish in tomato sauce etc have added sugar.
- Wild salmon
Nuts and seeds
Nuts and seeds contain good fats and proteins plus some carbs. The following nuts and seeds have low mould content. Soaking them overnight in water with a splash of apple cider vinegar or diluted grapefruit seed extract will help to remove any moulds, enzyme inhibitors and make them easier to digest. They can be dried in a dehydrator to make them crunchy if desired. Bake with almond flour and coconut flour.
- Flax Seed
- Sunflower Seeds
Special Candida fighting foods
While it is necessary to remove certain foods from the diet when treating candida infections, it is also important to incorporate candida-fighting foods into your daily diet. Thankfully there are plenty of delicious foods with strong antifungal properties.
Garlic is one of the best options to fight candida. Garlic oil has been shown to penetrate the cellular membranes of candida and very successfully disrupt the normal activity and functioning of the yeast, but not harm friendly bacteria levels, which is more than you can say for most anti-fungal treatments.
Coconut oil has several unique properties that make it an excellent treatment for yeast infections like candida. Potent natural yeast-fighting substances within coconut oil include lauric acid and caprylic acid. The medium chain triglycerides (fats) found in coconut oil help to kill off yeast, viruses, and bacteria. This is a super, ‘super food’.
Olive oil and cinnamon
A research study looking into alternatives to conventional antifungal medications found that cinnamon oil and olive oil both successfully cleared candida that was isolated from blood infections.
Citrus fruits are well known for their antiseptic qualities and can help prevent the formation of biofilms, which is like a mucus plug that hides and protects bacteria, fungi, yeasts and viruses. Lemon or lime juice can be used as a dressing or as a drink in warm water first thing in the morning. Citrus seed extract has been used naturopathically to help kill off candida. Other citrus fruits are not recommended due to sugar content.
Ginger has been suggested as a natural antifungal option to use when many fungi are becoming resistant to conventional antifungal medications.
Cloves have long been used in traditional medicine systems to fight a wide variety of ailments, including fungal infections.
Herbal remedies for candida
You can also consider herbal remedies with antifungal properties. Herbs such as wormwood, black walnut hulls, citrus seed extract and mugwort are some of the commonly used herbs for treating candida overgrowths.
Talk to your practitioner about probiotics and supportive herbs to make things easier and speed up the process, and to be guided along the way to check you are on track with cleansing and healing from candida and leaky gut.
While on this diet, do not stop any medications or supplements previously prescribed unless advised otherwise by your medical or health care professional, who may even prescribe extra supplementation.
Note: During the early stages of your new diet, you may experience symptoms such as fatigue, headaches or body aches because your body is detoxifying. Persevere, because the end results could be remarkable for you. However, if you are unsure about any symptom, check with your health practitioner.
At the beginning of your candida-fighting diet, you may experience candida die-off, which is similar to flu-like symptoms many experience at the start of a detox program or radical change of diet.
As your body gets rid of toxins and the yeast die, your symptoms may get worse before they get better. This is your liver finding it hard to cope with all the extra detox work of dealing with the dead bodies of the candida being flushed out of your system.
Like any detox, start out slowly, drink a lot of water, rest, and if symptoms are too uncomfortable, ease up on your anti-candida regime by adding a few extra carbs like sweet potato for a short term. Speak to your health practitioner to be reassured your symptoms are ‘normal’ for this process. See if you need to do something different e.g. extra nutrients or liver supporting herbs.
I often prescribe a herb called St Mary’s Thistle to help this process which has made all the difference for many of my clients. You can buy this as a tea in some health shops and drink it between meals.
Once your candida is under control, which can take anywhere from a couple of weeks to a few months, you can start slowly adding different food groups back into your diet. The key word here is ‘slowly’.
But continue to avoid inflammatory foods that can harm your gut and body. Foods like sugar, coffee, grains, alcohol, dairy and starchy plant foods can be very irritating to the intestinal lining and increase the risk of inflammation and candida getting out of control again. Limiting or avoiding these foods is best, but if you do have them, then be sure to pay attention to how you feel afterwards and check for any symptoms that may lead to inflammation or recurrence of candida overgrowth.
Client name and identifying information changed
Tim came to me feeling rather embarrassed about his oral thrush (candida), as he felt that he had picked it up from his new girlfriend via oral sex, which may well have been the case. I mentioned to him that if his system had been in good balance then he would have coped better with any infection as the organisms wouldn’t have been able to take hold.
He not only had the typical white tongue of candida infection but he also had white sore patches throughout his mouth and said it felt like it was also down his throat, and even his anus was a bit sore. Apart from these issues, Tim felt rather fatigued most days and craved sweet foods a lot (and fed those cravings and the fatigue with lots of chocolate bars).
After testing his bowels with a comprehensive digestive stool analysis, it appeared that he had quite a rampant infection throughout his digestive system, one that wouldn’t have taken hold from just one night with his girlfriend – so he could stop blaming her for his demise.
He was rather pleased about that, but not happy about the level of infection he had in his body. He understood quite well what was going on as he had done quite a bit of research before seeing me and he knew what could happen if left untreated. But what he didn’t know, until he saw the results of the tests, was how bad it was.
With this information, Tim was ready to do what was necessary to combat the infection. He knew from previous experiences that he was particularly sensitive to taking herbal antimicrobials but was ok with probiotics, so we didn’t use any herbs to treat the infection, just diet and probiotics.
I did put him on some Saccharomyces boulardii species, a strain of yeast that likes to eat candida, plus another multi-strain probiotic to help re-establish his good bacteria, which according to his stool tests he had nearly none, and the diet would continue to provide plenty of good bacteria.
Tim followed the anti-candida diet to the letter before I saw him again, and he kept in touch via email to let me know how he was going. His candida infection cleared within six weeks which was great, but his three-month follow-up stool test indicated quite a high level of candida organisms still in his body. This highlights the need to re-check levels before thinking that all is all clear because symptoms disappear.
This helped to keep Tim motivated to continue with the program for another six months and then re-check his levels. I had previously told him that some people can take two years to regain proper balance, some only a few months. Because his initial levels were so bad, so I didn’t expect to see a quick turnaround.
After six months, his next stool test showed all good bacteria was back in balance and his candida was nearly back to normal levels, so he was encouraged to continue with the diet for as long as possible.
Twelve months later everything tested perfectly and Tim looked and felt great and was excited to tell me that his now wife was expecting their first child. They had both been on the diet together and it seemed they were so healthy that they fell pregnant easily and soon afterwards had a healthy baby.
This might seem normal to most people, but I learnt later that his wife previously had endometriosis and was told that she may never be able to conceive naturally so they never used contraception.
The diet must have also helped her, which was awesome for them. A couple of years later I received an email to let me know they just had their second child and all were happy and healthy.