Candida albicans in health

Most natural health practitioners would agree that overgrowth of yeast in general, and Candida albicans in particular, represents a huge epidemic in the developed world that is not being addressed – or only inadequately addressed – by conventional medicine.

Indeed, the majority of naturopathic practitioners probably spend most of their time dealing with the effects of yeast overgrowth in one form or another as those affected become increasingly disenchanted with the allopathic medical approach and increasingly desperate and find their way to their doors.

Overgrowth of yeasts can produce a myriad of confusing and persistent physical and psychological symptoms until the cause – which is toxicity in general and metal toxicity in particular – is dealt with adequately. In my opinion, all other treatments – even natural ones using herbal formulae to kill the yeast and replenish the intestines with good bacteria are, at best, temporary control measures if the underlying cause of the problem is not addressed.

The evidence for fungal overgrowth is hidden in plain sight – athlete’s foot, oral and genital thrush, yeast growing in the moist skin folds of the body such as the groin and under the breasts in women and fungal toe nails. All of these symptoms of systemic yeast infections get overlooked and treated topically only to reappear or appear elsewhere later in another form.

Overgrowth of Candida albicans or candidiasis causes a lot of physical and emotional distress – often over an entire lifetime and can be controlled temporarily by strict diets and the use of antifungal supplements. However, it can be addressed permanently and the root cause tackled by detoxifying the body..

Yeasts: Friend and foe

Yeasts are ancient and ubiquitous and a very necessary part of the cycle of life and death. They are our friends, although it may not feel like it to you if you have effectively been fighting a pitched battle with yeast overgrowth for what may have been many decades.

Yeasts live in dark, moist environments and break down once-living matter and return it to the soil. Typically they exist in both yeast and fungal forms with yeast spores acting as ‘seeds’ and maturing into the fungal form when they alight upon a suitable substrate. When this occurs they put out multiple branching arms (known as mycelia) some of which produce further seed or spore heads which are released into the surrounding environment.

Our bodies are covered both within and without in these yeasts and usually there is an uneasy truce and we coexist. We offer the yeasts a constant supply of sugars and starches and the dark, moist, warm environment of the intestines, but unlike some bacteria, yeasts offer us nothing in return and are therefore classed as a parasite.

Yeasts such as Candida albicans are also capable of explosive growth given ideal conditions (which rarely exist) and have the potential to expand 100 fold in 24 hours. This means that one yeast cell can potentially become a colony of a billion tons in a week!

Most people develop antibodies to yeast as babies, which means that their immune systems have already been provoked into responding. Indeed, nappy rash is partially a yeast infection. So you can see that yeasts are constantly ‘waiting in the wings’ for their fortunes to change and, as such, they are opportunistic pathogens.

Although the overgrowth of many species of yeast can adversely affect human health, it is widely accepted that Candida albicans presents the most problems on a societal scale.

The effects of candidiasis

Under certain conditions yeasts such as Candida albicans can proliferate and this is known as Candidiasis. As this occurs the yeasts morph into their fungal forms and the mycelia grow to penetrate between the cell junctions of the intestinal lining. This is known as ‘leaky gut’ syndrome and it means that:

  • Improperly digested food breaches the intestinal lining leading to the development of food intolerances and allergies.
  • Candida can release its approximately 90 toxins (candotoxins) directly into the circulation making the individual affected feel generally unwell.
  • The body effectively contains an ‘internal brewery’ where foodstuffs are fermented and alcohol and acetaldehyde are constantly produced leading to feelings of being constantly foggy and ‘hung-over’.
  • Candida can release spores from seed heads into the circulation that can colonise other organs.
  • Other barriers within the body can be breached by transformation from the spore form of candida into the fungal form meaning that ultimately no organ or system is spared.

These processes collectively gradually undermine the health of the host and lead progressively to systemic yeast infections in the individual concerned. Any tests conducted to determine whether candidal overgrowth is a causative factor in an individual’s ill health are complicated by the fact that candida is a normal inhabitant of the intestines. A history, symptom picture and response to treatment tend to confirm the diagnosis of candidal overgrowth.

The causes of candidiasis

We have coexisted with candida for millennia, however, there are several factors that have led to an epidemic of candidiasis in recent times. Some of these factors are listed below and may have an additive effect:

Widespread antibiotic use/abuse Antibiotics permanently alter the ecology of the body by wiping out the friendly bacteria thus removing one of the main factors controlling the spread of Candida.

Steroid drug use This includes asthma inhalers, corticosteroid creams, the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) all of which suppress the immune response and also alter the ecological balance of the body.

A nutritionally deficient diet A refined ‘modern’ diet high in starchy, sugary and yeast-containing foods such as alcohol and bread, and low in vitamins and minerals promotes yeast overgrowth.

Some prescription and any street drugs Pharmaceutical medications such as ulcer drugs, tranquillisers, sleeping pills and antacids and any recreational drugs also favour overgrowth of yeasts.

Chronic stress This raises blood sugar levels, depresses the immune response and leads to lack of restorative maintenance functions as the body is constantly on alert.

Drinking chlorinated water The chlorine in municipal water supplies destroys not only pathogenic species in the water supply, but also the beneficial 'friendly' bacteria in the intestines.

Food preservatives These too kill both beneficial and pathogenic bacteria in the intestines as well as in food and beverages.

Parasitic infections These are relatively common and may be the result of, or co-exist with yeasts in a body with a pathologic ecology.

Constipation This very common problem creates the stagnation and alkaline conditions that promote yeast growth.

Pre-existing health conditions An underactive thyroid gland, anaemia and diabetes and any condition associated with a compromised immune system such as cancer or AIDS allows yeast overgrowth.

Wearing dentures and particularly full plastic dentures can create an ideal environment for yeast overgrowth in the mouth.

Mercury toxicity As you can see many of these factors are commonplace in our society however, the biggest factor promoting the overgrowth of Candida albicans in my opinion is mercury toxicity from dental amalgams. Candida has evolved to be able to protect itself from toxic metals such as mercury by converting them into their organic forms and it can generate energy by these conversions. And as the cells of the immune system engulf the mercury-laden yeast cells they are disabled or die ultimately to end up being dismantled in the liver where the mercury further poisons the processes of detoxification.

Being female Finally, women are much more likely to suffer from candidiasis than men because oestrogen both binds mercury and promotes yeast overgrowth. Pregnancy in particular may mark a turning point as the immune response is 'turned down' to prevent a reaction to the 'foreign' proteins in the developing foetus obtaining from the father.

Symptoms of candidiasis

Symptoms of overgrowth of Candida albicans include:

  • Recurrent ear, nose and throat infections, sinusitis and tonsillitis
  • Reproductive problems such as prostatitis and ‘jock itch’ in men, and vaginal thrush and endometriosis in women
  • Urinary problems such as cystitis and the need for frequent urination
  • Muscle and joint swelling and pain
  • Digestive problems such as heartburn, indigestion, constipation, bloating, diarrhoea, continuous dull abdominal ache, an urgent need to defecate and flatulence
  • Development of food sensitivities and sensitivities to perfumes, chemicals and tobacco smoke
  • Mental problems such as impaired memory and confusion
  • Psychological problems such as mood swings, PMT, irritability, depression and loss of libido
  • Respiratory problems such as bronchitis and asthma
  • Itchy, moist, fungal rashes especially of the mouth, toes, fingers, genitals and skin folds

  • A thickening and yellowing of finger- and toe-nails
  • Feeling generally unwell and fatigued
  • Frequent headaches or migraines
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Worsening of symptoms in damp and mouldy places
  • Insomnia and
  • Cravings for, or addiction to, sweet or starchy foods and/or alcohol.

Please note that candidiasis can coexist with other conditions and may not be the cause or the sole cause of the above symptoms. Of course the standard treatment for many of the above symptoms is treatment with antibiotics or steroids, both of which are not only unhelpful, but also extremely counterproductive.

Treatment of candidiasis

Some practitioners use anti-fungal drugs but there are several drawbacks to this approach.

First, you are addressing a symptom rather than the cause since it is not so much the Candida that is a ‘pathogen’ as the fact that it finds itself in an environment where it can flourish and it is this that needs to be addressed to achieve any long-term resolution.

Other problems are that people can become indefinitely dependent upon the antifungal drug and experience worse symptoms when they try to wean themselves off them. And whilst the drugs selectively kill Candida albicans they may allow other fungi and organisms to proliferate thus compounding the problem.

Lastly, Candida produces a large quantity of highly toxic substances when it dies and by producing a massive drug-induced die-off (Herxheimer reaction) the normal channels of excretion can become overwhelmed and produce some very unpleasant symptoms.

The goal of treatment has to be to control the growth of candida by depriving it of its favoured nutrients whilst simultaneously addressing the underlying cause(s) that promote yeast overgrowth. Detoxifying and regenerating the immune system and replenishing friendly bacteria also allow the body to re-exert control.

The anti-candida diet

The anti-candida diet can be a little daunting at first. You will need to stick to it rigidly for at least two weeks, but possibly much longer. You are trying to deprive the candida of its preferred foodstuffs, so even one or two transgressions defeat the object of the exercise as they can promote the vigorous growth that you are trying to counter as previously mentioned.

After this initial period you can start to reintroduce some foods cautiously whilst observing symptoms. The best way to think of the diet is as the diet our primitive forefathers would have eaten - indeed the diet we are designed to eat. If you concentrate on all the tasty foods that you can make and eat with what is permitted instead of focussing on what you cannot eat and drink it makes the exercise more tolerable. How much you are prepared to do will depend in part on how sick you are.

Foods to avoid for control of yeast infections

Yeast Avoid consuming yeast in all its forms. This is partly because most people with candida are yeast intolerant and partly because it re-colonises the yeast in the bowel. That means that you have to avoid anything fermented which includes all alcohol (especially wine and beer), vinegar, citric acid, pickles, soy sauce and tofu. It also includes all yeast-based products such as Marmite, yeast extract (often added - look at the label), blue cheese, stock cubes or powder, brewer’s yeast, supplements containing yeast (especially B vitamins) and anything malted.

Sugar You need to starve the candida of its favourite food: sugar. So you need to completely eliminate sugar in all its forms such as treacle, syrup, molasses, honey, fructose, maltose, glucose, sorbitol, maple syrup, or date sugar. Artificial sweeteners are also to be avoided for different reasons although a little agave syrup or xylitol (both available from health food stores) can be used to sweeten foods.

Carbohydrates All refined carbohydrates should be excluded which rules out anything made with flour such as pies, pasta, crackers, pastries, cakes, doughnuts and muffins. Bread is both a refined carbohydrate and yeast-containing and should be avoided completely.

Processed meat or fish You can eat meat and fish but try to eliminate products high in antibiotics and steroids as much as possible. It might be worth getting organic chicken, pork and beef in particular. Avoid processed meat products such as sausages, corned beef, hot dogs and hamburgers. Cured products such as smoked salmon, ham or salami are also high in yeast and should be avoided in the initial period.

Dairy Excude all dairy products including milk, buttermilk, butter, cream, sour cream, yoghurt, crème fraiche, cottage cheese and cheese as these are favoured foodstuffs of yeasts. Many products contain or have these added, so you need to look at labels.

Fungi Mushrooms and truffles and their products are to be avoided completely.

Some drinks Avoid drinks such as tea, coffee, Ovaltine and Horlicks.

Nuts This refers to any nuts that you haven’t cracked yourself because these are often high in yeast.

Fruit All fruit – fresh, tinned or dried is to be avoided for the initial period.

Miscellaneous items such as monosodium glutamate and cream of tartar also promote yeast overgrowth.

Any food that has been stored for any length of time (other than frozen) will be high in yeast so make sure any herbs used, for example, are fresh.

Foods to include for control of yeast infections

Eat a really healthy diet of fresh foods (organic if possible) and drink plenty of water to help flush all the toxins out of your system (approximately 2 litres per day). In the early stages you will need to cook whole basic foods simply and not eat pre-prepared foods as you need to know exactly what you are eating.

  • Unlimited vegetables either raw or cooked – use your imagination.
  • A reasonable amount of unrefined carbohydrates such as rice, potato, porridge oats, oat cakes and puffed rice (sugar free).
  • Root vegetables (other than potatoes) often act as prebiotics which means that they promote the growth of friendly bacteria in the intestine. So substituting your normal source of carbohydrates with sweet potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes, for instance, provides a filling and beneficial alternative.
  • Rice or soya milk.
  • Any fish (fresh or tinned), poultry and meat.
  • Lentils, beans and chick peas.
  • Use olive oil in dressings (along with lemon) and for cooking.
  • Garlic and fresh herbs.
  • Drink lots of water and herb teas.

By following this diet you are going to achieve several aims. You are going to kill large quantities of candida, you will also have eliminated several of the foods most likely to cause sensitivities, weaned yourself off caffeine and sugar and started to rehydrate and heal. You may get severe cravings and these are a prelude to more candida dying and are an encouraging sign.

As the candida dies it releases a large toxic load which can cause flu-like symptoms, headaches or a worsening of symptoms, but this only lasts for a few days and after this you may start to feel better than you have felt in a long time. This is known as the Herxheimer reaction or die-off and typically starts on about day 3 and lasts a couple of days, so you may want to time starting the regime so that these days fall over a quiet weekend. All of these signs, although unpleasant, indicate that what you are doing is working and that candidal overgrowth has been an underlying problem.

Suggested menu for control of candidal overgrowth

Listed below are suggestions for meals whilst in the strict anti-candida diet phase.

Breakfast: Oatmeal or rice porridge made with rice milk; homemade muesli (oat and millet flakes, seeds and nuts soaked overnight); rice cakes; eggs or brown rice kedgeree; omelette or a cooked breakfast of scrambled eggs (made with rice milk), bacon and tomatoes.

Lunch: You can make some really tasty filling meat and/or vegetable soups; salads (include any raw or cooked vegetable you fancy) with chicken, fish or meat; rice salad; casserole or other leftovers; baked potato with prawns (no mayo), tuna or homemade chilli.

Supper: The classic meat, poultry or fish and two vegetable meal (no sauce or gravy) or a vegetable/meat/chickpea stir-fry with rice.

The important thing is to plan ahead by taking a thermos of soup or a salad into work. When eating out drink water and order the simplest food such as grilled chicken or fish with salad (no dressing - olive oil and a squeeze of lemon) or plain potatoes and vegetables. Desserts are best avoided completely, but you can have fruit after a few weeks.

Re-introducing foods on the anti-candida diet

You may be bored on this diet, but you should not go hungry at all. After at least two weeks (it may take two or more months) you can reintroduce foods carefully, one at a time and watching for symptoms. It is a good idea to keep a food diary. Whilst we tend to reflect on what could have been the cause when we have a reaction, it is as valuable to know what you ate without ill effect so that you can return to basics when you need to.

  • Start with no more than one piece of fruit a day. Avoid melons and grapes which are high in yeast and peel all fruit initially.
  • You may want to try introducing yeast-free breads such as soda bread, unleavened rye or barley breads or yeast-free crackers such as Ryvita and wholewheat pasta.
  • Nuts and seeds, spices, fresh and dried herbs.
  • Low sugar jam or honey can be used to sweeten foods in moderation.

Supplements for treatment of candidiasis

If you just follow the anti-candida diet and take no supplements you can drive the candida further into your body as it searches for food so supplementation during the diet is important. Every healthcare practitioner will have a different regime and yours will advise you, however the following elements are often included:

  • Multiple minerals and vitamins to support the immune system.
  • Probiotics (especially Lactobacillus acidophilus and Lactobacillus bifidus) to re-colonise the bowel with beneficial micro-organisms that help to check candidal overgrowth
  • Natural anti-fungal agents such as garlic, grapefruit seed extract or oregano.
  • Hydrochloric acid and digestive enzymes which help to fully digest food and regulate the growth of yeast and
  • Supplements to help heal the intestines.

The tendency is to make a huge effort when feeling very unwell and then backslide when feeling better, however this nearly always results in the regrowth of yeasts over time until the underlying cause(s) have been adequately addressed..