What is candida?
Candida albicans is a fungus that is naturally found in the body. We all have low levels of candida, it is part of our gut flora and can also be found in our genitals, urinary tract, intestines, throat and mouth. Most of the time candida is harmless, but it’s possible for overgrowths and infections to occur.
What are the symptoms of a candida overgrowth?
Symptoms of a candida overgrowth include, bloating, gas, constipation/diarrhea, food cravings (especially for sugar), headaches, regular coughing, mood swings, skin rashes, chronic fatigue and regular bouts of thrush.
What causes a candida overgrowth?
Both men and women can suffer from a candida infection. If you are run down, take too many antibiotics, have had chemotherapy, are going through natural hormone changes (pregnancy, period, menopause), have unnatural hormone changes (from long term use of the pill), eat too much sugar and processed foods, and/or use highly perfumed soaps or deodorants there is an increased risk of infection. Candida can change its form and bore into the gut lining, which can increase the risk of leaky gut and subsequently food sensitivities.
Long term use of antibiotics is a very common cause for an increase in the candida yeast overgrowth. Antibiotics do not discriminate, they kill all gut flora, both good and bad, which allows the bad yeast microflora to proliferate, as there are no good flora to keep them in check.
Hormonal changes, whether natural or unnatural, change the PH environment of the vagina, which allows the yeast to grow.
Diabetes is linked to candida for three reasons. Diabetes is essentially a condition of imbalance of sugar and the hormone that controls it. Too much sugar in the blood compromises the immune system because it reduces the capability of immune cells called neutrophils to eliminate harmful bacteria. Yeast feeds on sugar, so the more there is circulating the more they have to eat and grow.
Stress increases pressure on the immune system. Chronic stress reduces the mineral magnesium which is essential for proper immune function, it also increases the hormone cortisol, which in turn suppresses the immune system.
What is thrush?
Thrush is a common vaginal infection caused by the fungus candida albicans (which also causes oral thrush). Millions of women across the world suffer from thrush. In fact, it is estimated that 75% of women will experience it at some point during their lives. A candida overgrowth will increase your changes of developing thrush, although it is possible to have candida without thrush.
Symptoms for thrush for women can include a whitish discharge from the vagina, itchiness and soreness and occasionally swelling of the vulva and for men an itchy red penis. While commonly found in the vagina, it can also be found in the throat, mouth and gut (oral thrush).
When suffering from thrush you may need to urinate more frequently, which can cause a stinging sensation, and the lymph nodes in the groin will likely be swollen. If this is the case, you should see your doctor. Chronic thrush is also linked to diabetes, increasing the risk of getting the infection. Regular cystitis may indicate you are run down, and this can lead to thrush, so boosting the immune system is essential and trying to lower stress levels (easier said than done, I know) would be hugely beneficial. It may be helpful to take a look at our separate articles on both immunity and stress.
What should you do if you have a candida overgrowth?
The damaging effects of a candida overgrowth are reduced by healthy gut flora. It is essential when suffering from a candida overgrowth to eat an alkaline diet. Our separate article about leaky gut syndrome gives more information about eating an alkaline diet and includes a list of foods to eat and avoid.
Treating candida or thrush with antibiotics will create a vicious cycle and prolong the problem. Instead, for one month we recommend adjusting your diet according to the following guidelines:
Avoid fermented foods such as breads, aged mouldy cheeses (brie, stilton, camembert), alcohol (especially beer and wine), ginger beer, vinegar and foods that contain vinegar (ketchups, pickles, salad cream, baked beans), soya sauce, gravy mixes, miso, tempeh and mushrooms.
Avoid wheat/white flour products - foods such as pizza, pasta and crackers etc. Wheat free alternatives include brown rice, lentils, corn, millet, buckwheat/rice pasta, oats, soda bread and yeast free rye bread.
Avoid sugar as much as possible - this is really important as it feeds the candida. I’ve written a separate article on sugar that goes into more detail. However, be aware of hidden sugars including honey, maltose, dextrose and sucrose, fruit drinks, canned fizzy drinks and dried fruit. Sugar addiction is common amongst thrush suffers, so also avoid sweeteners as they perpetuate the sweet cravings.
Avoid milk and eat live yoghurt - choose low sugar milk alternatives such as soya, oat and organic rice. Eat live organic yoghurt that contains beneficial bacteria.
Avoid malted drinks - such as horlicks and ovaltine, plus malted foods found in some breakfast cereals.
Avoid some nuts - as they can have traces of moulds, these include peanuts, cashews and pistachios. Almonds, walnuts, peanuts and hazelnuts are fine to eat.
What foods are helpful to eat?
Foods that are beneficial include garlic as it’s anti-fungal (raw garlic is best), chicken, turkey, fish and shellfish, lean meats, eggs, tofu and pulses. Research has shown that candida leads to increased inflammation. Oily fish and nuts are beneficial as they contain essential fatty acids that have anti-fungal, anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. If you don’t/can’t eat these, then an essential fatty acid supplement would be advised. It may be helpful to read our separate article on inflammation, which details some foods that help to reduce the symptoms of inflammation.
Fruits and vegetables - try to include artichokes, asparagus, celery, aubergine, avocado broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels, spinach, tomatoes, leeks, onion, green beans, lettuce, watercress apples, pears, blueberries, and cherries.
Supplementation - it is often a good idea to take a good quality multivitamin to make up for any possible deficiencies. A supplement containing the probiotic lactobacillus acidophilus to help increase the good gut flora and reduce the environment for the candida is also advised.
Herbs - the herb coriander has been shown to help control infections while the herb Pau d’ arco has anti-fungal properties.
If your candida overgrowth has developed into thrush then while it’s active you should avoid sexual intercourse. It is also worth noting that a candida infection can be passed to your partner and it’s possible to pass it back and forth, so it may be advisable that you’re both treated for candida. Use PH-balanced soaps or aqueous cream can be used to wash and shower with.